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Per Møller

Taste of food

Associate Professor Per Møller
Department of Food Science
University of Copenhagen

Humans eat foods, not nutrients. The taste of foods is therefore a major determinant of food intake.

Food intake is initiated when a state of hunger is reached, but under most circumstances
not just any food will do; usually people experience hunger for particular foods under particular
circumstances. Optimally the foods we eat should be perceived as appetitive, not just as filling.
Foods provide reward [1] and it is therefore important to understand the processes of hedonic
eating [2] and in particular how these processes interact with homeostatic mechanisms controlling
energy balance [3].

In this talk I will provide an overview of the senses which determine how foods are perceived.
The ‘taste of food’ is determined by a number of senses and the term ‘taste’ is unfortunate, since
taste is also one of the sensory modalities which contribute to the ‘taste of foods’. Integration in
the brain of signals from the sensory modalities, taste, smell and chemesthesis give rise to the
‘taste of foods’, or as it should be referred to, the flavour of foods.

Eating is one of few behaviours which are indispensable to sustain life and the signals to initiate
eating need to be strong. I will briefly discuss how rewards obtained from eating is conceptualized
and which processes are invoked. The rewards obtained from eating have by many
nutritional scientists been proposed as the main reason for the obesity epidemic. I will discuss
this suggestion as well as the opposite possibility, namely that it is the lack of reward from many
modern foods that lead many people to overeat.

Food preferences are learned. Liking of sweetness and fat and disliking of bitterness are the
only preferences we are born with. All the rest result from conditional learning processes [4].
This provides a good explanation for the different culinary traditions in different parts of the
world and emphasizes the importance of the ‘taste’ of foods, not just as a gate-keeper, but also
as a provider of pleasure.

1. Berridge K. Food Reward: Brain Substrates of Wanting and Liking. Neuroscience and
Biobehavioral Reviews, Vol. 20, No. 1, pp. 1-25, 1996.
2. Daniel Kahneman, Ed Diener and Norbert Schwarz, eds. Well-Being: The Foundations of Hedonic
Psychology. Russell Sage Foundation, New York, 1999.
3. Berthoud H. and Morrison C. The Brain, Appetite, and Obesity. Annu. Rev. Psychol. 59:55–92, 2008.
4. Hausner H, Olsen A. and Møller P. Mere exposure and flavour–flavour learning increase 2–3 yearold
children’s acceptance of a novel vegetable. Appetite 58, 1152–1159, 2012.