All five senses, and most of all your brain, work together to create the perception of a flavor. Many other factors are also at work, including anatomy, genetics, evolution, culture, memory, and marketing.
Visit Our Working Kitchen
Live programming in the exhibition kitchen—a first for the Museum!—will animate the experience of food and flavor for visitors.
Presented with Whole Foods Market, our working kitchen will feature daily samplings (Monday–Friday, 12:30–5:30 pm and Saturday and Sunday, 10 am–5:30 pm) and activities ranging from taste tests to demonstrations of cooking methods, as well as guests including local farmers and chefs. The theme of the kitchen will change every two weeks:
November 17: Apples
December 3: Breadmaking
December 17: Cookies, Gingerbread Houses, and Holiday Treats
January 2: Healthy Eating—Adults
January 14: Healthy Eating—Kids
January 28: Chocolate
February 15: Coffee
March 4: Cheese
March 18: Pasta/Noodles
April 1: Teas
April 15: Grains/Granolas
April 29: International Cooking
May 13: Aztec Market
June 3: Bees/Honey
June 17: Jams/Jellies
July 1: Ice Cream/Frozen Treats
July 15: Pickling
July 29: Tomatoes
Anatomy of Taste
Your mouth can sense at least five tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami (savory). These tastes are detected by specialized cells in your tongue and in other parts of your mouth. These taste cells are inside your taste buds. Your taste buds, in turn, are inside the bumps on your tongue called papillae.
You use more than your mouth to figure out the flavor of food: flavor is affected by all five senses. Your brain considers not just a food’s basic taste, but also how it looks, smells, feels, and even how it sounds as you chew.
Color cues can tell you if a food is good to eat. The influence of vision is so strong that how food looks can sometimes overpower the actual taste. To sense complex flavors, your brain unites signals from many sensors, including your nose, ears, and eyes.
Born vs. Learned
Everyone is born with some taste preferences. For instance, enjoying sweet foods is coded in most people's genes. But what you like can change for many reasons. You can learn to like foods by eating them over and over again, or because of what your parents eat—or from advertising.
Babies can learn to like certain flavors before they are born! If a pregnant woman eats carrots or garlic, her baby may be born liking them. Flavors can also be transmitted through breast milk.
Many foods that are unpleasant to children because they are bitter or spicy, like coffee, beer, and chile peppers, are very popular with older people. Some preferences are not determined from birth; they can change as you experiment and learn.
Evolution of Taste
Our sense of taste is a product of millions of years of evolution. The ability to distinguish between foods that help or harm us is a highly useful trait, so it’s not surprising that many of the foods that are advantageous to eat taste good and those that might poison us taste bad.
It wasn't always easy for our earliest ancestors to find enough food. A preference for sweet foods may have once been advantageous: it helped guide early humans to energy-rich foods. But today, sweet food is everywhere and our sweet tooth is much easier to feed..perhaps too easy.