Part of the Our Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, Culture exhibition.

Cook: Kitchen
Learn about the science of flavor—and enjoy tastings—in the exhibition kitchen.
© AMNH/D. Finnin

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: Five Borough Tasting in collaboration with The Design Trust for Public Space serves up delicious seasonal specialties grown in each New York City borough:

July 29: Garlic mustard pesto from Bronx's Food Under Your Feet

July 30: Fresh Queens salad from Brooklyn Grange's Long Island City rooftop farm

July 31: Fresh Brooklyn Salad from Gotham Greens

August 1: Fresh corn salad from Harlem Seeds

August 2: Roasted summer squash from Staten Island's Heritage Farm at Snug Harbor's Cultural Center 

August 3: Gazpacho

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. 

Combining Senses

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.