Who would have ever thought that the garden of Versailles harbored the frozen ambrosia of the Gods? Perhaps it was also the very spot where the Garden of Eden was cultured. Whoever brought this gift from heaven, in the form of a sorbet, must have had compassion comparable to Mother Teresa. In simpler words, the sorbet I bought for 2.50 Euros was absolutely delicious. With its pleasing bright red color and slightly tart but not too tart aroma made my day. I had to buy another one as soon as I finished because of how empty my life felt. How did this simple sorbet bring such strong sensation to my taste buds?
Well we know there are molecules in food that code for sweet taste. Imagine the molecule as a baseball and the protein receptor as a catcher’s glove. When these molecules hit specific protein receptors, they attach to a specific type of cell (type 2) on your taste buds and cause a series of reactions called a signaling cascade. The end result of this cascade is the creation of a signal, called action potential, which causes a release of specific molecules called neurotransmitters.In this case, ATP was the neurotransmitter that was released. ATP then attaches to protein receptors on another cell that is a part of the pathway to the brain where the information of sweet taste is passed along. That pathway is referred to as the afferent gustatory neural pathway. Finally, the information is sent to the gustatory cortex, a part of the brain that finally tells you that the pastries shown below are sweet.
So that’s how the brain processes the sweetness of these macaroons. But that doesn’t explain why it was so good. Sweetness is only one aspect of the desert. There is also the bright colors, the sweet smell, and other combinations of tastes that make up the macaroons that I ordered. It is proposed that certain aspects of the sorbet become integrated at different parts of the brain. In the anterior insula, things like taste, smell, and texture of the food are integrated (Small, 2012). This information is then sent to the lateral hypothalamus, where you process how much you like the food (Li et al., 2013). This information is also sent to the thalamus to be enriched with detail such as the temperature. It is truly amazing how the brain is able to receive all of this information, process it in different areas of the brain, and combine it to form our perception of the world.
Now here’s something interesting to think about. Do you think your sweet tooth is indicative of social behavior? A novel study was done showing social behavior of rats that have been bred for low sweet intake versus rats that have been bred for high sweet intake. Results show that rats bred for high sweet intake show a more dominant personality via “king of the milk” competitions (Eaton et al., 2012). Could loving your sweets mean that you’re a more dominant person or could it cause some sort of behavioral change (epigenetics?) that causes you to act more dominant?
When I was eating these , I felt alive. Perhaps those were just pleasure receptors in my brain activating. But perhaps throughout the years, the amount of sweets that I have consumed has caused not only a physical change in me, but also a behavioral one.
Eaton JM, Dess NK, Chapman CD (2012) Sweet success, bitter defeat: a taste phenotype predicts social status in selectively bred rats. PloS one 7:e46606.
Li JX, Yoshida T, Monk KJ, Katz DB (2013) Lateral hypothalamus contains two types of palatability-related taste responses with distinct dynamics. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience 33:9462-9473.
Small DM (2012) Flavor is in the brain. Physiology & behavior 107:540-552.