Tag Archives: Taste

I don’t like the taste of this anymore!!

In class, we discussed gustation and the different mechanisms associated with taste processing. Later, we participated in an amusing activity. We taste tested different snacks! In this activity, we were given chips of different flavors and had to taste and guess the flavor. The first chip smelled like barbeque, but I thought that was too easy of a guess. After tasting it, I was left uncertain of the flavor because it wasn’t particularly gross or tasty. Upon receiving a suggestion card that revealed the flavor as “mustard,” I still was not convinced I knew the flavor. When the options of pickle, cheeseburger, and mustard were given to me, I immediately thought it could be cheeseburger because it distinctly tasted like the aftertaste of a McDonald’s cheeseburger (the one in the kid’s meal). The next two flavor of chips were easy to guess because they both tasted exactly like their said flavors, cheese and ketchup.

After the chip taste test, Dr. O’toole gave us a supplement, and the effect of that supplement was that we had a harder time tasting sweet. To test how well it worked, we tried a piece of chocolate, and I do not enjoy the taste chocolate. However, it was not as bad as I expected because the sweetness of chocolate that I hate was not perceived by me. Instead, I really just felt the texture more than usual, but maybe that was due to that specific type of chocolate.

Anyway, during this activity, it occurred to me that the flavors we tasted were savored by some and despised by others, and some people started to enjoy certain chips. This observation triggered an intriguing thought. In what situation does one change taste preference? When I thought of this idea, I dove into scientific literature to find an answer to my question, and I stumbled upon a pilot study that investigated changes in taste and food preferences in breast cancer patients.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, and the prevalence is increasing (DeSantis et al., 2015). To decrease the fatality and to remove cancerous tumors from individuals, treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and/or targeted hormone therapy are administered (Andre et al., 2006). Moreover, patients who underwent chemotherapy have reported changes in taste preference before treatment (Mattes et al., 1987). Different interactions between learned food aversion and basic side effects of chemotherapeutic drugs can limit what a person wants to eat and can alter taste (Mattes et al., 1987).

5 basic tastes

Based on previous research, Kim et al. (2019) decided to investigate how cancer treatment plays a role in appetite reduction and change in taste preference. In order to test this question, the authors administered taste detection thresholds and recognition thresholds and compared the results between breast cancer patients and healthy subjects (control group) for sweet, salty, bitter, and sour solutions. The taste detection threshold is the lowest point at which one can distinguish the solution from water, and the recognition threshold is the lowest concentration that one can recognize and correctly identify the solution (Keast and Roper, 2007). If one has high sensitivity to a specific taste, then there will be reduced detection thresholds and recognition thresholds of that taste, and vice versa. The changes in taste thresholds and food preferences were monitored before and during treatment in the breast cancer patient group.

Both detection and recognition thresholds were measured in both the experimental and control group at baseline. The baseline data showed that the experimental group had lower sweet and salty detection and recognition thresholds and higher sour recognition threshold compared to the control group. The bitter thresholds (detection and recognition) were similar between both groups. The results of this study showed that as treatment progressed, the detection thresholds and recognition thresholds in breast cancer patients for sweet declined significantly compared to the threshold at baseline. The other tastes’ thresholds (detection and recognition) were not affected. For food preference, at baseline and during treatment, the patients had a consistent preference for mild and soft dishes (Kim et al., 2019).

Taking these results, Kim et al. (2019) concluded that at baseline, sensitivities to sweet, salty and sour were different in breast cancer patients compared to healthy individuals. Furthermore, as cancer treatment progressed, sensitivity to sweet increased and the other tastes were unaffected when compared to baseline. The results provide useful information to better understand what cancer patients can be sensitive to in regards to food. Overall, this information can be used to accommodate them so that their food intake can increase even during treatment to lower malnutrition rates commonly seen in cancer patients.(Kim et al., 2019).

I found this paper quite intriguing because it showed how certain conditions in life can impact what you do or don’t want to consume, therefore changing one’s taste preference. I never took the time to think about how changes in taste preference can impact health in several ways. There are so many other fields to explore preferential changes in taste anywhere spanning from general aging to food neophobia in autism spectrum disorders. Wow, who would have that a simple activity would unravel such a deep avenue of thought?!



Andre, F., Mazouni, C., Hortobagyi, G. N., & Pusztai, L. (2006). DNA arrays as predictors of efficacy of adjuvant/neoadjuvant chemotherapy in breast cancer patients: Current data and issues on study design. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) – Reviews on Cancer, 1766(2), 197–204. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbcan.2006.08.002

DeSantis CE, Bray F, Ferlay J, Lortet-Tieulent J, Anderson BO, Jemal A (2015) Cumulative     logistic regression with food preference score as an ordinal variable was used to         compare the preference of BC patients and CTRLs. The analyses were adjusted for        age.1.International Variation in Female Breast Cancer Incidence and Mortality RatesCancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention 24 (10):1495–1506

Keast, R. S. J., & Roper, J. (2007). A Complex Relationship among Chemical Concentration,       Detection Threshold, and Suprathreshold Intensity of Bitter Compounds. Chemical      Senses,32(3), 245–253. https://doi.org/10.1093/chemse/bjl052

Kim, Y., Kim, G. M., Son, S., Song, M., Park, S., Chung, H. C., & Lee, S.-M. (2019). Changes in taste and food preferences in breast cancer patients receiving chemotherapy: A pilot study. Supportive Care in Cancer. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00520-019-04924-9

Mattes, R. D., Arnold, C., & Boraas, M. (1987). Learned food aversions among cancer     chemotherapy patients. Incidence, nature, and clinical implications. Cancer, 60(10),2576–2580. https://doi.org/10.1002/10970142(19871115)60:10<2576::AID           CNCR2820601038>3.0.CO;2-5





Food for Thought: The 5 Basic Taste Categories


Where is the Spicy Food in Paris?

On every street in Paris, there are three things you are certain to find: a boulangerie (or two or three), some sort of bistro/brasserie/café, and a Franprix (my personal favorite, a small-scale grocery store). Clearly, cuisine is central to Parisian life. And often, the options boil down to baguettes, wine, and cheese.

a typical boulangerie (“Savouries Counter – La Renaissance Patisserie” by avlxyz is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

As a lover of spicy foods, I was at a bit of a loss. After about a week into my stay in Paris, I was ready to reintroduce some of the essential components of my normal diet—mainly, I’m referring to chili paste and other spices. Perusing the Franprix directly below my apartment, I was shocked to see that there was only one option for hot sauce. Not only this, but every café and restaurant I had been to showed no promise of the tongue-scorching, eye-watering foods I love. So I had some questions: why do I enjoy spicy foods so much? How are they registered in my brain? Is there a certain part of my brain—specifically for processing spicy taste sensations–that is more active for me than for a French person?

my chili paste from Franprix (Personal Image)

Before attempting to tackle any of these questions, let’s first explore how our brains perceive sensory information from the world around us.
The five basic senses–sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch–all have particular areas of the brain (in the bumpy outer layer called the cortex) devoted to receiving signals from our eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and skin, respectively. The area of the brain that registers taste is called the gustatory cortex.

Basic taste perception  (Image from Frontiers for Young Minds)

Nestled in taste buds scattered about the surface of the tongue, special receptor cells interpret chemical stimuli as sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami. From there, signals are sent to sensory neurons and into the brain through cranial nerves (Breslin and Spector, 2008). Spicy foods are detected a bit differently than other tastes, since these signals involve pain receptors (Immke and Gavva, 2006). But, recent neuroscience research has been determined that these signals still activate the gustatory cortex, so they count as a legitimate tastes (Rudenga et al., 2010)! Therefore, it seems that French cuisine is indeed missing an entire taste sensation, and it happens to be the one that is my favorite.

Taste bud (Image from LumenLearning.com)

Now that we’ve legitimized these piquant flavor sensations, let’s dive deeper into the neuroscience behind them.

While scientists still don’t understand exactly how taste perception works, it is clear that capsaicin (the chemical responsible for the spicy qualities of many of my favorite foods) actually results in unique brain responses. Unlike the other tastes, spicy sensations are often accompanied by the release of endorphins (explaining how they can be perceived as pleasurable) and activation of the autonomic nervous system. This unconscious system of bodily regulation is responsible for the perspiration, higher body temperature, and a faster heart rate associated with “hot” foods (McCorry, 2007).

In a 2015 study entitled “The Brain Mechanisms Underlying the Perception of the Pungent Taste of Capsaicin and the Subsequent Autonomic Responses,” Kawakami et al. (2015) investigated how these bodily responses happen after someone eats spicy food. The authors knew that the gustatory cortex (consisting of the middle and posterior short gyri, or M/PSG, of the insular cortex) must somehow be in communication with the brain area controlling autonomic system responses (the anterior gyrus of the insular cortex, or ASG). But, it wasn’t clear how this communication was happening.

In order to test this, the researchers administered three different taste solutions (spicy, salty, and neutral) to twenty human study participants. As the subjects tasted the solutions, the researchers took a look at their brain activity.
The method they used to analyze brain activity is called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). This produces high-resolution images of the brain while it is in action. Blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) signals show where oxygenated blood is being used, indicating which regions are using up the most resources (Logothetis, 2003).

The ASG and M/PSG (Image from Frontiers in Human Neuroscience journal, Kawakami et al., 2015)

After performing this test, the researchers compared the brain images from the subjects. Their main findings were that there was coordination between the activity of the M/PSG and the ASG when people eat spicy foods. This could mean that these two brain areas are syncing up in order to produce symptoms like sweating and a quickened heartbeat after spicy food is consumed. Moreover, these results support the findings of another study done with mice, which concluded that cells in the ASG and M/PSG synchronize their activity patterns when capsaicin is tasted (Saito et al., 2012).
Kawakami et al. (2015) also found that the ASG was even more active than the M/PSG in response to capsaicin. Not only that, but both brain regions were significantly more active in response to capsaicin compared to the other solutions!

In sum, this study and previous work has helped to explain how the brain registers the taste of “hot” foods in the gustatory cortex and coordinates it with autonomic nervous system activation. However, the researchers only tested three taste sensations, and clearly, there is still much to be discovered about how the neuroscience behind gustation. Future work will likely take a closer look at the connection between the ASG and the M/PSG, possibly providing more insight into why some people (like me) find these mildly painful sensations more enjoyable than others.

   Baguettes are a staple in the                   Parisian diet (“Bag It” by Very Quiet is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

In the meantime, perhaps knowing that eating spicy foods more fully engages the brain will inspire the French to literally “spice up” their diets and rethink that bland baguette, or at least offer more options in their grocery stores. That would make this hot sauce-lover very happy, and it would add a whole new dimension to French cuisine!



Breslin, P.A., Spector, A.C. (2008). Mammalian taste perception. Current Biology. 18:R148-155. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2007.12.017.

Immke, D.C., Gavva, N.R. (2006). The TRPV1 receptor and nociception. Seminars in Cell and Developmental Biology. 17:852-591. doi: 10.1016/j.semcdb.2006.09.004.

Kawakami, S., Sato, H., Sasaki, A.T., Tanabe, H.C., Yoshida, Y., Saito, M., Toyoda, H., Sadato, N., Kang, Y. (2015). The brain mechanisms underlying the perception of pungent taste of capsaicin and the subsequent autonomic response. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 9:720. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2015.00720.

Logothetis, N.K. (2003). The underpinnings of the BOLD functional magnetic resonance imaging signal. Journal of Neuroscience. 23:3963-3971. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.23-10-03963.2003.

McCorry, L.K. (2007). Physiology of the Autonomic Nervous System. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education. 71:78.

Rudenga K., Green B., Nachtigal D., Small D.M. (2010). Evidence for an integrated oral sensory module in the human anterior ventral insula. Chemical Senses. 35:693–703. doi: 10.1093/chemse/bjq068.

Saito, M., Toyoda, H., Kawakami, S., Sato, H., Bae, Y.C., Kang, Y. (2012) Capsaicin induces theta-band synchronization between gustatory and autonomic insular cortices. Journal of Neuroscience. 32:13470-13487. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5906-11.2012.

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Twenty-one and trying to keep it sober

To an American, turning twenty-one means more than adding a hyphen to your age. On June 8th, I got a call from my parents back in Rhode Island not only to wish me a happy birthday but also to pass along several warnings about what everyone associates with a twenty-first birthday: alcohol.  “We trust you,” they said, “but make good decisions!”

Cake 2IMG_1870


My birthday week, however, played out nothing like my parent’s expected.  I received three fantastic birthday cakes and dozens of birthday wishes, visited the beautiful town of Blois, France and the Versailles castle, and witnessed an unbelievable circus performance at Le Folies Bergere. Alcohol didn’t interest me, and for a moment I thought my parent’s advice about alcohol didn’t apply to me this trip.  After our group took an excursion to Le Musee Gourmand du Chocolat, a chocolate museum complete with a chocolate workshop and demonstration, I realized that I should have applied my parent’s advice  applied to my chocolate eating habits, not my first glass of wine. If I eat more than a few Hershey’s Kisses worth of chocolate I experience symptoms like coughing, temporary tightening of the throat, migraines, dizziness, and light-headedness.  Over the years, I learned to live with this food sensitivity, and yet, finding myself surrounded by chocolate during the excursion did nothing to curb my cravings.  As I usually do when offered chocolate, I ate far over my limit and dealt with my pounding head at the end of the visit.


I may have a chocolate problem–I might go as far as calling myself a chocoholic–but I’m not alone.  Chocolate is one of the most craved foods in the United States (Heatherington and Macdiarmid, 1993).  Although studies with dark chocolate suggests it can lower blood pressure (Ried et al., 2010), over-consumption of it can lead to health deficits like weight gain, or in my case, headaches and sore throats.


A: Blois, France B: Versailles, France C/D: The Chocolate Museum and circus within Paris

A: Blois, France
B: Versailles, France
C/D: The Chocolate Museum and the Kermezzoo circus within Paris

A study by Kemps et al. in 2012 offers a way to curb chocolate cravings through our sense of smell.  In their experiment, they asked 67 female undergraduates between the ages of 18-35 to look at 30 images of 10 different kinds of chocolate food such as cakes, bars, and ice cream.  Each image was shown for 5 seconds with a delay after the image.  During the delay, participants continued to imagine the image they saw in an attempt to produce a cravings for it (Kemps et al., 2005).  During the delay, the participant also smelled a bottle with the scent of water (the control), jasmine (a non-food smell), or green apple (a food smell), then rated their desire for chocolate.  The data collected showed that when participants smelled jasmine, their desire for chocolate was at its lowest.

The teal area shows the cingulate cortex, activated by chocolate consumption during the experiment by Small et al. in 2001.

This study was the first of its kind to link non-food odors as a useful means of suppressing chocolate cravings, but what happened in the brains of these participants?  Another study by Small et al. in 2001 analyzed the brain’s motivation to eat chocolate and found that the anterior cingulate cortex in the brain starts to becomes active when you take that first bite of chocolate and stays active even when you’ve eaten enough chocolate that it becomes averse.  A different study by Small et al. in 1997 showed that stimulating both our taste and smell sensations activates limbic brain areas, which include the cingulate cortex mentioned above.

Some of many brain areas associated with chocolate eating, smelling, and motivation.

Some of many brain areas associated with chocolate eating, smelling, and motivation.


With these two studies in mind, how does all of this fit into the chocolate craving antidote discovered by Kemps et al.?  If together smell and taste can activate the cingulate cortex and the anterior portion of the cingulate cortex is involved with our motivation to eat chocolate, then smelling a non-food smell like jasmine may be blocking something along that processing pathway between chocolate consumption and our motivation to each chocolate in the cingulate cortex.


Of course, this is just my own speculation.  Kemps et al. did not go into further detail about why jasmine effect on the brain our desire to eat chocolate, if jasmine is the only odor with this effect on chocolate cravings, or if jasmine an suppress cravings for other foods.  The study also focused on only one age group and one sex, therefore its results may not seem significant this field until other researchers conduct follow up research.  Regardless, this still an intriguing study in how it offers a potential therapeutic for women who have problematic chocolate cravings or other eating disorders.  Not only that, but maybe it could help people like me who simply don’t want to give up eating something that tastes so wonderful.

-Nicole Asante


Kemps E, Tiggemann M, Bettany S (2012). Non-food odorants reduce chocolate cravings, Appetite 58(3):1087-1090.

Ried K, Sullivan T, Fakler P, Frank O, Stocks N (2010). Does chocolate reduce blood pressure? A meta-analysis, BMC Medicine 8(39).

D Small, Zatorre R, Dagher A, Evans A, Jones-Gotman M (2001). Changes in brain activity related to eating chocolate: From pleasure to aversion, Brain 124:1720-1733.

Small D, Jones-Gotman M, Zatorre R, Petrides M, Evans A (1997). Flavor processing, NeuroReport 8 (18):3913-3917.



Bouba and Bagels

Paris! Land of crepes and croissants, escargot and éclairs, and absolutely exquisite baguettes. While sandwiches currently make up the vast majority of my diet, I’ve also delved into more exciting culinary exploits on occasion. A few days ago I tried escargot for the first time, and the week before, duck confit. I’ve also tasted mouth watering lemon tarts, mille feuille, and a host of other desserts whose names I do not know, courtesy of my terrible French (I may be a linguist, but I’ve never been particularly good at picking up languages).

A delicious lemon tart I ordered by enthusiastically pointing at it.

A delicious lemon tart I ordered by enthusiastically pointing at it.

I came to Paris two weeks ago with just enough knowledge of French to manage taking the train to my dorm room at Cite U–which, considering the number of people who speak English in France, boiled mostly down to “Bonjour”, “Pardon”, and “Parlez-vous anglais?” Since then, I’ve managed to pick up a handful of words, almost all of them about food (clearly, I have my priorities in order). Still, the majority of my ordering at cafes and restaurants involves pointing at what I want or butchering the words for and hoping it all ends well with my taste buds happy and my stomach full (it usually does).

However, my lack of French language skills occasionally makes for interesting culinary experiences. The first time I ordered a bagel from Morry’s Bagels, I picked out the word “saumon” and “oeuf” and assumed the bagel contained some combination of salmon and egg. To my pleasant surprise, the filling was salmon eggs, not salmon and egg. A few days ago I visited a patisserie nearby for a sandwich, but since they were all out of sandwiches with ingredients I understood, I used my classic point and pay method to get a sandwich that contained some sort of fish. I think. The connection between cuisine and language goes beyond potential difficulties with ordering food, however.

Morry's, a delicious shop that sells bagel close to the class.

Morry’s, a delicious shop that sells bagel close to the class.

A salmon egg bagel from Morry's.

A salmon egg bagel from Morry’s.

One of the key components of the definition of “language” that every linguistics student learns is arbitrariness. Languages, for the most part, are arbitrary; the sounds of a word do not denote the meaning (Monaghan et al., 2014). Nothing about the sounds in “poulet” makes a non-French speaker automatically think of chicken. However, while you may not be able to derive the meaning of a word from its sounds, you might be able to know some of its properties. In the famous “Kiki” and “Bouba” study by Dr. Ramachandran and Dr. Hubbard, participants looked at spiky or more rounded shapes and decided which nonsense word matched which shape. The angular shapes had a high correlation with “kiki”, while the more rounded shapes correlated with “bouba” in both English speakers and Tamil speakers (Ramachandran and Hubbard, 2001).

How does this relate to food?


My first taste of Duck Confit. I'm not sure if I would rate it more "bouba' or more "kiki", but I would definitely rate it "ridiculously delicious".

My first taste of Duck Confit. I’m not sure if I would rate it more “bouba’ or more “kiki”, but I would definitely rate it “ridiculously delicious”.

Well, in 2011, Gallace et al. published a study looking at word-food associations. Ten participants sat in a darkened testing room and tasted several different foods such as Brie, strawberry yogurt, lime jam, or salt and vinegar crisps (aka potato chips), all covering a wide range of flavors and textures. After tasting one sample of each food, the participants rated the food for 24 different nonword, food related, and non-food related opposing pairs. Nonword pairs included, for example, “kiki” at one extreme and “bouba” at the other, while an example of non-food related ratings could be “fast” vs. “slow”, or “salty” vs. sweet for food-related ratings. So, for example, after tasting some strawberry yogurt, the participant might have to decide if the yogurt tasted more “kiki” or more “bouba”, more salty or more sweet, more slow or fast, and so on. After finishing each of the 24 ratings the participant would taste the next food sample, and continue on until they sampled and rated all food items. Each participant tasted and rated each food a maximum of 10 times.

The experimenters found a significant association between certain foods with particular nonwords more than others. The participants rated plain chocolate as more “bouba”, in comparison to mint chocolate, and salt and vinegar-flavored crisps were rated as more “takete” than cheddar cheese or Brie. However, these correlations do not line up neatly so that all the “bouba” foods have a particular taste or texture. This complex association may be due to how many of the other senses, such as smell and vision, interact with taste. To explain these associations, Gallace et al. go on to speculate that the connections between the gustatory areas and the frontal and temporal lobes in the brain may explain this connection between taste and sound, similar to how Ramachandran and Hubbard hypothesized that the connections and coactivation of visual and auditory areas lead synesthetes to “see” sounds (Ramachandran and Hubbard, 2001). Interestingly enough, a study from 2013 found that while a remote population from Noerthern Namibia matched the same shapes and sounds to Westerners, they did not match the same tastes to sounds (Bremner et al., 2013). Thus, the connection between taste and sound is complex and most likely affected by culture.

As a double major in linguistics and neuroscience, I’ve learned about the “Bouba” and “Kiki” study many times, but it wasn’t until I arrived in Paris that I heard about the connection between sounds and taste. I’m excited to have found a connection between three of my passions–– food, neuroscience, and linguistics––and I can’t wait to discover what other connections to neuroscience I can make as I eat my way through Paris!

One of the many, many sandwiches I have eaten in Paris. This one has some sort of fish filling. I think...

One of the many, many sandwiches I have eaten in Paris. This one has some sort of fish filling. I think…


Bremner AJ, Caparos S, Davidoff J, de Fockert J, Linnell KJ, Spence C (2013) “Bouba” and “Kiki” in Namibia? A remote culture make similar shape-sound matches, but different shape-taste matches to Westerners. Cognition 126:165-172.

Gallace A, Boschin E, Spence C (2011) On the taste of “Bouba” and “Kiki”: An exploration of word–food associations in neurologically normal participants. Cognitive Neuroscience 2:34-46.

Monaghan P, Shillcock R, Christiansen M, Kirby S (2014) How arbitrary is language?. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 369:20130299-20130299.

Ramachandran V, Hubbard E (2001) Synesthesia and Language. Journal of Consciousness Studies 8:3-34.

Sorbet, what have you done to me?

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.

~James Eun


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.