The other day, I was luxuriating in a delicious sandwich slathered with goat cheese, while at the same time mourning all the lost years of my youth during which I believed I didn’t like goat cheese. Same goes for avocados, which I only discovered as an adult, and pickles, too. (The dismantling of my anti-pickle stance was swiftly followed by an appreciation for picklebacks, which I highly recommend.)
And it’s probably happened to you, too. You grow up, and you realize that many of the foods you avoided as a kid are actually kind of awesome. There are a few theories as to why this happens, explained Martha Pelchat, whose self-explanatory title at Monell Chemical Senses Center is “food preference expert,” but one thing is clear: The way you perceive a certain food changes once you get used to it. Keep trying a food, and eventually you’ll probably start to like it.
Pelchat explained in an email to Science of Us:
Familiarity is probably the major influence on food selection. All other things being equal, people prefer a familiar food to a novel one. Some of this is probably what psychologists call “mere exposure” - you get used to it, and it becomes less threatening.
In a claim that will surprise no one, Pelchat noted that kids hate vegetables and love sugar. But the reason why is interesting. Children instinctively know that sugar means energy, and until recently (evolutionarily speaking), kids needed every bit of energy they could get ahold of in order to grow. But when their bones stop growing, Pelchat said, kids start to become (somewhat) less sugar-obsessed.
We also taste things more intensely when we’re younger. As we age, our sense of smell weakens, which in turn changes the way we taste our food. So my increasingly sucky sense of smell could partially explain why I’m no longer grossed out by goat cheese, Pelchat explained. “Goat is a smell. Of course, aging could have two opposite impacts on goat cheese perception. If one can’t smell much, the goaty flavor (really a smell) decreases and goat cheese is just cheese,” she said. “Alternatively, with loss of olfaction, one’s diet seems bland and that strong smell provides some welcome stimulation.”
It seems we’ve discovered a bright side of aging: Your senses may be deteriorating, but a newfound appreciation of Brussels sprouts and hoppy beer and flavorful cheese as a tradeoff? I’ll take it.