Do you have a favorite food that your friend doesn't like at all? Do you look at what your parents are eating and say, "No, thank you!" Well, you’re not alone! Lots of people have different food preferences. But why do some people like certain foods and others don’t? And what’s a supertaster?
In this tasty treat of an episode, Molly and cohost Nishka visit a cooking class for kids and talk with food expert Jennifer Anderson from Kids Eat in Color to learn how to make it easier to try new foods. Plus a brand-new mystery sound!
ANNOUNCER 1: You're listening to Brains On, where we're serious about being curious.
ANNOUNCER 2: Brains On is supported in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
BERRY: Hi. My name is Berry. I'm a speck of black pepper, and I have a dream. My dream is to season food. I've been waiting weeks, but tonight, I believe I will finally fulfill my destiny of being eaten. Maybe I'll land on the plate of a gentle soul who can't believe how well their food is seasoned. Maybe they'll take a bite and say, mm, was that Berry, the speck of black pepper in there? Wow, so yummy.
[SHAKER DRAGGING ON SURFACE]
Oh, my gosh, it's happening! Here I go! Wait, this plate is plastic and it's hot pink. Am I on-- [GASPS] baby Jenna's plate? Oh, man, baby Jenna is a little hesitant when it comes to new foods. On a good day, she puts a little in her mouth and tries it. On a bad day, the food ends up on the floor. [INHALES SHARPLY]
OK, OK, Berry, you can do this. It's strategy time. We've got a small clump of cottage cheese over here, a pile of steamed broccoli over there, and three sweet potato nuggets. OK, Berry, think. Come on, Berry, pepper obviously tastes incredible on all three. Maybe I'll scoot over here and attach myself to the sweet potato nug. But wait, the outside, it's kind of crusty, and I might fall off. Better try the cottage cheese. Baby Jenna loves her some fresh curd.
Mm, this feels cool and silky like one of those very expensive dairy spa treatments like they have in Switzerland. Wait, hold on, at least half the cottage cheese usually ends up on her face. Oh, I don't like those odds. All right, broccoli it is. [FIDDLING]
Perfect! I'll just nestle right in here in the treetops of this tall fellow. Baby Jenna loves steamed veggies.
[GASPS] Oh, my gosh, she chose my piece. Her mouth is wide open. Here I go! It's everything I ever wanted!
MOLLY BLOOM: You're listening to Brains On from APM Studios. I'm Molly Bloom, and my co-host today is Nishka from Toronto. Hi, Nishka!
NISHKA: Hi, Molly!
MOLLY BLOOM: Nishka, you wrote us with a really great question. What was it?
NISHKA: I wanted to know why some people like certain foods and others don't.
MOLLY BLOOM: I love this question. What made you think of it?
NISHKA: Well, one day, I was eating dinner with my family. And we were all eating food and my parents really liked it and I didn't, and I wondered why.
MOLLY BLOOM: Do you remember what it was were all eating?
NISHKA: I think it was some form of rice.
MOLLY BLOOM: Hmm, and your parents are like, this is the best! And you were like, ugh, no thank you.
- [CHUCKLES] What is your favorite food?
NISHKA: My favorite food is noodles.
MOLLY BLOOM: Oh, I love noodles as well. Do you have a favorite kind of noodle?
NISHKA: A favorite kind of noodle, probably stir fried noodles. I like some sort of sauce like Schezwan sauce, and some vegetables, but not a lot.
MOLLY BLOOM: OK. My favorite noodle is noodles with cottage cheese.
NISHKA: Ooh, yum.
MOLLY BLOOM: And it is delicious. Thank you for saying that because a lot of people when they hear about it, they're like, ish. And I'm like, no, no, no, no, no, you have to try it. You're going to love it.
MOLLY BLOOM: So what's something you really still don't like to eat?
NISHKA: Something I don't like to eat-- I don't like cucumbers.
MOLLY BLOOM: Cucumbers?
MOLLY BLOOM: Why? What about them don't you like?
NISHKA: They're just like 90% water. And the other 10% is like bad-flavored water.
MOLLY BLOOM: [CHUCKLES] So it sounds like it maybe it's the texture and the flavor are both not your favorite.
MOLLY BLOOM: I get it. And you can't really cook cucumbers because people don't really cook them. Will you eat a pickle though or eat a pickled cucumber?
NISHKA: I will eat pickles, yes.
MOLLY BLOOM: OK. It is very, very normal for kids to be choosy about what they eat.
NISHKA: Teenagers and adults can be picky too.
MOLLY BLOOM: And there's a reason why our bodies don't like every new food right away.
NISHKA: Our human ancestors--
MOLLY BLOOM: The ones that were around a long, long, long, long, long, long, long time ago, before grocery stores or even farms--
NISHKA: --they didn't necessarily know which plants were safe to eat and which ones would make them sick.
MOLLY BLOOM: A lot of the poisonous greens and berries would taste bitter or sour. So we learned over time to be careful with things that taste bitter or sour. And our bodies can still be suspicious of these flavors today, at least, at first.
NISHKA: These days, humans have figured out which foods are poisonous and which ones are safe.
MOLLY BLOOM: But that doesn't mean our bodies are ready to like every food even if we know they're safe to eat.
NISHKA: That's because eating is an intense experience. It involves all of our senses.
JENNIFER ANDERSON: A lot of people say, oh, just take a bite. Well, they don't realize there's a lot of things that go into taking a bite. You're seeing it. You're smelling it. You're touching it. You're going to feel it in your mouth. There's so many different things, and then you gotta chew it, right? And then you also have to swallow it. All those are different things. So you just need time for your body to learn to get used to those things.
NISHKA: That's Jennifer Anderson.
JENNIFER ANDERSON: I'm a registered dietitian, mom of two boys.
MOLLY BLOOM: Jennifer also founded an organization called Kids Eat in Color. It helps kids and families as they're trying out new foods. She says it's very normal for kids to not like foods where all the ingredients are all mixed up. They might prefer to have each individual food in its own separate part of the plate.
NISHKA: That's because young eaters want to know what they're going to get with every bite. Being surprised can be a little unpleasant when you're learning to like new foods.
MOLLY BLOOM: And young kids usually want foods that are consistent. In other words, foods that are basically the same every time you eat them. Blueberries might be tricky, for example, because sometimes they're really sweet, but other times, they taste really sour.
NISHKA: No mouth surprises, please.
MOLLY BLOOM: So the adults around you might say you're a picky eater. But Jennifer thinks of it another way.
JENNIFER ANDERSON: Picky eater just means, hey, I need more time to learn to like a food. And maybe I need two more years than you do to learn to like a food, but that doesn't mean anything bad about me. That doesn't mean I can't learn to like foods. I do think it's helpful to think about yourself as someone who is learning to like new foods because you might want to go to a birthday party or you may want to go to an outing with your friends, and they may have foods that you don't recognize.
And if you've been practicing learning to like new foods over time, you might find that when you get to that setting, you might be able to try it. And that will help you feel less stressed out when you go somewhere. And you don't know what's going to be served there.
MOLLY BLOOM: The first step to learning to a new food is seeing that new food. Maybe you see it in the kitchen, see your parents eating it, see it in the garden.
NISHKA: Maybe you even see it in a book or a movie.
MOLLY BLOOM: Then maybe you'll smell it or touch it before eating it. The more you're exposed to a new food, the more likely you are to eventually try that food.
NISHKA: Trying new foods when you're really hungry is also super helpful.
MOLLY BLOOM: If you see a new food in the morning, when you first wake up, or maybe right when you get home from school, you're hungry, and your body will be more likely to give it a chance.
NISHKA: And you can think about what that new food is doing for your body.
JENNIFER ANDERSON: So when your parent says, hey, I want you to eat broccoli because it's good for you, you might be thinking, what does that mean? Broccoli has calcium in it. That's going to go to build your bones. It has all these green compounds in them. That helps your body fight off sickness. It does a whole bunch of things. If I tell that to my sons, if I tell that to you, then you can think, hmm, maybe it's worth looking at it.
Maybe it's worth smelling it. Maybe it's worth touching it. Maybe it's worth giving it a taste Because every single food that is showing up on my plate at school, at home, anywhere, they're all going to do different things. And the more different foods I can learn to eat, the better that my body is going to run and the more things that my body is going to be able to do.
MOLLY BLOOM: Another thing you can do is try the same food prepared in different ways.
NISHKA: Like maybe you can't stand fried eggs but you love them scrambled.
SHAHLA FARZAN: That is so true.
MOLLY BLOOM: Brains On editor, Shahla Farzan? What are you doing here? And did you just jump out of the air vent in the ceiling?
SHAHLA FARZAN: Molly, you know I'm always hanging out in the air vents at Brains On headquarters, listening to other people's conversations and waiting to pop out. I put it on my resume when I applied for this job, remember? Highly skilled at popping out of vents? I'm basically the John McClain of kids podcasting.
MOLLY BLOOM: Oh, yeah.
SHAHLA FARZAN: And I happened to hear you in Nishka talking about why we like the foods we like. And I actually just got back from talking with a bunch of kids about this exact thing.
NISHKA: You were talking to kids in the air vents?
SHAHLA FARZAN: No, no, no, no, no, that's silly. The acoustics up there are terrible for talking. I actually met them at a cooking class in St. Louis, Missouri. One of the first people I ran into when I got there was Sawyer. She's a 10-year-old chef who was leading the cooking class with her dad, and she was stirring this big, steaming pot of brown liquid.
SAWYER: We are making a chicken broth for the pork that we're going to make later. And what we have to do is just, like, get some water and then chicken broth and then dissolve it into it.
MOLLY BLOOM: Sawyer sounds like she knows her way around the kitchen.
SHAHLA FARZAN: She definitely does. She grew up working in kitchens with her dad Josh who's also a chef. And for her, there's something really cool about taking a bunch of raw ingredients and turning them into something new and delicious.
NISHKA: So what were they making in the cooking class?
SHAHLA FARZAN: Oh, a bunch of stuff. There were seven kid chefs there, and each one was making something different. One was chopping up strawberries for a fizzy ginger punch. Another was making these big, pillowy biscuits. And one kid was even slicing up sausage for maple pineapple kebabs.
MOLLY BLOOM: That sounds so good.
NISHKA: I wish we were there right now, sipping fizzy ginger punch.
SHAHLA FARZAN: I know. The kitchen smelled amazing, much better than the air vents, by the way. And here's the thing, these kid chefs all really love food, but even they had pretty strong likes and dislikes.
SUBJECT 1: I like most foods except for, like, stuff with fat or, like, chicken with fat or-- and I don't like pulpy orange juice.
SUBJECT 2: Shrimp. It's plain. It doesn't have any taste.
SUBJECT 3: Ketchup. I mean, I don't like the smell. And it tastes exactly like it smells.
SUBJECT 4: Well, I don't really like ice cream, but my friends do.
NISHKA: I think it's kind of cool how we all have such different food preferences. Everybody's a little different in terms of what they like, like how our fingerprints are all unique, except each of us likes a different mix of foods.
SHAHLA FARZAN: Yeah, I talked to Sawyer about that, the kid chef who was leading the class. And she was telling me about some of the things she likes that her friends think are gross.
SAWYER: I like peas. My brother and sister hate peas. My friends hate peas, and I don't know why.
SHAHLA FARZAN: I totally get that. I'm not a huge pea fan. I mean, I won't cross the street if I see peas coming towards me on the sidewalk, but I'm not like seeking them out, you know? Still, every now and then, I've had them and thought, whoa, these peas are incredible.
NISHKA: Just because of the way they were cooked?
SHAHLA FARZAN: Yeah. I had this pea soup once that tasted just like spring, super green and fresh and delicious. And Sawyer told me she's had a pretty similar experience. She used to really dislike sushi because the raw fish seemed slimy to her. But she discovered she actually loves sushi if the fish is cooked.
SAWYER: My taste buds have changed a lot. So if, like, whenever you were younger, you had, like, something and it was disgusting, it might have just been because of the situation you were in. So later, when you grew up a little more, you'll get it from a different place and they'll do it a better way and it'll taste different, and then you'll end up liking it.
SHAHLA FARZAN: So when you're talking about a food you don't like, try adding the word yet.
NISHKA: So I don't like cucumbers yet.
MOLLY BLOOM: I don't like raw onion yet.
SHAHLA FARZAN: And I don't like licorice-flavored jello yet. There might still be some foods that you never like, and that's totally OK. Oh, oops, I gotta go. I told Mr Bonejangles, our resident dancing and sock-stealing skeleton. We'd go explore the air vents in the west wing of Brains On headquarters. Legend has it there's a dust bunny up there that looks just like John McClain. Bye!
KIDS: Brains on!
MOLLY BLOOM: We're going to chat more about our likes and dislikes in a bit. But first, it's time for the--
ROBOTIC VOICE 1: Mystery sound.
MOLLY BLOOM: Nishka, are you ready to hear it?
MOLLY BLOOM: All right, here it is.
What do you think?
- [CHUCKLES] Maybe someone, like, eating something slowly.
MOLLY BLOOM: Mm, I will give you a little hint. It does have to do with food. Would you like to hear it again?
NISHKA: Yes, please.
MOLLY BLOOM: OK, what are your new thoughts?
NISHKA: It kind of sounds like a carrot, like someone's really, really slowly cutting a carrot.
MOLLY BLOOM: [CHUCKLES] It's a sloth cutting a carrot.
MOLLY BLOOM: I love it. We'll be back with another chance to guess and to hear the answer after the credits.
Hey, friends. We're working on an episode about how creatures would evolve on other planets. So we want you to do a little dreaming with us. Imagine you find life on another planet. How would that life greet you? What would it sound like in their language to say hi? Would they even have language or would they greet you another way? Nishka, if you found a living creature on another planet, how do you imagine they would say hi? I think they would go, like, "zorb blorp zorb."
I like that a lot. Zorb blort zorb. It was kind of musical.
NISHKA: Oh, yeah, they're very musical creatures.
MOLLY BLOOM: Do you have a picture on your mind of what they look like? So they would all be very, like, long. And their legs would curl up into a ball like a music note.
- Oh, I love this creature. Very nice work. Well, listeners, we want to hear how you imagine an alien creature would say hi. Zorb glurp zorb. Record yourself and send it to us at brainson.org/contact. While you're there, you can also send us mystery sounds, drawings, high-fives, and questions.
NISHKA: Like this one. My name is Henley Lyons from Kirkland, Washington. And my question is, what if a tornado goes through a hurricane?
MOLLY BLOOM: You can find an answer to that question on our Moment of Um podcast. It's a daily dose of facts and curiosity you can find wherever you listen to Brains On. Again, send us your questions and alien greetings at brainson.org/contact.
NISHKA: And keep listening. You're listening to Brains On from APM Studios. I'm Nishka.
MOLLY BLOOM: And I'm Molly. Like Jennifer Anderson told us earlier, our bodies need all sorts of different things to be able to grow, run, think, dance, play, learn, fart, everything.
NISHKA: You can think of different kinds of foods like the superheroes of your body.
ANNOUNCER 3: Here in Bodyville, population, you, there is a team of superheroes ready to leap into action whenever you sit down to eat. When you eat meat or beans or nuts or eggs or tofu, you're unlocking the power of Professor Protein.
PROFESSOR PROTEIN: I provide the building blocks that help you grow from the inside out. Your bones, organs, muscles, hair, even your fingernails. That's me, Professor Protein.
ANNOUNCER 3: The gateway to growth. And here comes the next member of our superhero squad. He's found in foods like butter, cheese, and avocados.
FATMAN: I'm Fatman. Your brain needs me to grow. Your energy needs me to be stored. Wherever you go, whatever you do, I'm right there in the shadows. I'm Fatman.
ANNOUNCER 3: Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, Fatman! Next we've got Starchman. He's everywhere his grainy or sweet friends go. We're talking bread, crackers, oatmeal, sweet potatoes!
STARCHMAN: Hi, friends! I have the energy you need to be able to jump like this-- whoa-- do cartwheels-- wee-- do roundhouse kicks-- haiya! Running circles, waving your hands, and screaming for hours. [SCREAMS] I have so much energy!
ANNOUNCER 3: And rounding out this team of body buddies, we have The Rainbow Squad!
SQUAD MEMBER 1: That's right, fruit and veggies of every color.
SQUAD MEMBER 2: We all do different things because we all have different vitamins and minerals.
SQUAD MEMBER 3: And we love sharing them with you!
SQUAD MEMBER 4: And the more colors you eat, the more powers your body will have. Come on, team, on 3. 1, 2, 3--
RAINBOW SQUAD: Rainbow Squad!
SQUAD MEMBER 3: Orange! I mean, Rainbow Squad!
ANNOUNCER 3: Professor Protein, Fatman, Starchman, and The Rainbow Squad are here to make Bodyville as strong as it can be! So why would you turn away their help?
FATMAN: Come on, team, we've got work to do. To the Fat Cave!
ROBOTIC VOICE 2: Brains on, on, on.
NISHKA: Not only is food super delicious, it's working super hard for our bodies. All foods are superheroes.
MOLLY BLOOM: But have you heard of supertasters?
MYSTERIOUS VOICE: Supertaster!
NISHKA: Whoa, what was that?
MOLLY BLOOM: I don't know. It always plays when we say the word supertaster.
MYSTERIOUS VOICE: Supertaster!
MOLLY BLOOM: Anyway, for these people, the flavors of different foods can be very strong.
NISHKA: So instead of something tasting a little bitter--
MOLLY BLOOM: It's bitter! It's like turning the volume up but on flavor. We talked with Bill Sullivan about this.
NISHKA: He's a microbiologist, which means he studies tiny microscopic organisms like parasites. And he's also a supertaster.
MYSTERIOUS VOICE: Supertaster!
MOLLY BLOOM: Not too long ago, Bill got really curious about some foods that he just couldn't learn to like.
NISHKA: This was way more intense than having a strong dislike of something.
MOLLY BLOOM: Yeah, there were a bunch of vegetables that always taste really, really bad to him, even though he's tried them lots of times.
BILL SULLIVAN: Broccoli is one of the major offenders that I just could not stand. I couldn't even be in the room when it was being cooked because the odor would just upset my stomach. It was just awful to me. Similar things with cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. But spinach, asparagus, snap peas, no problem. So it wasn't everything green.
MOLLY BLOOM: He thought he was the only one like this until he was an adult and he saw an episode of a TV show called Seinfeld.
BILL SULLIVAN: There's a very famous episode that kids' parents probably remember very well where one of the characters was challenged to eat a piece of broccoli. And he just reacted the same way I would have, like, get that vegetable away from me. I'm not going to put that vile weed into my mouth.
NEWMAN: Vile weed!
MOLLY BLOOM: Knowing there were other people like him out there made him very curious. And since he's a researcher, he started investigating what was going on with science.
BILL SULLIVAN: I found research by some scientists that characterized people like me who can't stand broccoli as a supertaster. And I know a supertaster, it kind of sounds like a superpower, right? When you taste things really, really well. But it's not really a superpower because it alters the menu. And for about 25% of the population, that's how many supertasters there are.
NISHKA: That means if you grabbed four random people off the street, there's a good chance one of them is a supertaster.
MYSTERIOUS VOICE: Supertaster!
MOLLY BLOOM: It turns out they taste things differently because of a change in their genes.
NISHKA: Genes are the instructions in our cells that tell our bodies how to work.
MOLLY BLOOM: And supertasters--
MYSTERIOUS VOICE: Supertaster
MOLLY BLOOM: --have a gene that gives them more taste buds.
NISHKA: Taste buds are tiny, little bumps on your tongue that help you taste different flavors like salty, sweet, and sour.
MOLLY BLOOM: But bill says it's not just that they have more taste buds. It's also that they have more of a certain kind of flavor receptor cell in their taste buds.
BILL SULLIVAN: But this one in particular that supertasters suffer from coats the tongue with an extra amount of taste buds that can recognize bitter chemicals.
NISHKA: These bitter chemicals are in lots of foods like grapefruit, dark chocolate, and cabbage.
MOLLY BLOOM: Bill got a genetic test and found out he had the supertaster gene.
MYSTERIOUS VOICE: Supertaster!
MOLLY BLOOM: But there's another test you can do at home.
NISHKA: All you need is some blue food coloring and a piece of paper that has a hole punch in it, like you would need for a three-ring binder.
BILL SULLIVAN: With the help of your parents, use a little blue food coloring and paint your tongue a slightly blue color. It counter stains your taste buds. Your taste buds will remain pink. They won't stain with this blue dye. And basically, you can put that little hole punch over top a small portion of your tongue, and with a magnifying glass, have someone count the number of taste buds in that ring. And if you count more than 30 in that circle, you're a supertaster.
MOLLY BLOOM: Scientists are still learning about the instructions carried in our genes. And Bill thinks there will be a lot of new information in the coming years about why certain people may like or dislike certain foods based on their genes.
NISHKA: There's also some new research about how the tiny, tiny bacteria living on and in us might change our likes and dislikes too.
MOLLY BLOOM: Our mouths and throat and noses are full of friendly bacteria. They love to help us break down the foods we're eating.
BILL SULLIVAN: You start to chew that food up and vapors are released. Those bacteria can break the chemicals in those vapors down and give people a different taste sensation. So if you have different bacteria in your mouth from your friend, you may be eating the same food but having a very different taste experience.
MOLLY BLOOM: So it turns out there are lots of different reasons why people like and dislike different foods.
NISHKA: It could be your genes--
MOLLY BLOOM: The bacteria living in your mouth--
NISHKA: How much you've seen a certain food--
MOLLY BLOOM: And how many times you've tried it before.
NISHKA: You don't have to like every food, and your taste will change over time.
MOLLY BLOOM: As long as you're eating a variety of foods, your body will get what it needs in order to grow and do all the awesome things you want it to do. That's it for this episode of Brains On.
NISHKA: This episode was produced by Molly Bloom, Shahla Farzan, Aron Woldeslassie, Anna Weggel, Nico Gonzalez Wisler, Molly Quinlan, Ruby Guthrie, and Marc Sanchez.
MOLLY BLOOM: Sanden Totten edited this episode and it was sound design by Rachel Breeze. We had engineering help from [? Lucian Lozan ?] and Derek Ramirez. Beth Perlman is our executive producer. The executive is in charge of APM Studios are Chandra Kavati, Alex Shaffer, and Joanne Griffith. Special thanks to Dana Small, Ruth Sparrow, Bill Walker, Josh and Sawyer Gagliano, Sarav and Puna Mundra, and Andy Doucette.
NISHKA: Brains On is a nonprofit public radio program.
MOLLY BLOOM: There are lots of ways to support the show. Head to brainson.org.
NISHKA: While you're there, you can send us mystery sounds, questions, and high-fives.
MOLLY BLOOM: And you can subscribe to our Smarty Pass, your ticket to ad-free episodes and super awesome bonus content. All right, Nishka, are you ready to listen to the mystery sound again?
MOLLY BLOOM: Wonderful. Here it is.
OK, so last time, you thought someone cutting a carrot very slowly. What are your new thoughts?
NISHKA: So I'm thinking maybe someone biting into a carrot slowly.
MOLLY BLOOM: Somebody just really savoring their food.
NISHKA: Yeah, like, really enjoying.
MOLLY BLOOM: Yes. This carrot is so good, I have to eat it as slowly as possible.
MOLLY BLOOM: Are you ready for the answer?
MOLLY BLOOM: All right.
MARILYN: Hi. My name is Marilyn, and that was the sound of my mom peeling a Sumo orange.
NISHKA: [CLICKS TONGUE] Agh.
MOLLY BLOOM: It's a tricky one. Specifically, it's a Sumo orange, but it sounds very similar to peeling a regular orange. Yeah, I actually really love the sound peeling oranges make.
MOLLY BLOOM: And it's like so loud actually, like, I feel like most of us don't pay attention to it, but it actually makes a lot of noise.
NISHKA: Yeah, now that I think about it, that was like a lot of noise for an orange.
MOLLY BLOOM: Uh-huh. I also like that you can peel it and it kind of gives you a spritz of, like, orange juice in your face, sort of like a nice, little refreshing multi-sensory experience there.
Now it's time for the Brains Honor Roll. These are the incredible kids who keep the show going with their questions, ideas, mystery sounds, drawings, and high-fives.
[LISTING HONOR ROLL]
We'll be back next week with more answers to your questions.
NISHKA: Thanks for listening.
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