Does Bitter Taste Better With Age?

Have you ever noticed that while children tend to dislike bitter foods like broccoli and spinach, as we get older we tend to prefer bitter foods or at least tolerate them better? Is there a biological reason for this?

 

My girlfriends and I went to breakfast after our Sunday hike this morning. During our breakfast, we realized that all three of us were enjoying bitter drinks—black coffee and organic, unsweetened tea. While at least one of us (at 42) did not enjoy the bitter taste, myself and my other friend who is over 50 both admitted that we enjoyed our hot beverages precisely BECAUSE they taste bitter.

Admittedly, foods like kale, spinach and any number of weed greens that my mother made me eat were not my favorites as a child. As an adult, I have learned to enjoy them because I know that many bitter foods, as well as bitter teas like dandelion root or beet root, are quite good for us.

I heard a rumor several years back that children have more bitter taste buds than adults do and that’s legitimately why children don’t enjoy eating their greens. Perhaps God created us this way to deter curious children from consuming poisonous substances, many of which have a bitter flavor. Theoretically, as we mature, we have more sense than to consume these so our taste buds allow us to experience a wider array of flavors.

In researching this topic online, I must confess that there was little evidence that our perception of taste changed much past adulthood, regardless of age. There was some evidence that certain bitter tastes are softened as we get older and other bitter tastes remain unchanged. Other studies show no significant patterns whatsoever. There are, of course, several diseases which can minimize our sense of taste, as well as smoking or excessive coffee drinking. My ex-sister-in-law completely lost her sense of taste when she got older, but that was really because she had lost her sense of smell. And as most of the research shows, a sense of smell influences our sense of taste more than anything else.

In any regard, if you find yourself losing your sensitivity to taste, here are some tips to help refresh the sense. If none of these work or you are experiencing a consistently bad taste in your mouth, you should consult a physician. A number of diseases are associated with changes in taste.

In the mean time, if you find bitter flavors are more enjoyable than ever, enjoy them to your heart’s content. Most bitter foods and teas are extremely medicinal. And, as my girlfriends and I discovered during our breakfast this morning, bitter foods and drinks can actually help reduce one’s appetite and/or craving for sweets. Changing taste perception CAN be a good thing!

Other ources of research on the effects of aging on taste:

Bitter Taste in Aging: Compound-Specific Decline in Sensitivity

• Taste Perception With Age: Generic or Specific…

•  Geriatric Nutrition: the Health Professional’s Handbook

• Mayo Clinic – Is Loss of Taste and Smell Normal With Aging?

Taste and Smell Clinic - read this BEFORE you talk to your doctor!

 

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