Is Flavor All in Your Head?


Did you know that we don’t taste things solely with our taste buds? We actually taste everything with our brain.

So how does this work? From about the age of 3, people have evolved to use more than their taste buds to know whether something is okay to eat or not. Sight, smell, texture (touch) and even hearing all contribute to why we prefer certain foods over others.

Linda is taking another Ecole Chocolat class and is currently studying the taste buds. This week’s assignment is to consciously taste four different chocolates. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it! We love tasting, reading and exploring more about chocolate. Educating ourselves about how taste and flavor work and how we experience the things we eat helps the Chocology team to understand the flavors in our products and make them better.

The class is entitled, Mastering Chocolate Flavor, something we strive to do every day. Our mission is to create flavors that please the senses, not just the taste buds, so that our products are more of an experience rather than just another dessert. Read on to learn more about how all of the senses are engaged when we participate in the act of eating.

Flavor is ALL in your head! Did you know that? All of the senses work together, providing information to your brain. Your brain then determines if something taste good or not. We generally believe that tastes happen on our taste buds. But much more is going on, most of it in the brain.

The Eyes


Red Blood

The eyes have it! If it doesn’t look good, the likelihood of you eating it is very low. Even if an unsightly food IS eaten, the overall taste is affected. Tasting starts with the eyes.

One study by Jeff Shrank was particularly intriguing to us. For instance, when tomato juice was poured into a container marked “blood”, participants were no longer willing to even taste it. Why? Because the eyes saw the word blood and the association of blood and tasting were triggered in the brain. Participants weren’t willing to try it, even though they usually liked tomato juice.


The Nose

taste-your-brain-on-foodsmelljpgHave you ever heard the term “Follow your Nose?” Well, according to Kids Health, “Olfactory (ahl-FAK-tuh-ree) receptors inside the uppermost part of the nose contain special cells that help you smell. They send messages to the brain.”

When we put a piece of food into our mouths, chemicals are released into the olfactory receptors and tell the brain all about what we are eating. Taste and smell work together to tell a story about the flavor that is happening inside of your mouth! Then your brain decides if you like it or not.


peppersAre peppers really hot? According to Jeff Shrank they are not!

The texture of our foods make a difference in what we taste too! Ever had a limp potato chip? The taste of our potato chips and French fries are definitely affected by their texture. People tend to judge a potato chip as “fresh” if it is light and crispy. That’s a judgment call based on our brain’s past experiences and judgments. The crunch makes all the difference!


CrunchChocolate needs the correct amount of snap for most people to believe it has quality.

Even the packaging on potato chips or crackers suggests a certain amount of crunchiness! In a test by Jeff Shrank, people that wanted crunchy chips chose the noisier bags over the softer paper bags of chips.




Tongue_taste_budsHumans have around ten thousand taste buds and even those are replaced every couple of weeks. Sweet, sour, salty, bitter and savory are the major receptors that allow you to experience taste. Children have more and adults tend to lose some over time. And as we build experience and memories about tastes, our taste preferences are influence by those as well.


We taste our beliefs and expectations and our senses help us along the way. Chocolate covered ants are a delicacy in some places around the world, but for most Americans, just the thought of eating an ant is repulsive, even if it is enrobed in our favorite chocolate. Working together, the senses, along with our perceptions of what is good or not so good, communicate a story to our brain about the foods we are attracted to. Our tastes really are all in our heads! Be sure to check out Jeff Shrank’s slideshow entitled, “Taste: Your Brain on Food”.

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