Exhibition at the Science Museum, London



Fig. 1

Food is not only a human’s basic need, it is also something enjoyable and even become addictive. IFF International Flavors and Fragrances Inc. describes it as exciting and satisfying at the same time (IFF, 2016)

For the first time ever, there are more obese people than undernourished (Science Alert, 2016). In the last 40 years, the number of obese people worldwide already sextupled up to 641 mio and predictions are even worse: there will be an ongoing increase.
Food is something powerful – it can evoke cravings (Cravings: Can your food control you?, 2016) and even become an addiction.



Still, we do not simply like food. Each person has a own taste and favorite dishes which others, in turn, particularly dislike. But why do we like what we like?
This is not depending on only one factor. Basically, we learn to like food (Cravings: Can your food control you?, 2016). This means that we can train to like food.

    There are divided opinions about the extent we can influence what we like. According to the study of Open University College in London, almost 80% of our taste preferences is genetically inherent. The other 20% are perceptions of food which we develop as children (Dailymail, 2016).
    Psychologist Elizabeth Phillips disagrees and states that genetical issues are only marginally related to what we like (io9, 2016) However, there is a natural preference for sweet tastes and a dislike for bitter and sour. This serves the function to distract from toxic vegetables which contain bitter compounds. Not only fruits, but also mother’s breast milk are containing sugar. Therefore, our body signals us to like it.
    Biopsychologist Julie Mennella from the Chemical Senses Center (Cravings: Can your food control you?, 2016) states, that our taste already forms back in our mother’s womb. Surveys showed, that babies responded  better to vegetables if their mums ate them during pregnancy.

IMG_4570Fig. 2: The facial expression visualizes the different reaction between baby A who was accustomed to vegetables while being in the womb and baby B who wasn’t.

Phillips also outlines that newborn babies will become used to food very easily. After two years this behavior will develop to a tendency to reject new tastes.

Although, our taste preferences and dislikes already shaped significantly during this first to years and while being in a mother’s belly, it can always transform during our lives. Liking food might be trainable. According to Phillips, up to fifteen tries are necessary to get used to particular tastes.

Conclusion: People do not necessarily eat what they love, they love what they eat. 


Another factor that shapes our taste is our guts. Our digestive system and our brain are linked to each other: they exchange informations to help to communicate hunger and fullness (Fig. 3).
Without our guts, there would be no cravings, appetite or hunger. This can be visualized by reference to Molly Smith (Fig. 4) whose guts were taken out at a young age because it was medically necessary. After years of intravenous nourishment doctors inserted a “new gut brain”and Molly for the first time in her life ate. Since then, she experiences hunger and appetite (Cravings: Can your food control you?, 2016).

Gut Grafic IMG_4546_neu
Fig. 3                                                            Fig. 4

When experiencing strong appetite for something, it mostly contains sugar and fat. Apart from personal experience, a survey with students from London’s Holland Park School outlines this thesis. When being asked what they cannot resist – all of the listed  foods included at least one of those components.
Neuroscientist Paul Kenny explains that we respond to those the same way we do with addictive substances as alcohol or other drugs. Tests with mice showed that when given cake or healthy food, they will always take the fat and sugar containing one and won’t stop even if they will gain overweight. Their aim for those foods is so strong, that not even electroshocks can distract them or affect their choice (Cravings: Can your food control you?, 2016).


To sum up, our gut biochemistry, the food we got when we were in our mother’s womb, genes and often eaten food shape our likes and dislikes in terms of taste.
Besides, further factors can influence our food perception. The following paragraph will outline them.



Eating is a very sensual activity. It naturally and authentically incorporates all our senses. It is not the food that incorporates taste – it is our brain that generates it through multi-sensorial processes (BioMed Central, 2016).
Despite the perception of food, also preparing the food necessarily involves senses and can be highly enjoyable (BBC Food, 2016).
It is not only the food we eat that influences how we taste. Further coefficients are involved.
Chef Heston Blumenthal, brings some examples of how our senses influence the taste (Cravings: Can your food control you?, 2016).


– Ketchup would taste different if it would be colored differently. The way we discern the tomato sauce is also mainly linked to it’s cooler.
– While a blue spoon would make your yogurt taste saltier, a white one can make it sweeter.
– Square shapes are percepted as spicier than circles.


– Hearing the sound of chewing crisps might make them seem crunchier to us

– Sweet foods make our tongues warp. In order to this, special spoons have been invented that have a mold on the underside.
– Also temperature is influencing our taste perceptions.
– Have you ever licked an empty spoon? Metall cutlery has it’s own taste. Material expert Zoe Laughlin from the Institute of Making deals with this issue: Except from gold, cutleries taste metallic. According to Laughlin, gold conveys a “smooth and almost creamy quality” which is perfect for desserts (Cravings: Can your food control you?, 2016).

Fig. 5


The study of those is called gastrophysics.





Cravings: Can your food control you? (2016) [Exhibition]. Science Museum. 12 February 2015 – 22 May 2016.

IFF (2016) International Flavors & Fragrances Inc. Available at: (Accessed: 11 April 2016)

Science Alert (2016) There are now more obese people than skinny people in the world. Available at: (Accessed: 13 April 2016)

Dailymail (2016) Curing fussy eaters: Can you teach your tastebuds to LOVE the food that you HATE? Available at: (Accessed: 16 April 2016)

io9 (2016) The psychology of hating food (and how we learn to love it) Available at: (Accessed: 16 April 2016)

BioMed Central (2016) Neuroenology: how the brain creates the taste of wine. Available at: (Accessed: 16 April 2016)

BBC Food (2016) Eating using all your senses. Available at: (Accessed: 16 April 2016)


Brit Lab (2015) Taste-Changing Spoon Experiment – Dara Ó Briain’s Science Club – Brit Lab – BBC. Available at: (Accessed: 17 April 2016)

Visual References:

Fig. 1 -4: Huber, M. (2016) Research Master Project [Photograph].

Fig. 5: Brit Lab (2015) Taste-Changing Spoon Experiment – Dara Ó Briain’s Science Club – Brit Lab – BBC. Available at: (Accessed: 17 April 2016)