For example, why do I love paprika while my girlfriend hates it? Why do I find broccoli disgusting and she adores it? As humans, there are things we'd all agree on being awful, like rotten meat, for obvious evolutionary reasons - those things are damaging to our body and we should not eat those. But when asked about delicious food, everyone would pick something slightly (or completely) different.

I wonder, is it because our tongues are different and the food does indeed taste different, or is it our brains that interpret the same taste differently? Also, what evolutionary purpose does this serve? To me it only makes planning the dinner a pain without really adding anything to our lives.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Afaik. bowels decide about disgust, and not the brain. $\endgroup$
    – inf3rno
    Jan 9 '15 at 17:42
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Food preferences are largely cultural (including social). Most people find caviar and oysters, to name a couple of foods, revolting the first time they eat them. It's an "acquired taste" for most. Our tongues are not significantly different. $\endgroup$ Jan 9 '15 at 21:19
  • $\begingroup$ @anongoodnurse Why not move the previous comment of yours to the answers. I think its bang on. Additionally (although perhaps not relevant) There are also cases of disease that dramatically alter taste, and any degree of anosmia (like a blocked nose) can alter a personal pallet too. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Jan 11 '15 at 2:22
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    $\begingroup$ Have a look to the wiki page for Taste Preference $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Feb 2 '15 at 0:15

Explaining phenotypic variance

You may want to make sure you have a good understanding of the concepts of the underlying variance of phenotypic variance (discussion linked to the concept of heritability) before reading this answer. In this post, I linked several sources of information on the subject.

Culture (environmental variance)

Variance in food preference is in part (in majority eventually) explained by cultural differences.

Genetic variance

I guess that very few people like the smell of rotten eggs. There is selection on taste and smell preferences. Those who don't like the smell of rotten food increase their chance to suffer from bacterial intoxication and mycotoxins. I remember from my Bachelor degree (can't find the study right now) Nestlé (among others probably) performed a genome-wide association study that showed genetic variance for food preferences.


There are probably many loci that are now fixed (not polymorphic anymore) that were at some point under selection as explaining variance for food preference. In other words, at a given locus there might have no more genetic variance as the current allele is well adapted.


Also I suppose that a part of the underlying genetic and environmental variance for the variance for food preference might be qualified as by-products. For example, it might be beneficial to appreciate a given smell because the smell when present in the sweat of a partner is associated with greater health. If this odour (or similar odour) happen to be present in food, then we may be indirectly selected to appreciate this food item as a by-product of the selection for recognizing healthy partners.


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