10 ways personality influences your taste buds
A craving for potato chips, sushi or Szechuan food might have more to do with your personality than your taste buds, according to several studies. Just like your personality influences your favorite color, song or movie, experts say personality traits have a lot of pull over the food you pile on your plate.
“Through our food preferences and choices we reveal inner thoughts, feelings, wishes and desires,” says Dr. Alan Hirsch, a neurologist and psychiatrist, and founder of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago. “It’s no exaggeration to say that the foods we choose provide a window to our unconscious.”
Wondering what your palate says about you? Read on to learn more about the link between personality and your favorite foods.
Can’t help but cram sky diving, hang gliding or bungee jumping into your weekend? A new study from Penn State says thrill seekers are more apt to flirt with setting their mouth on fire by digging into fiery foods than those who are mild-mannered or passive. The scientists speculate that capsaicin, the compound that gives hot peppers their zing, links your taste buds’ passion for peppers and an adrenaline rush, and that eating foods with capsaicin can simulate the rush of living on the edge.
“You take the risk that hot peppers and similar foods will burn your mouth, just like you risk your life sky diving,” says Keith Kantor, a nutritionist and author of “What Matters: Leadership Values That Just Might Save America.”
Kantor says hot-pepper lovers are also usually more tolerant of change than other people. “They might like the thrill associated with something new around the corner.”
A thirst for salty foods is common in those who crave small rewards and immediate gratification, according to research led by Hirsch. As a result, potato-chip lovers are competitive and worthy adversaries. “They’re ambitious and enjoy rewards in both business and pleasure,” he says.
Chip lovers are also easily frustrated at life’s little inconveniences, such as rush-hour traffic or long lines at the checkout. “Whether they’re at Disneyland, the DMV or behind the wheel, they tend to always be in a rush,” Hirsch says.
Psychologist Susan Albers, author of “EatQ,” says that about a quarter of the population are “supertasters,” which means they have more taste buds than the average Joe. This makes them more likely to dislike bitter foods or things with strong tastes. However, a Penn State study says supertasters’ taste buds love salt. One theory is that sodium dulls the bitterness in foods.
Pasta, bread and other comfort carbohydrates go hand-in-hand with having a serious side and staying inside the lines. In short, carb lovers can be cautious and even err of the side of passivity rather than being socially or professionally aggressive. “These food lovers aren’t generally risk takers and usually don’t like change,” Kantor says.
That’s not to say that they’re boring. In fact, they can be thoughtful and have a lot to say. They’re just more comfortable with knowing all the boundaries and staying well within them.
“Lovers of carbs look to what’s familiar and comfortable. And once they find it, they like to stick with it,” Kantor says.
Research conducted by Hirsch found that perfectionists are prone to loving crunchy foods. “They have very high expectations for themselves and might redo a task or project if it’s anything less than perfect,” he says.
Focused and energetic, those who call these snack foods their favorites are sticklers for punctuality and excited by challenges. But don’t think that makes them work-obsessed grinds. “Our research found pretzel lovers are often the life of the party, lively, enthusiastic and fun to be with,” Hirsch says.
There’s nothing bland about those who stock up on spicy foods, Albers says. “They tend to like complexity and interesting tastes, and often score high in the ‘sensation seeking’ category on personality tests.”
Sensation seekers like new experiences and thrills, whether it’s a new spicy food, a horror film festival or a death-defying roller coaster. “They get bored quickly with the same old humdrum things,” Albers says.
Tart and sour foods
“Research has shown those who consume bitter foods tend to be more judgmental and harsher on those around them,” Kantor says. That could be because of genetics.
“Genetic sensitivity to bitter tastes has been linked with a greater number of food aversions, including foods that are tart. So people who don’t like sour foods are likely to be very picky and opinionated about the food they eat,” Albers says.
However, if lemons don’t make you pucker, Albers says the tolerance of extreme flavors predisposes you to being open to new foods and experiences. “Your DNA isn’t wired to automatically object to things like lemons, widely believed to be unpleasant. So you might be willing to stretch your limits a bit.”
Tangy or citrus foods
Taste buds tempted by tangy or citrus foods such as oranges and limes can be in search of a way to tame anxiety and stress, Albers says.
Brazilian scientists found that citrus smells can have a calming influence. “Those who are more anxious may just be drawn to the refreshing and calming nature of citrus,” she says.
Citrus also is believed to help boost your immunity, so Albers says a craving for citrus could stem from subconscious worries about your health, even if you’re not feeling sick. “People can be drawn to citrus foods not only because they feel better after consuming them, but also because they expect to feel better given the cognitive connection between drinking orange juice and fighting off illness,” she says.
People who like spices often have a very refined sense of taste and may even have specific genetics that help them to distinguish among various spices. “They may have more sensitive chemosensory pathways, or cells within the body similar to taste buds,” Albers says.
As a result, she says, spice lovers generally are people who notice the details and have a refined sense of smell, since smell is closely related to the ability to taste.
Research has shown that those who enjoy savory foods are sterner or more serious and less pleasant compared with those who enjoy sweet foods such as cookies and cakes, Kantor says.
From frog legs and snails to bird’s nest soup and fish sperm sashimi, the taste for exotic foods indicates that you’re flexible and open to trying new things, Albers says.
Those willing to “try anything once” and who have a “try it and see if I like it” attitude are rarely rattled, he says. “While they don’t expect to like everything or every food, they’re easygoing and see life – and food – as an adventure.”