LessWrong Experience of Flavours

by Elo2 min read24th Apr 201526 comments


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Following on from: 

  • http://lesswrong.com/lw/m2r/lesswrong_experience_on_alcohol/ and
  • http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/m3j/tally_of_lesswrong_experience_on_alcohol/

I would like to ask for other people's experience of flavours.  I am dividing food into significant categories that I can think of.  I don't really like the 5 tastes categories for this task, but I am aware of them.  This post is meant to be about taste preference although it might end up about dietary preferences.

My experience:

I dislike spicy things.  Chilli, Curry, too much pepper, horseraddish; are all not nice things.  I do eat wasabi but I like that the flavour goes away unlike chilli which continues to burn.  I do eat like sweet chilli.

I am completely and uselessly over-addicted to sugar.  Nearly every food I eat is sugar-based.  I have no problem with savoury food; but I would completely prefer to eat sweet things to savoury. I like chocolate.  (I tend to cook a lot and end up with sugar in a lot of the foods I cook - and they taste delicious)

Drinks: 95% of what I drink is water; I drink soy milk as a drink (about once a week), I don't mind milk but don't drink it much.  I drink apple juice (and previously accidentally conditioned my brain to treat it like coffee-wakeup so am trying to maintain my conditioning and not drink it too often).  I dislike processed orange juice for its bitterness, however enjoy fresh orange juice (I realise that some people cannot taste the difference so you might have to trust me).  I rarely drink cordial and rarely drink soft drink.  

Hot drinks: I don't drink coffee, I rarely drink tea (less than once a month, and coincidentally only with other people, not for myself as I might drink or eat other foods), and when I do; drink it with several sugars (upwards of 2-3).  I do drink hot chocolate but rarer than tea.

I dislike the taste of alcohol, anything from beer; wine; spirits.  The only alcohols I can happily drink is an uncommon lychee liqueur and the alcohol Bitters (I am not sure if its actually meant to be bitter but) I don't find bitter and will drink it happily, Bitters is usually a ^40% and meant to be used as a dash (as in "lemon lime and bitters"), I can happily drink 4x or more in a drink.  Tequila will make me throw up most of the time.

I dislike bitter foods; Olives, coffee, several of the vegetables listed below.

Vegetables I don't eat: bussel sprouts, asparagus, squash, any lettuce other than iceberg, string-beans, artichoke.  They have never tasted nice to me. Bok Choy was a vegetable that I did not eat; but now do.  Although it can be not-nice tasting if cooked in a way I don't like.

animal base products: I eat meat, fish, cheese, honey and like the taste of all of them quite a lot.  I have tried many tofu, false-meat and other substitutes and also find them to taste nice.  

I eat a lot of cheese ~1-2kg per week. I eat peanut butter from the jar.

Sour: I don't like sour foods as much as some people I know. (I know someone who eats citric acid almost by the spoonful)

vinegar: I like vinegar.

Starch foods; potato, bread, rice, oat, pasta, corn.  I don't mind any of these and eat them equal with their ease and availability with the exception of not liking the annoyance of eating corn; although I am completely happy with the flavour.  I don't like the taste of any bread that isn't white bread (bread with seeds or brown bread or sourdough is not appealing to me)

salty foods: I don't have much preference of salty food. (I knew someone who was eating salt almost by the spoonful)

If you would like to share your preferences on the following groups (some of unusual nature, or all):

  • spicy foods (mention chilli, curry, horseraddish, wasabi)
  • sweet things (mention sweetness in general, chocolate)
  • alcohol has been covered in the last post.
  • drinks, (hot and cold temperature, fruit, soft drink, cordial, coffee)
  • bitter foods (olives)
  • excluded vegetabes (any that you do not eat)
  • animal products (stick to discussion on taste, not ethics this time)
  • tofu or other replacement-animal-products
  • sour (fruits that are particularly sour)
  • vinegar
  • starchy preferences
  • saltyness preferences.
I would appreciate all the opinions and perspectives on taste preferences and what they might be linked to.  Not really sure what we might find.

(possible next post on whether taste preferences impact on people's choice of going vegetarian/vegan; Hypothesis - less care of the flavours of meat makes it easier to choose a lifestyle without meat in it)

Edit: it occurs to me that I should not have included my own preference; but maybe put it in a comment to avoid people being distracted by my preference.

I do wonder about other correlations between taste and human actions.  i.e. spicy foods and opinions on conservative/risk taking behaviour.  Or low-gi and high-gi food preference and internal models of energy levels/ how you maintain energy, focus and expectations of these over the period of one day.


26 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 3:13 PM
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Interesting idea. Could be made into a poll to measure breath and variability of preference via a poll.

I will just plain take your points and make each into a poll and add some of my own. Everybody is invited to vote the their preference on a 1 to 5 scale (as many as you like, no need to consider all, the liste got quite long):






I'm addicted to sugar [pollid:869]


































It would appear that five people have different opinions of fruit juice and fruit juice.

Count me among them. (My actual answer would have been between two poll options--a 4.5/5, so to speak, if I were rating it out of 5--so I selected the leftmost option in the first question and the second leftmost option in the second to average it out.)

This sort of thing should really be done on all polls, just in case people have very small error bars around the results...

Result spoilers: Fb sne, yvxvat nypbuby nccrnef gb or yvaxrq gb yvxvat pbssrr be pnssrvar, naq gb yvxvat ovggre naq fbhe gnfgrf. (Fbzr artngvir pbeeryngvba orgjrra yvxvat nypbuby naq yvxvat gb qevax ybgf bs jngre.)

I haven't done the responsible thing and plotted these (or, indeed, done anything else besides take whatever correlation coefficient my software has seen fit to provide me with), so take with a grain of salt.

I like salty, sour, hot, spicy. I like sweet too, but not as much. I don't mind a little bitter. In general, I like strong tastes: the very darkest chocolate, old strong cheese. I like almost all fruit, vegetables and fish, and most meat. I dislike bland, slippery things like fat, butter, new cheese, milk. I'll eat ice cream, but I don't really like it. The two most disgusting things I've ever tried to eat were tripe and cottage cheese. Natto was pretty disgusting too, but not as bad. I drink quite a lot of coffee, carbonated water and sugar-free soft drinks. Until recently, I used to drink a lot of alcohol too, but nowadays I'm saving that for parties (of which I don't have many), as it has a lot of calories and is bad for my blood pressure.

Asking about people's "preference on a 1 to 5 scale" (rather than, say, "their appreciation on a -2 to +2 scale" or "on a scale from strongly dislike to strongly like"), then seeing the next line begin "I like spicy things", I nearly interpreted the far left to be "I like this only a little" and the far right to be "I like this a lot".

Fruit juice is twinned. Can you edit these polls?

That's no problem it gives a test whether people respond the same way both times.

Actually they significantly don't.

Yes, sorry. I noticed, but editing polls is not unproblematic.

I believe editing polls resets them, so there's no reason to do it if it's just an aesthetically unpleasant mistake that doesn't hurt the accuracy of the results.

Unfortunately I expect this poll to noise itself out of usefulness. for example. person A dislikes spicy and likes sweet. Person B dislikes sweet and likes spicy. this poll will show one vote 1 for sweet, one vote 5 for sweet, one vote 1 for spicy and one vote 5 for spicy.

There would have to be a form that can add another dimension to the results to see any correlation between results. This also limits people's opportunity to comment on what might have caused them to have certain preferences...

The pool provides raw data. It's possible to download that data and see what correlates with what. It just needs a slight bit of R coding.

Thats awesome! I didn't realise!

Sure, here's my preferences:

spicy foods I enjoy moderate spice. Really really spicy is a bit much for me, and I do tend to drink a lot of water when eating spicy foods, but I like them.

sweet things Definitely have a bit of a sweet tooth: I enjoy these and would generally prefer to have a dessert over a starter in a 2-course meal, for example. I like chocolate but I'm not sure that's a particularly great example for this category, as I also enjoy it in its less sweet forms: very dark chocolate, unsweetened drinking chocolate. It is also definitely possible for things to be too sweet for me to want them in large quantities.

alcohol Don't like, don't consume to any significant extent.

drinks I drink a lot of water and no-added-sugar orange squash (I think this is quite a British thing: it's similar to a cordial but somehow different. Comes in concentrated form and you add water to make the drink up). Juice (usually orange) sometimes; milk occasionally. I like lemonade but tend to reserve it for pubs or eating out, neither of which I do all that frequently. Don't like ice in my lemonade!

hot drinks Until a few months ago, I drank a fair bit of tea but decided the caffeine was bothering me, so now I drink tea (with milk but no sugar) a couple of times a week and most days have either rooibos or some herbal tea like peppermint or chamomile. Hot chocolate or chocolate Ovaltine quite often. Coffee extremely occasionally (like once or twice a year maybe).

bitter foods Mostly like. I really enjoy olives and vegetables that some people describe as bitter like broccoli or sprouts.

excluded vegetables Can't think of any really... I used to be not that fond of parsnips but seem to have got over that. Fruit and vegetable preferences for me are a lot more about texture than taste, so sometimes a vegetable that I really like when I cook it can be a bit off-putting to me when cooked in a form I'm not keen on. I'll probably still eat it though. Oh, water chestnuts, I don't like those. (Are they a vegetable?)

animal based products Haven't eaten meat for years so can't comment on preferences. I like and consume quite a lot of dairy and eggs in various forms, including goats' and sheep's cheese which no one else in my family can stand on account of the baffling complaint that "it smells like a goat/sheep".

tofu or other replacement-animal-products I probably eat less of these than many vegetarians, although I have no objection to any of them that I've tried. I just prefer vegetables and legumes and so on, I guess. Tofu is the most often used in my cooking (maybe once a week or slightly less).

sour I quite like citrus flavours, but in relatively small doses I suppose. Sour fruits are fine modulo texture. I like grapefruit, for example. It takes me quite a long time to consume this type of thing if it's in concentrated form, as I find it to be a very strong taste (a small glass of orange or grapefruit juice can last me ages, for instance).

vinegar No objection, don't use it that much.

starchy foods I like bread a lot, fresh from the bakery (or our own oven) being the best kind pretty much regardless of what sort of bread it is. Also eat pasta, rice and potato very regularly. Not much preference between these really, although I find I eat less if I'm eating potato: it seems more intense and filling.

salty foods I think I have quite a low tolerance for salt. I don't add it to many things when cooking and often find processed (or even just not-made-by-me) soups etc to be overwhelmingly salty. I seldom add it at the table, steamed cabbage being an exception that I feel benefits from a bit of salt.

I have Asperger's, and my experience of food is mostly mediated by the mouthfeel often being repulsive to me, and the tastes often far too strong to tolerate. Probably the majority of food people around me eat is disgusting to me, but I don't think I can describe it in terms of taste preferences like the ones you're asking for. If most of the difference between "delicious food I greedily consume" and "food that puts me off the rest of my breakfast" is in whether the fat is crispy enough, I'm not sure if I can usefully talk about how much I like the taste of meat.

I definitely understand this perspective, although I think I have it the other way round to you in terms of what the default is (as well as to a lesser extent). That is, I pretty much like the taste of most foods, but a texture that I can't tolerate can easily put me off a food anyway. And if I find something actually disgusting, as opposed to just not what I prefer, it's nearly always a texture issue.

I quite like all foods/drinks that I have tried, barring a few things like tripe. I find myself baffled by picky eaters.

Possibly interesting factoid: my father and I share barely any food tastes. I love vanilla as intensely as he hates it. He likes his alcohol dry while I like mine sweet. At the same time he tolerates crappy sweet snacks and poor quality chocolate that I would find cloying after the first bite. I'm okay with import fresh produce while he can't stand anything out of season or greenhouse-grown or non-organic. Both my parents seem to like fish quite well, and eat everything with lots of slices of bread, whereas I can't stand either. I once bought some green tea only to discover I utterly hate the taste, while my father was pretty glad to have the green tea all for himself.

I wonder what might be going on...

[-][anonymous]6y 0

What kind of vinegar you like? I am okay with normal fruit or wine vinegar on salads. I am trying to get into balsamic vinegar as a lot of people say this is the best thing on a salad, but it keeps smelling like unwashed feet to me.

any kinds of vinegar.

apple cider vinegar is quite cheap and has a nice flavour. you can always try to reduce balsamic vinegar; that softens it and brings out a different flavour; alternatively just forget it and use other vinegars.

[-][anonymous]6y 0

I don't fully understand how in the Western culture the term "spicy" has multiple meanings. It can mean the capsaicin burn of "hot" food, or it can mean simply something literally spicy, like curry. In the West, the textbook typical spicy food is an Indian curry, korma, vindaloo etc. which can be both, you can usually order them hot or not hot in a restaurant.

For example, srirocha (note: I only know the goose version, not the rooster one, the rooster one is hard to find in Europe) is "hot" like fsck, but it is not spicy, it has hardly any taste IMHO.

I suppose this must be something historical. The first spices imported were probably of the "hot" kind like black or white pepper.

Hypothesis: "hot" food is an aphrodisiac, perhaps back in the Middle Ages they were mainly used by aging noblemen to get a hard-on easier. I don't see this effect on me (for me eggs work best for that purpose), but I have heard this hypothesis made by others.

Another interesting aspect of the English language is the distinction between spices and "herbs". As far as I can tell, the difference is simply imported vs. native, not today, but like 500 years ago. Marjory (a herb) was grown locally in England, coriander (a spice) had to be imported. Nevertheless it is possible to use herbs to make food taste pretty spicy. Not in the "hot" sense.

in my word-map of the world; the word spice is the super-category that contains all flavoury herbs and spices. Technically spices are not all spicy; and thats probably where the problem lies. I have no idea how we came to call the "hot spices" spicy. chilli/pepper/curry. When cinnamon is another spicy which is not very spicy at all.

mainly keeping in mind that spice /= spicy. I guess the only explanation is that popular language is playing catch up with the world. Good defining terms only come out of a need to separate them. Renaming spices isn't as important as "what do we call this binary-i/o device we just invented" (computers).

Another interesting aspect of the English language is the distinction between spices and "herbs". As far as I can tell, the difference is simply imported vs. native, not today, but like 500 years ago.

Not sure this is true. I understand "herbs" to be specifically leafy parts of plants. Mustard, for example, which uses seeds is not a herb. Neither is horseradish which is a root. However both are native to Europe.

Will the existence of supertasters skew the results? I've ordered a supertaster test chemical strip before, and found I was a supertaster, but my brother was not.


I find I am not tolerant of extreme flavours in either direction. Super-sweet, or super sour, bitter flavors can make me gag. I can't drink coffee or most teas. I also don't enjoy chocolate. I eat mostly 'vanilla' or bland foods, but find they taste quite good.