A large part of what makes people favor certain foods over others is the way they taste and smell. Between ice cream and bitter gourd, for instance, most people would probably choose the former. This is no surprise since humans are said to have developed a predilection for the sweeter things in life, which, during the caveman years, helped people avoid poisonous foods. Now, a new study published in the journal Chemical Senses is hoping to use this same natural preference to help people make better food choices.

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Juyun Lim, an Oregon State University assistant professor of food science and technology, believes that humans have the wrong idea about how the senses of taste and smell work together. As a matter of fact, he says, these two senses don’t interact with each other at all. According to the study, it is the brain that connects the dots and makes people see different foods in different ways. As such, you might find yourself beginning to have false ideas about flavors in general.

For example, when odor and taste are congruent—like vanilla and sugar—you think that the flavor comes from your mouth. But according to Lim, "Vanilla has no taste at all. It's a smell, and the pleasant sensation is coming not from your mouth but from the nose, through the passage way between the back of the mouth and the back of the nose." On the other hand, when these two senses are incongruent—like vanilla and salt—your sense of smell becomes more dominant.

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With a new understanding of how people perceive flavors, researchers are hoping to use this same information to get individuals to make healthier choices. "Many people say they don't like the 'taste' of cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower or brussel sprouts, for instance," he explains. "But what they are mainly reacting to is the smell of these vegetables, which includes a defensive compound that makes even other animals shy away from eating them. Find a way to help improve their smell, and you'll find a way to make people enjoy eating them."

(Photo by PJmixer via Flickr Creative Commons)

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