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Why do our taste buds change over time?

Posted at 4:06 PM, Feb 21, 2023

If you once despised certain foods and now crave them, there's a very good explanation for the change: Your tastes can evolve over time.

Your tongue is filled with taste buds — as many as 10,000 when you’re born. But those aren’t the little bumps you see.

"Those are the bumps called papillae, which if you were to magnify it up, you'd find little, tiny holes on those. Some of those papillae and those are the taste entrance into the taste buds," said Richard Doty, who oversees the smell and taste center at the University of Pennsylvania. "There's a gradual decline in taste buds as we get older. And usually, that's accelerated after the age of 65 or so." 

The bigger factor why your taste in food may change may have to do with your senses.

"About 90% of what we call taste is really smell. So, if you hold the nose, the chocolate, it tastes just like chalk," said Dr. Alan Hirsch, who is with the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago. 

"As you get older, your sense of smell drops down substantially. About half of those over the age of 65 and three-quarters of those over the age of 80 have a reduced ability to smell," Hirsch said. 

That’s why, according to Hirsch, some older people compensate by adding lots of salt or hot sauce to their food.  

The brain can also play a role in our evolving tastes.  

"A lot of things that dictate our preferences for food or psychological. So, if we think, as we get older, broccoli is better for us, we're more likely to accept it," Doty said.