Why do our taste buds get more comfortable with sour, spicy, bitter foods with age?


I remember in myself (and observe now) kids not being able to stand foods that are spicy, bitter, fermented, etc. (anything except sweet) But with age we seem to tolerate and even seek them out. Why is that, what’s happening to our taste buds?

In: 12

All sorts of different reasons.

As we age our taste buds actually die off and are reduced. So it takes more X to taste X. This is why you’ll often have older people using lots of table salt and pepper at dinner.

Growing bones (bones of children) secrete hormones which increase metabolism and higher metabolism can allow for higher tolerance of sugary foods.

Smaller people (children) are more susceptible to toxic foods. Being smaller it takes a less amount of a toxic food to hurt them. So being able to identify is beneficial.

Age causes a wide variety of changes. Not only does it reduce the number of taste buds you possess, it also reduces the specific receptor proteins that are present in your taste buds. There’s a class of sensitive chemicals, called “GLP-1 receptors”, that are much more present in the taste buds of young children.

They respond very strongly to sugar, making children crave sweets, presumably because of the energy sugars provide for growth. Interestingly, when the concentration of these is diminished, the taste buds with insufficient GLP-1 instead respond much more strongly to ‘umami’. Umami is the so-called ‘fifth-taste’, or ‘savoriness’ and is concentrated in fermented foods, mushrooms, tomato, soy, and meat.

These foods all have much higher levels of antioxidants, a class of molecules which inhibit cancer in the body. Logically, then, the difference is an evolutionary advantage, directing those predisposed to cancer (because age increases cancer risk) away from pure calories and towards functional foods which increase their odds of surviving to a more advanced age.

Source: [Age-Related Changes in Mouse Taste Bud Morphology, Hormone Expression, and Taste Responsivity](https://academic.oup.com/biomedgerontology/article/67A/4/336/623110?login=false)