Taste is Subjective. Why do we taste things differently?
Your “jam” is rarely someone else’s. Our taste (musically, cinematically, aesthetically, culinary, etc.) is a point of pride, and an icon of our individuality. Some people can’t stand your body odor, but a loved one can deeply love your natural scent. No two people have identical taste, and vaping is no different. You may hate the best-selling e-juice, you may love a flavor that was recently axed, and you may have lukewarm feelings about an e-juice that gets a lot of hype. Taste is subjective. Truly subjective. This blog will explore the bizarre phenomenon of taste, and why such a wide divide exists.
It’s all about the papillae.
On a physical level, we have taste buds. “Papillae” is the name for little bumps on our tongue. These papillae play a crucial role in the sense of taste, and in the stimulus that tells your brain how something tastes. Those with more papillae (bumpier tongues) tend to be “supertasters,” who experience taste at a more intense level. Supertasters tend to be the pickier eaters. They are easily overwhelmed by a flavor, and have a lower tolerance for spiciness. At the other end of the spectrum, we have “subtasters,” who have fewer papillae. Subtasters experience a milder, muted sense of taste. These folks can be seen dumping hot sauce on their food, and covering everything in bacon and/or chocolate. Investigate the surface of your tongue, and see where you live on the super-to-subtaster scale. Do you think your tongue-bumps defines your taste?
Nature vs. Nurture
The age-old debate of nature vs. nurture rages in terms of taste. Is your taste predetermined by genetic biology, or is it conditioned over time? Like most nature vs. nature debates, it’s not one or the other, but a synthesis of the two.
There might be an evolutionary root to our taste reception. Imagine if poisonous, rotten, or inedible substances tasted delicious: our early ancestors may not have survived. We have 20-40 genes dedicated to sensing bitterness, which is most closely linked with toxic plant matter. Our taste buds respond positively to sweet, umami, and savory flavors. Our bodies need nutrients, and we’ve come to associate these tastes with feasting, for our evolutionary survival. Of course, evolutionary biology is a softer, speculative science, so more data and research is needed for conclusive evidence.
Prenatally, taste develops almost immediately. Human senses develop within one to eight weeks of gestation. Eating habits of both parents come into play, and there is a genetic predisposition to taste. At the blurring of nature versus nurture, a pregnant mother’s eating habits have an impact on the flavor cravings of the unborn child.
From birth, taste changes dramatically. Breast milk is perhaps the earliest postnatal exposure to taste. The diet, health, and habits of the mother are expressed in that life-giving milk. You are much more likely to enjoy flavors your mother craved during this breast-feeding period, even late into life. Anecdotally, my mom ate oranges by the bag and carbo-loaded on extra-meaty spaghetti during my earliest days, and you can guess what my current diet looks like.
Taste continues to form throughout your life. You form positive and negative associations to flavors indefinitely, from joyous birthdays to traumatic bachelor meals. Unfamiliarity and fear of the new come into play. Some folks are wildly adventurous, while others eat the same three meals their entire lives.
Habituation is a progressive dulling of stimulus when it is repeated. Consider your first beer. With some exceptions, the first beer scrunches up the face, and is hard to get through. By the time you finish college, you’re a beer aficionado. We learn to love the flavors of substances that have an effect we like. Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is treatment for a breakup, champagne is a must-have for celebrations, and nicotine gets you through a stressful day of work. We learn to crave these flavors for specific situations.
In Relation to Vaping
With so many variables in play for taste, it’s no surprise people have such unbelievably different taste in e-juice. Along with papillae, genetics, prenatal, postnatal, conditioning, association, habituation, culture, and situation-specific taste, vaping brings steep-time, extra flavor shots, nicotine level, VG/PG ratio, and dramatic hardware differences to the table. People form strong opinions about e-juice vendors with so many confound variables in play.
To make a taste judgment on a flavor, company, or vaping in general, we have to experience the comprehensive spectrum of vape culture. I am of the personal belief that a lot of vapers form extreme opinions on e-juice lines based on imperfect vaping conditions, and should take the time to experiment with flavors, ratios, and steep-times before besmirching an e-juice company.
I cannot express this enough: taste is subjective. Your opinion on a flavor will never be an objective fact.
Something to think about:
What events in your life, prenatally or postnatally, have influenced your taste in vaping?