Did Food Taste Better 50 Years Ago?
While we can’t go back in time, some things have definitely changed.
Did the food taste better before? You’ve probably heard this question once or twice. The fact that food is not what it used to be, especially fruits and vegetables, is one of the things that sometimes goes around in the form of common sense.
Unfortunately, we can’t go back in time and buy a strawberry from the street market of the 1960s and compare it to the strawberries found in supermarkets today. Even if we could, not everyone would agree that strawberries today are more tasteless than a fresh strawberry decades ago.
Taste is in some ways a fairly objective phenomenon. There are five known tastes today (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami). When we eat food, various receptors or receptors (taste buds) respond to these tastes and send a signal to the brain about what is going on. But taste can be confusingly subjective in other ways. Besides certain types of health conditions, your mood and many other environmental or genetic factors can impair your sense of taste. For example, some people are more sensitive to bitter tastes and dislike particularly bitter foods. Moreover, this is generally related to their genetics: Some people who are more sensitive to bitter tastes (see: super gourmet) carry a gene called TAS2R38, which makes them perceive bitterness more.
Your taste buds also change as you grow. Most importantly, some findings show that the number of taste buds we have decreases as we age, and the ones that stay with us shrink in size. All of this can affect our ability to detect these five tastes and change our perception of food.
The way we perceive food can even change from day to day. A study published in Appetite in 2015 analyzed the influence of mood on various tastes. In the research, data were collected from 550 people who participated in a men’s hockey match that resulted in 4 wins, 3 losses and 1 draw. Analyzes showed that positive emotions during play were associated with increased perception of sweet taste and decreased intensities of sour taste. On the other hand, negative emotions were associated with increased sour taste sensations and decreased sweet taste sensations.
Beyond all this subjectivity, taste is just one component of what is known as aroma. Aroma; It’s an incredibly complex mix of exactly what the tongue tastes, what the nose smells, things like texture, and how it all comes together to determine our perception.
One of the things we do know is that the way we produce and consume food has changed a lot over the last half century, and taste has definitely been affected.
Perhaps the most important example is the tomato. This incredibly famous crop is considered the highest value vegetable crop worldwide. The flavor of a tomato is determined by sugars and acids, which activate our taste buds, and a number of volatile compounds that trigger our olfactory receptors. The combination of these two creates that unique flavor that makes a perfect pasta sauce so delicious.
Over the years, food scientists have realized how important these volatile components are in making tomatoes taste especially great. Today, tomatoes are grown to travel long distances without rotting and to stay in storage before they go bad. According to a study published in Science in 2017, this genetic switch resulted in a significant reduction in the volatile compounds that contribute to a tomato’s flavor. In other words, the taste of the product we bought is lower.
While tomatoes are of great interest, there are a number of other similarly grown crops to meet the demands of modern agriculture; probably they too have lost some of the aroma they once had.
Still, there are other factors that contribute to how much we love one product over another, which are much more difficult to research but nonetheless important. Because aroma and taste have such a strong objective quality, the nostalgic part of food cannot be ignored. My brother, mother and I have tried countless times to make my grandmother’s lemon bread, which we devoured every holiday as a child. Although it is always praised, it does not take the place of the original in our opinion. It may be nostalgic, but I also believe you put twice as much lemon syrup on it.