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Why does our sense of taste differ from person to person?

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3 Answers

Our sense of taste is highly connected to our sense of smell. If you think about the last time you had a cold and stuffy nose, you might remember that your food just didn't taste as it usually does. Therefore one reason that our sense of taste varies is that people have different abilities to smell odors.

Also, the tongue has specific areas that are sensitive to the basic flavors, and scientists have even discovered that there are taste buds that go beyond the basic  sweet, salt, sour, and bitter. The distribution and abundance of these nerve endings, along with how you chew and swallow, might also contribute to diversity in how the sense of taste is perceived.

Your sensitivity to taste is determined genetically by the taste receptors (proteins) that are expressed in your tastebud cells.  Because each person has a unique set of genes (with the exception of identical twins, who have an identical set of genes), each person has a unique sensitivity to taste.  There are, for example, so-called "super tasters" who are extremely sensitive to a certain bitter chemical, while other people can't taste this chemical at all.  Scientists have also found a gene that seems to be responsible for a person's ability to taste the herb cilantro.  Some people have a form of this gene (an allele, for you genetics fans) that makes cilantro taste like soap to them! 

Sense of taste is determined by your tastebuds.  Just as other physical characteristics are inherited, so too are your tastebuds.  Sense of taste is also, at least partially, a result of training - we can learn to like certain flavors, although not always.  So this is a complex coordinated effort between physical attributes and behavior.