Food Preferences Vary By Region And Culture
April 18, 2013

Where We Are Raised Defines Our Taste For Food

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

A new study shows how the country we reside in and culture in which we grew up helps define what tastes we prefer.

The scientific community largely believes children's favorite foods across the board are fatty and sugary. However, scientists writing in the Food Quality and Preference journal contradict this theory.

The team analyzed whether or not all children prefer the same types of food, such as chips, candy and sugary drinks. They examined the flavor preference of more than 1,700 children between six and nine years old from eight European countries, including Italy, Estonia, Cyprus, Belgium, Sweden, Germany, Hungary and Spain.

Researchers used sensory tests to determine the child's taste for fat, sugar, salt and monosodium glutamate.

"The results were surprising," said Silvia Bel-Serrat, the only Spanish co-author of the study, who works in the University of Zaragoza. "Although we often tend to think that children share a common predisposition towards fats and sugar, we observed that the preferences of children from different countries were not at all similar."

The team found that over 70 percent of the German children said they preferred biscuits with added fat, while only 35 percent of children from Cyprus shared the same tastes. They also saw the majority of German children preferred plain apple juice, while those from Sweden, Italy and Hungary chose the drink with added sugar or flavors.

"This means that flavor preferences are influenced by cultural factors, but we also see that these tastes are developed in a similar way as children grow up", stated Anne Lanfer, the study's main author and researcher at the Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology in Bremen, Germany.

The researchers assessed whether tastes varied according to the child's gender, taste threshold, parent's level of education, feeding patterns, time spent watching TV and parents' use of food as a reward. They found there was no link between these factors and the preference for sugar, fat, salt and monosodium glutamate, despite the fact that an influence on flavor preference had been attributed to these factors.

"There is a tendency to undertake uniform dietary prevention programs across European countries. However, flavor preferences vary from one country to another and the same program will not be equally effective in all countries," said Lanfer.

She said promoting the consumption and distribution of apple juice with no added sugar would be more effective in Germany than in Hungary, where the majority of children prefer juice with added sugar.

"There is still hope that children's flavor preferences are not stable and can be influenced by their parents and the surrounding environment", the authors concluded.

In another study, researchers said exposing children to different flavors would help them develop tastes for a variety of foods.

"Children have sensitive taste buds, and they taste what we smell," said Roberta Anding, registered dietitian with BCM and Texas Children´s Hospital. "Certain foods may have a stronger taste for them than they do for adults." She said parents should remember that their reaction to food has an influence on their children.

"So if you cringe at the sight of a certain food, chances are they will too."