Why Do We React to Foods the Way We Do?


Abby Bindewald, Writer

We all have experienced the feeling of taking a bite of something spicy, sweet, or salty, and your mouth starts watering in anticipation of what you’re about to eat. But why do our bodies do this? Every food causes a different reaction because they all have a different chemical makeup. Today, we will cover spicy, salty, and sweet.

Everybody knows that spicy gives a burning aftertaste, but why? It was discovered in 1878 that hot peppers have a molecule in them called capsaicin. Capsaicin is an alkaline, oil-based molecule that triggers the temperature-sensitive nerves in tissues, giving off a burning sensation to every tissue it touches. Not only does it affect the nerve endings in your tissues and skin, but it also affects the mucus receptors, causing your nose to run (and sometimes your eyes to water!).

The salty taste in our foods is very obviously due to the salt (NaCl) we put in them, but salt affects the body in a very odd way. Salt causes dehydration by soaking up the water in our cells and causing them to shrink. This effect also causes salt to enhance the flavors of our food by absorbing the excess water in it and causing the rest of the molecules to be more prominent in our taste buds.

Sugar (Glucose) is the main drive behind the sweet taste of foods. Most people associate sugar with a good sensation, and this is because dopamine and serotonin are both released when we consume it. The release of these happy-hormones stimulate the nucleus accumbens – the area of the brain associated with reward. So, sugar quite literally makes you happy!