It Must Taste Good, Your Nose Is Red

As we rapidly move deeper into the Holiday Season our thoughts are turned more and more to food. Gourmets or non-gourmets, we all hope for a great gustatory experience or two before the season is over. We will, in many cases, have the opportunity to taste other people’s favorites and in our multi-ethnic culture, the variety can indeed be wide.

Not all those tastes will work out for us as we are wedded strongly to flavors and textures that we grew up with, and can be reluctant to savor new combinations. Hopefully, we’ll all be too polite to wrinkle our nose or make faces if the result of someone’s hours of preparation isn’t to our liking.

It is interesting, though, how we make these extravagant facial expressions of dislike spontaneously from a very early age. But it’s not just our facial muscles that respond. Our autonomic nervous system kicks in and our body responds with local changes in blood flow. A recent paper by Kashima and Hayashi from Kyushi U discusses the changes to facial blood flow that occur in response to the five basic tastes (1).

Change of blood flow means change of color and we communicate with each other through changes in facial color. For example, “he turned pale with fear” or “she turned red with anger.” So it is with tastes. Our bodies are in automatic and, although we can control the muscles, the blood flow will give us away.

Sixteen men and women in their twenties, were proffered solutions of sugar (sweet), salt (salty), citric acid (sour), quinine (bitter), and monosodium glutamate (umami) to savor. The 16 chosen ones were asked to rate their gustatory experience on a pleasant/unpleasant scale.

Sweet and salty showed increased blood flow in the eyelids in line with the degree of pleasantness. On the other hand, the umami response went with changes to the blood flow in the skins of the subject’s noses.

So keep a close eye on your guest’s eyelids and noses as they dig in to your lavish fare. If their eyes and noses glow red, you have pulled off a winner. If they go pale, turn up the heat until their whole face is red and willingly suspend your disbelief.


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