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5 Simple Tips to Expand Your Paleo Palate

By Stephanie Vuolo, B.A.
June 19, 2015
5 Simple Tips to Expand Your Paleo Palate image

Have you ever wondered why cilantro tastes like soap to 10% of the population,1 or why pregnant women suffer from food aversions2, or why children are such picky eaters?3 Although seemingly random, all of these are related by the origin of our complex sense of taste.

Taste was a necessary evolutionary tool to prevent our hunter-gatherer ancestors from eating poisonous foods.4 The five basic tastes- bitter, salty, sour, sweet, and umami (savory) each work through specialized receptors on our taste buds to ensure our survival.5 However, in modern times they may be leading us down the wrong path.

The processed food industry pays close attention to the science behind our taste receptors and uses the information to create products that optimize the “bliss point”, defined as the ideal concentration of flavor to maximize sensory pleasure.6 Through the chemistry of food science, the use of poor quality, inflammatory fats7 and a heavy amount of sugars,8 commercial food producers have preyed on our taste perceptions encouraging individuals to seek out nutritionally inferior foods. This disregard for the origins of our sense of taste is a prime driver of increasing levels of type 2 diabetes, obesity, and other related diseases fueled by a diet consisting of too many modern foods.9

Ironically, our hunter-gatherer ancestors couldn’t risk making poor food selections that led to eating low nutrient and energy content foods, or to the potentially lethal ingestion of toxins. However, in modern times, we are being led by food manufacturers to make those empty food choices and are slowly suffering the consequences of choosing foods that aren’t fit to eat.

The impact of these engineered foods start early as taste perceptions begin to form early in life with both amniotic fluid and breastmilk comprising flavors reflected by the foods, spices, and beverages eaten by the mother.10

The Paleo Diet, devoid of refined sugars and salt, can help reset our taste buds to be more inline with our genetics and to fully appreciate the variance of fresh foods available to us. It is never too late to become a more adventurous eater and rediscover foods in their unaltered state. The Paleo diet can help you appreciate the sweetness of grapefruit, the bitterness of kale, and the umami of veal stock.

5 Simple tips to expand your Paleo palate

1. Breathe it in

Focus on the aroma, as taste and smell are closely linked. The smells released through cooking and even chewing can enhance the flavor of food.11 Slowly simmer meats to entice your taste buds before a meal.

2. Spice it up

Wake up your taste buds with a variety of spices. Hunter-gatherers enjoyed varied diets, with diverse and strong flavors. Recreate the experience with well-seasoned food, using spices like chili peppers, turmeric, fennel, and sage.

3. Color outside the lines

Seek out colorful foods as color can influence our perception of flavor. Fill you plate with dark leafy greens, bright orange squash, and ripe red tomatoes.

4. Bitter is better

Add a little bitterness through arugula, dandelion, and even cocoa. Foragers perceived bitterness a sign of toxicity. Fortunately, we know which bitter foods are safe to eat- they are also high in antioxidants.12

5. Fatten up

Enjoy healthy fats. Research suggests the five basic tastes may soon be joined by fat as taste receptors have been detected for fatty acids on the tongue.13


[1] Eriksson, Nicholas, et al. "A genetic variant near olfactory receptor genes influences cilantro preference." Flavour 1.1 (2012): 22.

[2] Sherman, Paul W., and Samuel M. Flaxman. "Nausea and vomiting of pregnancy in an evolutionary perspective." American journal of obstetrics and gynecology 186.5 (2002): S190-S197.

[3] Dovey, Terence M., et al. "Food neophobia and ‘picky/fussy’eating in children: A review." Appetite 50.2 (2008): 181-193.

[4] Breslin, Paul AS. "An evolutionary perspective on food and human taste."Current Biology 23.9 (2013): R409-R418.

[5] Bachmanov AA, Beauchamp GK. Taste receptor genes. Annu Rev Nutr. 2007;27:389-414.

[6] Moss, Michael. Salt, sugar, fat: how the food giants hooked us. Random House, 2013.

[7] Kang, Moon-Hee, and Ki-Sun Yoon. "Elementary school students' amounts of sugar, sodium, and fats exposure through intake of processed food." Journal of the Korean Society of Food Science and Nutrition 38.1 (2009): 52-61.

[8] Lustig, Robert H. Fat chance: beating the odds against sugar, processed food, obesity, and disease. Penguin, 2012.

[9] Chakravarthy, Manu V., and Frank W. Booth. "Eating, exercise, and “thrifty” genotypes: connecting the dots toward an evolutionary understanding of modern chronic diseases." Journal of Applied Physiology 96.1 (2004): 3-10.

[10] Mennella, Julie A., Coren P. Jagnow, and Gary K. Beauchamp. "Prenatal and postnatal flavor learning by human infants." Pediatrics 107.6 (2001): e88-e88.

[11] Tournier, Carole, et al. "Flavour perception: aroma, taste and texture interactions." (2007).

[12] Breslin, Paul AS. "An evolutionary perspective on food and human taste."Current Biology 23.9 (2013): R409-R418.

[13] Cartoni, Cristina, et al. "Taste preference for fatty acids is mediated by GPR40 and GPR120." The Journal of Neuroscience 30.25 (2010): 8376-8382.

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