How It Works

How did our sense of taste help us evolve?

The sense of taste is our body’s gatekeeper, promoting our species’ survival by encouraging us to eat things that we need and avoid those that could harm us. Like many other animals, our early ancestors evolved an aversion to bitter flavours, helping to evade plant toxins. In an environment where food was often scarce, they grew to love salty, umami (a savoury, meaty flavour) and sweet foods, driving them to fill up on nutritious, energy-rich snacks.

Experience also shapes human food preferences, allowing us to acquire certain tastes (eg coffee), or conversely develop an aversion to foods which have made us sick in the past. In developed countries today, the widespread availability of food and our fondness for calorie-laden and salty foods have contributed to obesity, diabetes and heart problems. So the same tastes which helped early humans are perhaps no longer such an advantage…

Answered by Alex Cheung