Turns out we are genetically predisposed to either love or shrink from super sweet food, or so finds out Patricia Kihoro as she sets out to uncover the science behind our taste buds.
My entire life, I’ve never really had a sweet tooth. For as long as I can remember, sweetness was never a thing I had a hankering for. Aside from only needing to add sugar to avocado to help it go down, I was that child sneaking into the kitchen to steal salt. Yes, salt guys, I couldn’t get enough of it. I loved the taste, the feeling of the crystals on my tongue, and the rough sensation on the inside of my cheeks after swallowing a tablespoon full of salt and feeling my entire mouth dehydrate. But sweet stuff? Not quite. It’s not that I didn’t like it, I just didn’t, and still don’t, desire it like most people do. To me, the sweetest thing is a not-quite-ripe mango topped off with a mix of red chilli powder and salt. Ultimate bliss.
In boarding school, I would buy myself a bar of chocolate at the beginning of the term, and keep it in my locker where I’d see it every time I opened it. Yet I wouldn’t touch the chocolate until the night before we went home for the half term break. For six weeks I would barely glance at it, even though it was right in my face, and when the time came to devour this Mars bar, I was happy to share it with my friends. I wonder if this somehow developed my preference for delayed gratification when it comes to, erm, other things.
I feel a little nervous tick whenever anyone calls me “Sweetie”, a little rush of annoyance that quickly fades but has no explanation, no matter how well-intentioned the person is. No song with the word “sweet” in the title has ever been a favourite. I may be reaching here but, if the shoe fits.
I recently looked up why some people can’t get enough of the sweet stuff, while others couldn’t be bothered to even glance at the dessert menu. Turns out, it’s genetic. There is actually a human sweetness receptor whose genetic variants dictate just what concentrations of sucrose we like, which explains why some people wince when something is sour, while I wince when something is too sweet. My mum, however, loves sweet wine. She’ll add soda to dry wine (the horror) just to make it palatable to her, while I would rather drink raw, apple cider vinegar mixed with muratina (local honey brew).
Sweetness, according to science, does have pain reducing properties which may explain why people turn to a gallon of ice-cream and cupcakes when they’re heartbroken. Although I’m not sure if that statement is as true for emotional pain as it is for physical pain, I try not to be too judgmental when I see someone reach for a box of donuts because they stubbed their toe.
I often joke that at my wedding, while people enjoy what will probably be a beautiful, tastefully designed wedding cake, I’ll have a stash of weetabix cereal somewhere close just for me. This is after I was convinced that a wedding cake made entirely out of weetabix and decorated with mabuyu (baobab seeds) probably won’t cut it. It looks a lot better in my head guys, trust me. Pinterest has made me believe in the potential beauty of everything.
While I am sometimes envious of the joy that people around me elicit from their favourite cakes and candies, I am glad that my lack of a sweet tooth came in handy when I opted to cut out soda and refined sugars from my diet. My body and health have been the better for it and that to me really is the sweetest thing. That said, when the craving does strike, not only does my dormant sweet tooth show up, it becomes my entire sweet jaw!