Food Is Love
Sweet taste and feeling in love are connected.
Posted Feb 12, 2018
If you are going to give chocolate to someone you love on February 14, how sweet they think it tastes may be an indication of how much they are in love with you.
A study from the National University of Singapore involving several hundred male and female college students recently found that romantic love seems to make everything taste sweeter (Chan et al., 2013). In three studies, after college students wrote about a time when they felt romantic love, they tasted and rated the taste of sour candies, bittersweet chocolate, and distilled water — and rated them all as sweeter than did students who had written about times they felt happiness, jealousy, or no emotion in particular. In other words, thinking about being in love, more than another positive state such as happiness, augmented the sweetness of a variety of foods — even things that don’t have sugar in them at all, like water.
The reason love boosts sweetness is because the neural circuitry involved in feeling in love and in tasting sweetness is the same. The anterior cingulate cortex, which processes positive expectations, such as when you think something good is about to happen, becomes especially activated when people see pictures of their lover and when they taste sugar. If you dare, you can surreptitiously test how amorously your Valentine feels about you by seeing whether she or he finds the food you present to them as sweeter than when they eat the same foods with someone else.
On that note, contrary to expectation, this study did not find that feeling jealousy changed how bitter or sour (or sweet) foods tasted, although other research has shown that feeling down or dejected can make foods with a sour tang taste more sour (Noel & Dando, 2015). This is because the neurotransmitter noradrenaline increases the taste of sour and is turned up when we feel discouraged or stressed. So if, to your dismay, your valentine does not tell you that the chocolate truffles you present to him or her taste sweeter than the ones they bought for themselves last week, you may find that the cheese and grape appetizer you’re sharing tastes more sour to you.
Chan, K. Q., Tong, E. M., Tan, D. H., & Koh, A. H. (2013). What do love and jealousy taste like? Emotion, 13, 1142-1149.
Noel, C., & Dando, R. (2015). The effect of emotional state on taste perception. Appetite, 95, 89-95.