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I've often heard that we become accustomed to oversalty food and that abstaining from eating such foods for a few weeks could allow us to taste salt in lesser quantities again. From experience I would say this is true, though it could be placebo, but does this also apply to other flavors? Are there any negative effects of doing this?

By flavor I mean Bitter, Sour & Umami, since most answers so far already deal with sweets and salt.

  • Health questions are off topic, but the rest is answerable, maybe it would be good to edit out the health part of the question. – GdD Jul 5 at 15:09
  • Fair enough @GdD – Halhex Jul 5 at 15:14
  • It can take some years to truly eliminate the "taste for" sugar in coffee, say. It's a very, very deep addiction on many levels. – Fattie Jul 8 at 13:24
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You nailed the correct wording in your question - "we become accustomed to". We tend to get used to and like what we become accustomed to.

For the same reason that we get used to overly salty things, we can get used to less salty things. What we get used to becomes normal and what we like.

I've experienced the salt reduction due to a health condition my husband has. We can no longer tolerate food with the same level of salt that we used to eat. By reducing the amount we use, we became accustomed to food with less salt.

I did the same thing with sugar in tea and coffee many years ago. I grew up with Southern style (very) sweet tea. I didn't gradually reduce it but cut it out all the way. To this day I don't use sugar in coffee or tea, add it to cereal (or buy frosted cereal) and I find many sweet things just too sweet for my taste.

I also liken this to learning to like new foods. There are many things I've tried and didn't like up front but, after continuing to try them, eventually found that I had learned to like these foods. One, for example is cilantro. When I first started tasting it I couldn't stand it. I swore that it tasted like soap. But after a while, I found myself really liking it. So much so, that I started adding it to many foods that ordinarily I wouldn't have thought to.

While taste is subjective, we can become accustomed to new things and often times need to.

  • Interesting, I don't remember from where but I heard linking cilantro with soap couldn't be change. – Halhex Jul 5 at 17:15
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    @Halhex Yeah, I've heard that, too. Something about the "cilantro gene". Obviously not true, at least not for me. – Cindy Jul 5 at 17:18
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    We can condition ourselves to anything. – Halhex Jul 5 at 17:31
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    @Cindy There is indeed a gene that expresses a specific aldehyde receptor that makes cilantro taste like soap to some people; that doesn't require "scare quotes". Perhaps someone with the gene could become accustomed to the soapy taste of cilantro, but it would still be a different flavor than the one experienced by those without the gene. – Tashus Jul 6 at 14:45
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    @Tashus I used the quotation marks because I was not using the proper name or number for the gene, but rather a loose term. They were not meant to be "scare quotes". I'm sure that people's perception of what something tastes like varies regardless of whether they like a taste or not. – Cindy Jul 6 at 15:58
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I have personally experienced this with sweet as I reduced the amount of sugar (and sweeteners) I add to tea and coffee and I can at attest that I did get accustomed to less sweet to the point that when I had tea with the same amount of sugar as before it was far too sweet for me.

I didn't do a "big-bang" reduce by half all at once, I did it gradually over about a month until I was down to about half what I'd been adding. However, I found I hit a limit, if I reduced too much it was never sweet enough no matter how long I gave my taste to acclimate.

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About 40 years ago I thought that 4 sugars in a coffee was perhaps a tad more than I really needed ;)

It took me maybe 4 years of gradual reduction - including about 6 months when I needed just that quarter spoon for the first cup then I would be OK without for the rest of the day.

Without actually intending to, by the time I'd got the sugar down to zero, I'd also stopped eating sweet things entirely. This was not any kind of 'health' or 'diet' thing, it just coincided with my gradual reduction of sugar in coffee.

To this day I cannot bear sugar in coffee. I rarely eat sweet things at all - it's not that I dislike them, I simply have little desire for them & when I do try, they're usually just far too sweet.

I've never tried it with salt... maybe it would work, but I have never felt the need to try. [I have some theories about salt addition, but they don't really belong here.]

It doesn't work with chilli. I've been a "chilli addict" since my teens & if I ever go a few weeks without anything seriously hot, it makes no difference; it's not suddenly 'hotter'. I'm not in any way 'chilli immune' but I do like it to bite back. [This applies not just to the pseudo-mexican dish, but to any type of 'curry' too.]

  • Well actually, it worked for me for chili, as I got (forced myself to get) accustomed to the heat I was able to discern more flavors in them. Maybe it only works on way though. – Halhex Jul 5 at 15:49
  • If I abstain from chilli [which I very rarely do] it doesn't get hotter when I come back to it. I've been accustomed to the heat for 40 years or more. I have never considered repeating the sugar experiment with chilli - I don't feel any need to reduce my chilli intake over the next 4 years ;) – Tetsujin Jul 5 at 15:51
  • True, but heat is more of a sensation than flavor so it makes sense we get accustomed to it but not the other way around. – Halhex Jul 5 at 15:53
  • It's not something I've actually studied, it's merely an observation based on an experimental sample set of... one. ;) – Tetsujin Jul 5 at 16:57
  • @Halhex Indeed -- capsaicin stimulates the pain receptors in your mouth. – David Richerby Jul 6 at 9:05

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