The phrase “you are what you eat” harks all the way back to the year 1826 when French author Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote, “tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” It’s a quote often bandied around without much thought, maybe by a parent telling their children that if they eat too many carrots they’ll turn orange. But the phrase “you are what you eat” has a lot more meaning behind it than most people realize.
From pizza to potatoes, everything has an implication, whether it’s related to your personality type or your financial status. Keep reading as we dive into the psychological and societal meaning behind your favorite food and provide loads of great food psychology facts along the way. This article would not have been possible without the help of our friends from Health Well.
Now, let’s start by breaking down the four main flavor profiles, or tastes: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter.
Number 1: If you have a sweet tooth.
A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that people who liked candy and other sweet foods are likely to be more agreeable, friendly, and compassionate than those who preferred other flavors such as bitter and spicy. So, if this is you, congratulations! In theory, this means you are a pretty pleasant person to be around. Don’t take that for granted, though; it’s still better to try and be a nice person rather than just eat more chocolate.
Researchers from three different colleges, namely Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, Saint Xavier in Chicago, and North Dakota State all concluded that those who choose to eat a bar of chocolate rather than a non-sweet food were more likely to volunteer to help those in need. You could almost say that they were the sweetest people. Another study conducted by Doctor Michael Robinson, an associate of psychology also at North Dakota State University, found that those who liked sweet foods were more outgoing than their bitter, salty, and sour-loving peers.
Furthermore, we can break down those who love different sweet foods into what that might say about them. Gummy bears. Gummy bear lovers rejoice! Turns out that a preference for chewy candy is often the sign of an optimist and an extrovert who enjoys surrounding themselves with positive people. Ice cream sundaes. People who love ice cream supposedly have a childlike innocence about them or even a sense of wonder and joy in the world.
Due to there being so many options for cones, toppings, and flavors, it is thought that anyone whose ideal date night is a trip to the ice cream parlor enjoys the mystery of life, and feels like there is more to be discovered. In other words, they’re always trying to find the cherry on top. Chocolate chip cookies. Now let’s be clear, just about everyone loves a freshly baked cookie! Their sweet smell actually elicits a release of the hormone oxytocin, often known as the bonding, love, or cuddle hormone.
Chocolate also contains theobromine, which is a compound with a calming effect. So, if chocolate chip cookies are your go-to snack at the moment, there’s a chance you are slightly stressed out, exhausted, or generally frazzled and overwhelmed. The cookie is comforting, but we hope you give yourself a much-needed break as well. Licorice. If the hard black or red candy is your idea of heaven you’re probably a bit old-school. Do you also like black and white movies, hardcover books, and classic 90s John Hughes movies?
Lovers of the bark-like candy are often admired by their friends and colleagues for their discipline, work ethic, and the general air of sophistication. Hershey’s chocolate bars. It doesn’t get more simple and classic than a bar of Hershey’s, and as it turns out that is exactly what a bar of Hershey’s says about you. If this is your favorite chocolate bar, you are sweet, kind, and simple to please. It just doesn’t take much to make you happy. You’re probably also reliable and good at keeping secrets.
Number 2: If you’re a little bit salty.
One thing worth noting as we continue through this article is that humans experience taste before birth. Research has alluded to the idea that even in the womb, a baby might experience flavors through the amniotic fluid depending on the food its mother ingests. Breast milk also has a flavor once again influenced by the mother’s eating habits. Of course, humans are drawn to familiar flavors and early exposure to different tastes, specifically during childhood, is a factor in our preferences might be. Preferences can change throughout life, and that might be to do with how one’s personality, class, status, and general interests change as one gets older.
A large part, though, will likely come from your earliest experiences of flavor and the environment you grew up in. This can be positive or negative—for instance, as much as you might love apples because you had an apple tree in your childhood home, you could also hate the taste of coffee because you had a sip out of your parent’s cup when you were younger and burned your tongue. If salty snacks are your preference, this is often a sign of ambition and motivation, despite the fact that salty Domino’s pizza and potato chips often connote the image of someone sitting on the couch! Salty eaters aim high, and a love for the saltier side of life is also often the sign of a “super taster”.
This is one-quarter of the world’s population who have more taste buds than the average person. As a result, bitter, sour and especially spicy foods aren’t as enjoyable because you’re more sensitive to them, but salt hits just right! Let’s look at some favorites in the salty category! Mac and cheese. If your favorite food is mac and cheese, you are a purist who loves the comfort of the classics, whether it’s books, movies, or a great meal. You might not be that much of a creative soul, but you’re someone with a strong connection to home and comfort. Pizza. People who love pizza tend to be social butterflies who love hanging out with friends. Generally, they’re extroverts who get their energy from other people, not to mention a cheese-stuffed crust! Hot dogs.
Those whose favorite food is hot dogs tend to be sports fans or people who played a lot of sports growing up. Chances are the humble hot dog takes you back to game day: sun on your back, game on the field, bun in your hand. Sushi. Sushi lovers often consider themselves “foodies” with a love for the finer things. They tend to be well-traveled, like a good drink, and apparently tend to know a fair bit about art. This is one for the cultured. Potato chips.
Chip lovers rejoice! Alan Hirsch, a neurological director from the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, said that those who love potato chips are often successful and ambitious. If you like to eat from a family bag that might show that you have high expectations of others and yourself, and also indicates a competitive edge. Hirsch says that those who prefer potato chips are the “most aggressive, the go-getters, and the ones that never accept a no.” In other words, they’re on their journey to greatness, one chip in front of the other.
Number 3: A sour taste in your mouth.
Moving on to the sour lovers! Studies show that those who crave sour, tangy, or citrus-like foods are often anxious and stressed. Sour foods usually stem from citrus like lemon, lime, and ginger (whether artificially or naturally flavored) and these are things that help our body fight off illness when we’re run down. So, a love for sour food is often a temporary fix and is a primal instinct, a sign your body wants to fight something off.
The certified nutritionist from New York City Alanna Kessler, who is also the founder of health blog Be Well, spoke about those who love sour candy, especially saying, “sweets, in general, are often used as comfort foods, while people seek out sour foods when they’re on-edge, restless or anxious.” If you crave both sweet and sour simultaneously that might be a sign that you are on edge but you’re good at bringing balance back to your life. Good for you!
Number 4: Bitter is better.
Those who like bitter food, for instance, coffee, dark chocolate, and maybe even red wine, are supposedly top of the class when it comes to expressing their opinions. Two 2015 studies published in the Appetite journal also positively associated this bitter preference with antisocial and narcissistic behaviors. Sorry to be the bearers of bad news. The good news is, though, that if you can handle strong bitterness you are more likely to try new foods and flavors. You’re an adventurous soul.
Number 5: You’re hot as hell!
Okay, so this isn’t one of the main flavors—that would be umami—but if you’re a heat seeker in your eating habits this might say more about you than anything else. Those who prefer hot and spicy foods tend to be adventure lovers. Kind of like the bitter ones but revved up a few notches. A study in the 2013 Institute of Food Technologists associated spice preference with a willingness to take risks, noting that “high sensation seeking people” enjoyed adding extra spice to their food. While those who sought “low sensations” preferred to live a safer and risk-free lifestyle. Fair enough to both parties!
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