Apparently, the food industry has been experiencing a growth in demand and sales of more intensely flavored foods. The Boston Globe reports that some researchers attribute the trend to the deteriorating sense of taste of the baby boomers: “As they age, they are losing their ability to taste – and turning to spicier, higher-flavor foods to overcome their dulled senses. Chiefly because of degenerating olfactory nerves, most aging people experience a diminished sense of taste, whether they realize it or not.”
What’s known is that at a certain age – after about 40 for most people – the number of nerve receptors in the nose and tongue that respond to smell and taste dim and decrease. As that happens, complex flavors become duller. Sweet and sour tastes decline sharply; salty and acidic tastes remain brighter for longer.
The tastes that penetrate the fog most clearly come from another group of flavors called sensory irritants. These hit the body not through taste or smell, but through the chemosensory system, which conveys sensations like touch, temperature, pain, and pressure.
A list of foods in the sensory irritant category reads like a roster of modern flavorings: habanero, jalapeno, black pepper, horseradish, ginger, cinnamon. All of them – generally lumped together as “spicy” or “high-flavor” – help kick up the overall sensory experience of eating.