You are what you eat: Your taste in food may come from your genes

17 Aug 2022

Image: © zphoto83/

Researchers said there are three main clusters of foods that share similar genetic components.

People’s genes play a significant role in why they love certain types of food but dislike others, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh and Human Technopole in Milan have identified hundreds of genetic variants – which are differences in genetic make-up – that are linked with liking specific foods such as aniseed, oily fish and steak.

In the study, published in Nature Communications, researchers looked at more than 150,000 individuals and their fondness for 137 different foods and beverages.

The team used questionnaires and genetic analysis to develop a ‘food map’, showing how the appreciation of certain groups of food and specific flavours are influenced by similar genetic variants.

The researchers said they found 401 genetic variants that influence which foods the participants liked. Many of these variants affected more than one food-liking trait, but some only affected one particular food.

For example, some genetic variants were linked with an enjoyment for only salmon, while other groups of variants increased a liking for oily fish or for all fish.

Food clusters

The food map created in the study suggests there are three main clusters of foods that share a similar genetic component.

One group is made up of high-calorie foods such as meat, dairy and desserts. The second group consists of strong-tasting foods that are known as an acquired taste, such as alcohol and pungent vegetables. The third group contains low-calorie foods such as fruit and vegetables.

The researchers also said that these food groups shared genes that are associated with distinct health traits, such as obesity and cholesterol profiles.

Dr Nicola Pirastu from Human Technopole said that although taste receptors are important in determining which foods people like, it is “what happens in your brain which is driving what we observe”.

“Another important observation is that the main division of preferences is not between savoury and sweet foods, as might have been expected, but between highly pleasurable and high-calorie foods and those for which taste needs to be learned,” Pirastu said.

Prof Jim Wilson, personal chair of human genetics at the University of Edinburgh, added that the study is a great example of how complex statistical methods can be applied to large genetic datasets “in order to reveal new biology”.

“In this case, the underlying basis of what we like to eat and how that is structured hierarchically, from individual items up to large groups of foodstuffs.”

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic