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As Good As Mom’s Apple Pie

Why do most people like Mom’s cooking? Although family attachments can account for part of our appreciation, the fact that Mom’s (or Dad’s) cooking tastes good to us also has some basis in genetics.

As we chew our food, we produce saliva, which contains a group of enzymes which start to digest the food even before we swallow it. One of these enzymes, amylase, is primarily responsible for breaking down starches, like pasta or potatoes, into sugars, which stimulate our sweet tooth. All starches eventually are broken down into sugars in your system, but you can only enjoy the sweet taste if the changes happen before you swallow.

As it happens, though, there are many different varieties of amylase, and the various types of this enzyme work in different ways to break down different starches. Most of us produce more than one version of amylase, and which enzyme varieties you produce are determined by your genes.

For example, if you inherited the genetic instructions for enzymes that break down pasta faster than potatoes, pasta will taste better to you than potatoes, because your enzymes can turn pasta into sugars in your mouth much faster than they can break down potatoes. But if your genes tell your body to make another combination of enzymes, you’ll prefer the taste of potatoes to that of pasta.

Old cliches aside, there is apparently some accounting for taste, or at least our taste for Mom’s cooking. The chances are high that you’ve inherited at least some of your enzyme recipe from your parents, so what tastes good to them probably tastes good to you, too!

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