Gordon Smith

The science behind cheese aversion

cheese

Approx Reading Time-10We’ve always suspected there’s something psychologically wrong with people who dislike cheese, but did you know science actually backs this up too?

 

 

 

Confession time: I love cheese.

If you took a cross section of my body, you would almost definitely find at least 50% of my cellular makeup encased in slices of cheddar, or drizzled with the run-off of an overstuffed cheese toastie. So you can imagine the utter bewilderment I feel when I hear people tell me that cheese is not their squeeze. Or indeed the unbridled rage that burns within when people have the audacity to tell me they hate it altogether. Turns out, there’s actually a lot more people out their that are intolerant to milk’s tastier cousin. In fact, cheese is perhaps the most commonly disliked food.

Researchers at the Centre de Recherche en Neuroscience de Lyon and the Laboratoire Neuroscience Paris Seine (fittingly both found in France, home to about one third of the 1,600 variants of cheese that exist), found that 6% of study respondents had an aversion to cheese – well above the 2.7% who disliked the much less tasty fish, and 2.4% who did not like cured meat.

Indeed, it was the researchers’ observation that many people seemed not to like the versatile dairy product that led them to conducting the study in the first place, in which they sampled 332 people to prove their hypothesis, with findings published on the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience website.

Of course, those halloumi hating heretics were given a chance to explain themselves, and 18% of the cheese haters said they were lactose intolerant. Apparently the desire to maintain internal peace overrides the joy cheese brings. More interestingly, 47% of the cheese-avert had at least one of their family members sharing their dislike for the food, suggesting a genetic origin to the aversion, which may be related to lactose intolerance.

If you took a cross section of my body, you would almost definitely find at least 50% of my cellular makeup encased in slices of cheddar, or drizzled with the run-off of an overstuffed cheese toastie.

Wanting to get on a more biological level, the researchers conducted fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) procedures on 15 people who liked cheese and 15 who did not. The subjects were simultaneously exposed to the image and smell of six different cheeses, along with six other control foods. They were asked to state whether they liked the sight and smell of the foods or not, and whether or not they wanted to eat them. Those who were bad with brie were indeed biologically different to their colby consuming colleagues, with the ventral pallidum, a small structure in the brain usually activated in people who are hungry, totally inactive at the sight and smell of cheese. The structure was activated for all other food types.

More still, the areas involved in the brain’s reward circuit, the globus pallidus and the substantia nigra, were more involved in people who did not like cheese than in those who did. These regions are normally activated when we love something, and the researchers suggest that they include two types of neurons with complementary activity – one related to the rewarding nature of a food, the other to its aversive side.

Like a hole in a fine piece of of Swiss, this could mean that the reward circuit may also create disgust, which I suppose is a reward in itself, albeit not a very enticing one.

So there you have it. Your friends who don’t fall on the fromage side of the fence may actually have some scientific basis to their aversion.

That doesn’t make it hurt any less, though.

 

Gordon Smith

Journalist by day, cunning linguist by night. A passion for politics, hypnotically involved in human rights. An Australian born with a Japanese tongue, hoping to hold the big wigs in government to account.

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