Many parents struggle with children that have very distinct food preferences. Some kids consistently reject the food that parents serve them, and parents can be easily distressed. Understanding the differences between adult and child taste buds, however, can help parents care for their children compassionately and perhaps inspire creative thinking to help children expand their palate.
What Are Taste Buds?
According to the Kids Health website, taste buds are very small sensory organs located on the tongue. Despite popular belief, taste buds are not the bumps you see when sticking your tongue out in the mirror. Those are papillae, which house clusters of taste buds. Taste buds have small hairs on them called microvilli that send a message to your brain communicating how something tastes.
How Taste Buds Change
Your taste buds are actually replaced about every every two weeks! Most children have about 10,000 taste buds but as they grow, some taste buds stop being replaced. Adults often have about 5,000 working taste buds. This explains why some foods taste much more intense to children, and the decline in number of taste buds makes more foods palatable to adults as some food's intensity isn't tastes as strongly. In a study published in the February 2005 issue of Pediatrics, researches at Monell Chemical Senses state that most children do not like bitter tastes, which can interfere with the consumption of vegetables, while adults do not mind these flavors.
Teenager Taste Buds
A 2002 study at the University of Western Sydney shows that there is a greater density of taste buds in a child's papillae compared to adults that is linked to children having a higher predisposition to sugar. The same study also shows that teenagers have higher anterior papillae density than adults. Around the time children become teenagers, Science Nordic states the "Mass Experiment 2012" study at the University of Copenhagen shows that teens have a decreased interest in sugary tastes. Teenagers portray an increased ability and sophistication in in distinguishing between tastes as a result, although they are even less likely to try new foods than very young children.
Scientific American mentions on its website that super tasters are persons that have an unusually high density of papillae, which makes flavors very intense to them. While one person would describe as slightly sweet or salty can be overpowering to a super taster. These rare people have a preference for bland foods, because they probably find more taste in bland foods than people who have an average number of papillae. While child super tasters may have a more diverse palate as they age, they will probably be considered "picky" their entire life because of their heightened awareness of tastes.