The vibrant crisp red of a pitcher of Kool-Aid calls your name. It may not be the best idea to answer. Although this sweet fruit-flavored drink is nostalgic, Generation Z is less likely to drink it because of its high sugar content.
“These foods very often have a certain tradition, and that’s being picked up and then actually continuously evolve into all kinds of creative things,” said Job Ubbink, Professor and Head of the Food Science and Nutrition Department at the University of Minnesota. “That leads to this higher complexity and I see also mostly younger people engaging with that.”
Due to a new culture surrounding sugar and food, younger generations tend to prefer tart and bitter foods while older generations prefer sweeter foods. This change is due to shifts in the home environment, not so much genetics.
However, these reactions play a role in deciding what tastes humans like and don’t like. They are not involved in the change in taste preferences between generations.
“[The change from generation to generation] is less genetic than it is nature versus nurture,” said Carmella Whaley, an upper school science teacher. “I think it’s more of the environment because it would really be difficult to see that change over time genetically in just one generation…I think it’s more what you grew up with.”
Older people got into the habit of sticking to their ways and didn’t understand the variety and depth that food can have.
“Food was seen as…something you spend very little on rather than something which is there to be savored,” said Ubbink. “So, people, I think, for a long time never got the habit to start appreciating the nuances and learn these…acquired tastes.”
Over time, these tart and bitter flavors have become more accepted so more people are exposed to them at a younger age.
“Exposure, ultimately just knowing a lot more about those flavors,” said Joshua Wilkins, head food service provider at Minnehaha. “In restaurants, you see housemade kombucha…chefs trying to do their own fermentation…I’ll get asked about things. ‘Can we have kombucha?’ More people are into the kimchi with the Korean tacos and things like that. But then also sell 150 cookies a day.”
Children in other parts of the world are exposed to flavors that kids in America may not be exposed to. This makes it possible for them to develop a liking for different foods and flavors.
“In France…they expect the kids to behave well at the table for three or four course lunches and dinners and eat everything,” said Ubbink. “They have to eat [all of their food]…When you are really young, you get exposure to these things which are not intrinsic. So you acquire those tastes and it means that later on, you enjoy them.”
Each person’s upbringing and exposure to different types of food generally has an impact on what foods they like. Because people have become more health-conscious, they pay more attention to what they are eating and what their kids are eating.
“Kool-Aid…You’re not drinking Kool-Aid…a little packet of flavor and then you’d add a cup or two of sugar and stirred it up and that’s what everybody would drink,” said Nancy Cripe, an upper school science teacher. “The more we learned about sugar and some of the detrimental effects of having too much of it, we started to go, ‘Well, maybe this isn’t such a good idea.’ Maybe people could just go ahead and drink water or apple juice, the natural sugars, not so much adding refined sugars because the refined sugars are the things that are really very detrimental to our health.”
There was also a researcher from the University of California, San Francisco who figured out that the Sugar Research Foundation, now called the Sugar Association, paid scientists at Harvard to skew their data in order to make it seem like there was minimal risk between sugar and heart health. This would put the blame on saturated fat. Because of this, people consumed diets with high sugar and low-fat contents.
According to the CDC, the average daily sugar intake was 17 teaspoons for children and young adults ages 2-19 in 2017-2018. Because there has been research done that shows how bad added sugar is, more people want to stay away from it.
“[The younger generations have] had a much wider array of choices early on, and that has helped,” said Cripe. “I think we are just more health-conscious about trying to restrict the amount of refined sugars that are put into our foods.”
The older generations prefer sweeter foods because that was what they grew up with while the younger generations prefer tart and bitter foods because that is what they have grown up with. The shift to more health-conscious living has taken the added sugar out of foods.
“Our general awareness of better foods for better health, less sugar, less processed food, more whole foods, more natural foods,” said Whaley. “The whole and natural foods have less sugar in them than processed foods.”
In an effort to be more healthy, people try to stay away from fake sugars that have been manufactured as an alternative to regularly added sugars.
“[Americans] grow a lot of corn and a lot of soybeans, and we actually don’t use all the corn,” said Cripe. “We export a lot to other countries that are in need and then we still have a lot of corn. That’s where corn syrup came from…It’s an engineered and artificial product.”
This new invention had initial benefits, but over time, it is hard on our bodies.
“Our bodies are a little bit bamboozled, ‘What’s this?’ [Corn syrup] has led to type two diabetes,” said Cripe. “It is not really very healthy for us in large quantities over long periods of time, because it’s an artificial product that our body just doesn’t know how to metabolize.”
The foods that have less added sugar are healthier and are more popular among younger generations. Some of the tart foods that they enjoy include sourdough bread, kombucha, kimchi, pho, goat cheese, miso and mangoes.
“I love honey crisp apples because they are sour and tart,” said senior Ella Quale, co-president of Minnehaha’s Cooking Club. “But my mom hates them and she prefers Fuji apples which are sweeter…When I’m making lemonade, I like it to have more lemon than it does sugar because I like that tart taste…My family doesn’t like when I make lemonade because it’s too tart for them.”
Other teenagers agree and enjoy tart foods over sweet foods.
“I prefer tart/bitter foods,” said junior Lily Larson, a member of the Cooking Club. “I don’t really prefer strong sweet foods.”
While others from a different generation may like a few tart foods, sweet foods are more to their liking.
“Some of those tart foods don’t really appeal to me,” said Cripe. “Although, I’ve always loved sauerkraut. That was something I started eating when I was little…Maybe that goes back to those things that you first experience in childhood. If your palate is kind of broadened in that way, you just follow that through your life.”
There are many ways to enjoy food that are being discovered today and many more to come.
“[Food] is not just to fuel or something we should get for the cheapest amount possible. But that food is truly something which…[is] a cultural identity,” said Ubbink.