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17 September 2014
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Human Senses TV Programmes

Programme 3 - Taste

Monday 14 July 2003, 7-7.30pm, BBC One

Nigel Marven sets out to discover the biological reasons why humans eat such a diverse range of foods, from rotten raw ducks eggs to a sweaty blue cheese. At a chilli eating contest, he pushes his taste buds to the limit.

Mouth and tongue
Humans have the ability to learn to love the taste of almost anything
Try anything once

Compared to many animals, humans have a 'try anything once' attitude to food. This has allowed us to populate every corner of the planet, while many other animals depend totally on one food source for their energy. This limited diet restricts where they can live to locations that provide the type of food they need.

Our taste buds allow us to enjoy or reject foods that are good or bad for us, but how do we end up with extraordinary tastes that vary across different cultures? Nigel persuades a group of people raised on Chinese food to try out a ripe stilton cheese, while a group of gourmet cheese lovers try a Chinese delicacy known as a 'Thousand Year Old Egg' - a preserved fermented raw duck egg. Both groups, trying these tastes for the first time, find them revolting. But as a species, we have a remarkable ability to learn to love the taste of almost anything, however strange it tastes, as long as it doesn't make us sick.

Pleasure from chillis

More than a quarter of the world's population eat chillies at least once a day. Nigel meets Professor Paul Rozin from the University of Pennsylvania who has studied why we come back for the big burn time and time again. He believes they give the same pleasure that people get from a roller-coaster ride. It's all about pushing your taste buds to the limit. Eating the hottest chilli you can bear can be exhilarating - as long as you know it's not doing any lasting damage. Nigel rises to the challenge when he enters the Annual Chilli Pepper Eating Contest in Milwaukee.

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