Palatability is a food's ability to evoke a sense of pleasure and enjoyment when eaten, which is also referred to as the hedonic reward. A food's perceived level of palatability is largely dependent on the individual's preferences. Certain factors such as taste, texture, smell, and appearance also strongly influence whether a food is considered to be palatable. People tend to eat larger amounts of foods that are palatable before deciding they are full than of less enjoyable dishes. The most palatable foods are not always highly nutritious, which can present a challenge for those trying to eat healthfully.
A food with a high level of palatability provides a person with an intense sense of pleasurable satisfaction. The sensations these foods create while being eaten activate the pleasure center in the brain. This often leaves a person wanting more because the experience was so enjoyable, and some may develop cravings for particular dishes. To a certain extent, how palatable an individual perceives a certain food is depends on personal preference. For example, one person may find sweet, creamy dishes to be the most palatable, while another may prefer crunchy, salty foods.
There are several factors that affect the palatability of foods, all of which are influenced by an individual's personal preferences to a certain degree. One of the most obvious is the flavor, or taste, of the food; this includes the basic sensations such as salty, sour, or sweet, as well as seasonings. Many people enjoy complex flavors with several components and find them more palatable than tastes that are too bland or simple. Another important factor is the texture of foods and how they feel in the mouth.
The aroma, or smell, of food also influences palatability. If food smells good, it primes a person's gustatory system, thereby stimulating appetite and preparing him or her to enjoy eating before the first bite is taken. Appearance is also important; if the food looks appetizing, it adds to the pleasure of the experience of eating. Another important factor that affects the palatability of food is whether the dish smells, tastes, and looks the way it is expected to.
When food is palatable, the pleasurable sensations of eating it often lead a person to eat too much. The feeling of fullness may be ignored because eating is so enjoyable that the individual wants to continue. Frequently the foods many people find palatable aren't as nutritious as less enjoyable items. This can make things difficult when trying to adjust eating habits to consume more healthful fare. The palatability level of more nutritious food choices can be increased with skillful preparation and appropriate seasonings, and over time the palate may adjust to healthy alternatives.