Dinner is late and you are starving. You could reach out for a snack to tide you over, or for some of the more steadfast ones, endure the hunger pangs till dinner is ready because as we all know, good things come to those who wait.

When dinner is eventually served, it is as if it is the best meal you have ever had. Everything tastes better when you are hungry, doesn’t it?

This phenomenon has been explained by the National Institute for Physiological Sciences in Japan. Food tastes sweeter when we are famished, and bitter food becomes easier to eat. We can thank an adjustment by a neural circuit in the hypothalamus for the best meal in the world adjustment.

This is the region of the brain responsible for body temperature, hunger, important aspects of parenting and attachment behaviours, thirst, fatigue, sleep, and circadian rhythms.

People generally prefer sweet tastes because they are a sign of calorie-richness and are averse to sourness and bitterness as they are signs of spoiled food or poisons. But these preferences may change when our bodies are experiencing a different internal state such as hunger.

In a recent study published in Nature Communications, ravenous mice showed a stronger inclination toward sweetness and a reduced sensitivity to aversive tastes as compared when they were satiated.

The researchers identified two neural pathways responsible for this shift, consisting of glutamate neurons in the hypothalamus that projected into two different regions of the brain.

Upon stimulation of said pathways, the researchers were able to manipulate taste preferences.

"The next steps will be to investigate whether these hypothalamic neuronal pathways are altered in pathophysiological conditions such as diabetes and obesity," says Yasuhiko Minokoshi, co-author of the study. "For example, we already know that people with obesity have a strong preference for sweetness; this might be associated with a change in the activity of the glutamate neurons projecting to the lateral septum."

The data from this study could pave the way for the development of methods that manage taste preferences, a feat that would prove largely beneficial to our health. Still, much remains to be done before this becomes a reality.

(This article was edited to correct some factual errors)