Clint Witchalls has a look at what scientists have discovered about human taste.
Taste is that which the tongue detects, and can be described as either bitter, salty, umami, sweet or sour. Chefs and restaurant critics would be out of a job if food could only be experienced as taste. Flavour is a complex thing, and taste is only one of its facets.
Although there’s been years of research, no real effort has been put in to study flavour as a discipline. Until recent years, when BioMed Central, publishers of open access science journals, launched a new title: Flavour. There is now a forum for flavour research.
Here are some of the facts that have been found about flavour.
- Flavour is a way of making sure we eat a well-balanced diet
According to Per Moller, editor-in-chief of Flavour, we need certain macro- and micronutrients to survive.
The flavour in macronutrients tend to differ. An example of that will be where bread, pasta and potatoes have similar flavours, where meats will have totally different flavours. After eating a lot of the same flavour, your liking in it will decline, without affecting your liking for other flavours, according to Moller. “Luckily, we don’t need a degree in nutritional science to get a balanced diet,” quips Moller.
- The tongue is not the only sense that senses flavour
A sensation is created in our brains that we call flavour. Our taste, smell, touch, sight, sound, temperature, trigeminality and interoception all influence this sensation.
- Flavour is affected by colour
Red and white wines are a good example here. It can be explained as tastes of spices, dark chocolate, nuts, berries or honey. The wines are therefore described in terms of dark or light objects.
- Coffee’s taste is affected by the cup that it’s served in
Research shows that people’s perception of the taste and quality of coffee is influenced by the firmness of the cup. Are they drinking out of a paper- or a porcelain cup? It is found that people will prefer drinking coffee in a porcelain cup, rather than out of a paper cup.
- The description of food can affect its flavour
Ice-cream sounds tastier when described as being full cream. Protein bars sound less tasty when described as being soy protein. Get the picture?
- A “tongue map” is a myth
Our tongues do not have designated spots for perceiving sweet, bitter, sour, salty or savoury tastes. The German scientist named DP Hanig published his research in 1901 to state that humans have what we call a “tongue map”. It was proved to be wrong in 1974. There are actually 50 to 100 receptors in taste buds for each taste, including umami.
- Some people have more taste buds than others
These people are very sensitive to tastes, especially bitter tastes. They are what we call super-tasters, not connoisseurs, but rather just people who are sensitive to distinct tastes.
- The smell of food does matter
Our noses play an important role in the brain’s reception of flavour. Aroma forms part of flavour, and is detected by receptors in the nose and mouth. Through scientific research it was found that the brain has two different parts that are stimulated by either the nose or the mouth. So the brain doesn’t treat these two signals the same.
- The aroma of foods will affect the amount we place in our mouths
After research was done by scientists in the Netherlands, it was reported that the aroma of foods could control the portion size humans take in. People were fed a “custard-like dessert” while a different scent was presented to their noses. The research reported that strong aromas lead to people taking smaller bite sizes, as presented in the inaugural issue of Flavour.
- We develop our liking for flavour before birth
A study was conducted whereby 24 pregnant women were divided into two groups. The one group was told to follow a diet containing anise, and the other group an anise-free diet. The babies were presented with cotton soaked in anise, shortly after their birth. The group of babies whose mothers were on the diet containing anise, showed no aversion to the swab. The babies whose mothers were on the diet which contained no anise, showed a strong aversion to the aroma.
For more information on this, please go to: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/features/10-scientific-facts-about-flavour-7712218.html