How we taste
In this assignment, you will learn about how we taste. As cooks this is obviously important, so I want you to make close observations about how you currently taste and how you taste differently now that you know more about taste.
In order to complete this assignment, you will need to:
How we taste
Did you know that butterflies taste through their feet? An earthworm’s body is entirely covered in taste receptors? and a pig has twice as many taste buds as humans?
Taste is one of those senses that we humans take for granted – until we get a cold. Then, it seems that we can’t taste anything and that should seem really strange at first. . . but once we’ve gone through this lesson, you’ll understandwhy its hard to taste when you have a cold.
So, first off, remember this: taste is a complicated chemical process, and, it is very closely linked to your sense of smell, how a food feels in your mouth and the temperature of that food. Again, its a chemical process, it has a lot to do with your nose, mouth, and temperature.
When we talk about the flavor that something has, we’re talking about how our brain is processing particular stimulants which makes it somewhat complicated to isolate.
In this quick lesson, we’re going to talk about what our tongue, taste buds and nose are all doing to allow us to make distinctions between flavors.
Now, the tongue: remember the map of the tongue that your seventh grade science teacher passed out to you in class? Remember the areas for sensing sweet, salty, sour and bitter? Well, forget that. It turns out that the entire tongue, upper part of your mouth and even the inside of the cheeks have taste buds that can determine all of these flavors. So, taste buds are all throughout your mouth, not just your tongue. Your whole mouth is working!
Many people think that the bumps on the tongue are the taste buds. This is also incorrect. Taste buds exist in groups of 50-250 inside the little “bumps” on our tongues, called papillae. Although perhaps more sensitive to one taste over others, all taste buds can detect all basic tastes.
Now, the tongue can detect five distinct tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami (savory). While you are probably familiar with the first four tastes, umami is a taste that is relatively new to us in the Western world but has been used in Japanese culture for a long time. In short its a meaty taste.
What Happens When We Taste?
First, we must smell – whether as a deep sniff before eating, or just as scents waft up our nasal passages. Smell triggers saliva production in the mouth and an increase in digestive acid in the stomach. This prepares us to taste and digest our food. To taste anything at all, foods must be dissolved. Try putting a bit of food on your dry tongue. You won’t taste a thing.
Once food enters the mouth, its chemical components find their way to the taste buds, we register if it is sweet, salty, sour, bitter, or umami, then based on the temperature of the food, we determine what it is.
Taste Versus Smell
Now, remember this, humans only recognize five tastes, but we can recognize thousands of smells. It is the way the brain puts together the tastes with the smells, temperature and mouth feel that creates our perception of “flavor.” As much as 85% of the perception of taste comes from the sense of smell. Let me say that again, as much as 85% of the perception of taste comes from the sense of smell. Smells travel to the brain in two ways, up through the nostrils as you bring food to your mouth, and again through the “back door” once food is in the mouth, through the pharynx.
While vanilla ice cream and apple pie both register as “sweet” on the tongue, their flavors are different because their smell, mouth feel and temperature are being processed at the same time as the tastes. The end result is the flavor of ice cream versus the flavor of apple pie.