Sweet, salty, bitter, sour… we’ve likely tasted thousands of unique dishes and ingredients. So, is it really true that our tongue perceives just these four distinct tastes?
Click start to play today’s Spell It, and find the flavour (or what Americans call ‘flavor’) you love best. Don’t forget to visit Gulf News’ Food section for everything to do with your tastebuds – find recipes, guides, features, and more.
Western scientists today are discovering that the concept of a four-taste representation of our tongue is severely oversimplified, and omits some truly important flavour sensations. For instance, savoury perception – or what the Japanese first coined as ‘umami’ – is now widely recognised as the fifth basic taste. And there may be as many as 10 or 20 others competing to be part of this exclusive list.
One taste that could be accepted soon, is fattiness, according to a December 2011 study by the Germany-based Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. There’s still a lot of debate about this flavour sensation, though, as researchers are having trouble pinning down whether we can truly taste fat, or merely sense its unique texture. According to the study, our tongue is so sensitive to its presence, that the levels of fat in our blood increase even if we spit out any fat we put in our mouth (and don’t swallow it).
Another top contender is piquancy, which fans of spicy food know well. Some Asian cultures even consider this to be a basic taste, although food scientists have not classified it as such, just yet. The reason they’re hesitant to do so is because certain piquant compounds, like capsaicin, which you can find in peppers, directly activate our tongue’s touch receptors, rather than tastebuds.
A third distinct taste that you’ve probably experienced has to do with calcium. This element is vital for our bodies, in muscle contraction, cellular communication and bone growth. Researchers have already found that mice have two taste receptors for calcium – and one of them has been found on the human tongue.
There’s still much to learn about this potential taste, although it’s clear that it does have a unique, chalky, bitter sort of presence. It’s probably why calcium-rich spinach is not very popular. The calcium in milk and other dairy products, on the other hand, binds to the fat, so we don’t taste the mineral flavour all that much.