What is taste?
The American Heritage Dictionary tells us that taste is:
- ž1.a. the sense that distinguishes the sweet, sour, salty, and bitter qualities of dissolved substances in contact with the taste buds on the tongue."
- "b. This sense in combination with the senses of smell and touch, which together receive a sensation of a substance in the mouth.Ó
Taste by the first definition
In its first definition, the American Heritage Dictionary limits the tastes perceived by the taste buds to four; in fact there are at least six ů in addition to the classic four, there are the taste of fat, and a taste called umami. žUmamiÓ means delicious in Japanese, and is the word for the savory taste of meat. In this way, our taste buds are designed to tell us about the nutritional qualities of the food we eat: sweet for ripe fruit and carbohydrates, sour for unripe fruit and vitamin C, salty for salt and other minerals, bitter for poisonous plants, umami for protein, and fat for÷fat!
Taste by the second definition
The second definition, which includes smell and touch, is the one most people have in mind when they talk about the taste of a food ů taste, in this sense, means flavor.
Smell - better than any of the other components of flavor - allows us to determine the specific food we are eating, for example to distinguish a lemon from a lime. In fact most people can distinguish among 1000 odors, and perfumers among as many as 10 000!
The sense of touch provides us with information about the texture or žmouthfeelÓ of a food. Texture includes both the slipperiness of an oyster and the fizz and prickle of a carbonated beverage.
This sense of touch is joined by the ability to feel temperature and pain. Amazingly, menthol activates the tongueŪs nerve endings in the same way that cold temperatures do, which is why we can talk about the coolness of a mint; and jalape“os activate these nerve endings in the same way as do heat and pain, so talking about the žburnÓ of chili peppers is right on the mark!