We know more about taste than we did than during my medical training, including that there are five, not four basic tastes, as well as the original “tongue mapping” of taste sensors was inaccurate. We thought that taste buds for bitter were located in the back of the tongue, sour and salty on the sides and sweet at the tip. We know now that taste buds located throughout the tongue are capable of sensing the five tastes, bitter, salty, sweet, sour and umami. According to a research group from Columbia University publishing their findings in the journal Nature, there are specialized taste receptors within the taste buds which detect the tastes located throughout the entire tongue. The taste receptors send a signal to the brain cells which interpret the taste.
In the study, engineered mice were fed chemicals with varied flavors which triggered responses from receptors on the tongue to matched nerve cells at the base of the brain. These responses demonstrated the complex relationship of the transfer of taste perception from the tongue to the brain.
The Five Basic Tastes
The five basic tastes includes, sweet, stimulated by short chain carbohydrates, or sugar. Sour is stimulated by acidic foods. Salty tastes respond to sodium rich tastes and bitter tastes convey a “toxic-like” response. Umami refers to a savory or meaty taste, can be described by a “furry” sensation of the tongue. It was recognized in Japanese cuisine in 1908, and is now accepted as the fifth taste in our Western culinary palate.
The Value of Taste
The significant of tasting is a part of our “drive to survive.” Tasting bitter may signify something unpleasant and even toxic, while sweet conveys pleasure. As we age, our tasting senses may dull, and our appetites might diminish. Accordingly, the pleasure derived from eating may fade. We often find the need to prod our elderly friends and relatives with decreased appetities to eat and drink to ensure they are getting adequate nutrition.
Additionally, taste challenges include overcoming a strong sweet taste desire or craving, especially in those whose diets are full of with added sugar. When a diet is overwhelmed with sweet tastes, it is difficult to appreciate the other flavors in food and overcome sugar cravings. Sugar craves sugar. Balancing flavors and tastes are important for the diet of our children, so as to develop an appreciation of a variety of flavors.
Umami or “savory”is the newest identified taste. Foods rich in natural umami includes mushrooms, parmesan cheese, broth, ripe tomatoes, soy sauce and celery. Adding ingredients with umami is an easy way to overcome the cravings for sugar and to expand the palate and mount a pleasurable response to our food.
We can use this knowledge to make food we eat more enticing, delicious and satisfying. By varying flavors and combining different tastes such as salty, sweet and umami, our food tastes better. I made this butternut squash soup, but purposely added ingredients to stimulate multiple taste receptors. As a result, you will find this simple-to-make, savory soup very satisfying, as well as healthful and delicious. The mushrooms, sauteed vegetable and richness of spices, added with the natural sweetness of the squash make it an dynamite combination.