Slide 1 of 15
Choice of Tastes
We cook, therefore we are. Over the millennia, humankind – hardly content to eat plants, animals and fungi raw – has created a smorgasbord of cuisines.
Yet for all our sophistication in the kitchen, the scientific understanding of how we taste food could still use some time in the oven. Dating back to ancient Greece and China, the sensation of taste has historically been described as a combination of a handful of distinct perceptions. Western food research, for example, has long been dominated by the four "basic tastes" of sweet, bitter, sour and salty.
In recent decades, however, molecular biology and other modern sciences have dashed this tidy paradigm. For example, Western science now recognizes the East's umami (savory) as a basic taste. But even the age-old concept of basic tastes is starting to crumble.
"There is no accepted definition of a basic taste," said Michael Tordoff, a behavioral geneticist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. "The rules are changing as we speak."
Our ability to sense the five accepted categories comes from receptors on our taste buds. These tiny sensory organs appear mostly on the tongue, the roof of the mouth and in the back of the throat.
The sense of touch also plays a key role in experiencing taste, as evidenced by the strong opinions on crunchy versus smooth peanut butter. Smell, too, impacts our tasting abilities. Just ask anyone with a stuffed-up nose picking away at what seems to be a plate of bland food. [Supertaster vs. Nontaster]
In the mouth itself, though, food scientists continue to discover new receptors and new pathways for gustatory impressions to reach our brain. Here are some taste sensations vying for a place at the table as a sixth basic taste.
CalciumSlide 2 of 15
CalciumSlide 3 of 15
KokumiSlide 4 of 15
KokumiSlide 5 of 15
PiquanceSlide 6 of 15
PiquanceSlide 7 of 15
CoolnessSlide 8 of 15