by Dr. Marli Botha

Taste is the most basic sense and refers to the detection of the chemicals that make up food. Taste is sometimes confused with flavour (flavour is actually your taste and your sense of smell working in conjunction with each other to form a perception). Taste is received through sensory organs such as the tongue, the papillae, taste buds, and the receptor cells…

Based on the signals that is conveyed from the tongue to the brain, there are at least five basic attributes of taste. Very seldom only one of these tastes are perceived. For example, dishes can taste sweet-sour, while others are salty and savoury.

The basic tastes are:

Sweet: What is identified as sweetness is usually caused by sugar or other sweeteners such as fructose or lactose. But other types of substances can also stimulate the sensory cells that respond to sweetness. For example, alcoholic compounds in fruit juices.

Sour: Also called acidic solutions like lemon juice or organic acids like vinegar that taste sour.

Salty: Generally, that would be foodstuffs with table salt that we call salty. Mineral salts like sodium chloride as well as the salts of potassium or magnesium can also cause a sensation of saltiness.

Bitter:  Bitter taste can be brought on by about 35 different proteins in the sensory cells that respond to bitter substances. From an evolutionary standpoint, recognizing which ones of the bitter plants were indeed poisonous was a matter of survival.

Savory: Also known as the “umami” taste, is similar to the taste of a meat broth, and can be caused by glutamic acid or aspartic acid. Ripe tomatoes, meat and cheese all contain a lot of glutamic acid. Asparagus, for instance contains aspartic acid. Chinese cuisine often uses glutamate in the form of MSG (mono sodium glutamate) as flavour enhancers.

Share this post