We use many of our senses to determine the flavor of foods. It is not just a matter of the mouth, but also the nose, the nerves and the brain. The truth is that we have thousands of taste bud receptors located not only on the tongue, but also on the roof of the mouth anddown the throat. The nose gets involved by firing its olfactory (smell) receptors. It does this by way of a key passageway connecting the nose and throat that we are all too familiar with. (Remember that time you had just taken a drink and started laughing so hard it came out your nose? Soooo embarrassing! Of course you do.) This connection increases our sense of flavor combining how something tastes and smells. Plug your nose and try to taste, what a difference.
There are many thousands of receptors that perceive taste and each is looking for something specific. There are five primary flavors: bitter, sweet, sour, salt and umami. These are like the primary colors that create all the shades in the rainbow. When you combine these primary tastes there is no end to the beautiful flavors you can create.
“These are like the primary colors that create all the shades in the rainbow. When you combine these primary tastes there is no end to the beautiful flavors you can create.”
There is a theory that the most important and highly sensitive taste is bitter. Bitter correlates with the ability to identify and warn of toxins and poisons. This key sensation has been critical for our survival determining what is or is not safe to eat. Then there is the taste of sweet. This may correlate with motivating us to consume a food for its energy source. Sweet foods generally contain higher carbohydrate content. Salt is another important flavor. Our taste buds are checking for hydrogen ions (H+) and this may be a way to find the minerals and electrolytes that our body needs. With sour we are picking up acid. Fruit contains acid and acid is what the essential vitamin C is. Umami is the savory flavor. It is also considered the meaty taste and could motivate us to eat protein. There are a couple of other flavors that can’t seem to be produced by these five and they include the flavors of metal and fat. There is even more to the story when the nerves kick in. The sense of texture (rough or smooth), temperature (hot or cold) and pain (chili peppers) all work together.
It is the combination of flavors that really makes food delicious. Salt suppresses bitter, acid cuts fat and these are the kinds of fusions that go into making recipes work. The perfect balance of these flavors in recipes is what truly delights us. This creates the symphony of sapid — savor those flavors!