Flavour & How We Taste

Submitted by DM on Sun, 14/03/2010 - 22:50


The tongue and throat just behind the tongue have taste buds which detect all of the 5 tastes - sweet, salt, sour, bitter & savoury (umami) - spread all over them.   Whilst some areas of the tongue have less taste receptors than others, all of the tastes are detected all over the upper surface of the tongue.   There is a myth that different tastes are detected in descrete areas of the tongue & this myth refuses to go away.   It was thought up at the beginning of the 1900's & disproved in the 1970's, but it is ingrained in popular culture.   Indeed, this article was written because I saw this myth reproduced in a magazine on tasting beer.


Flavour is different to taste.   The tongue tastes the combinations of the 5 basic tastes but the nasal cavity detects the flavours associated with the food.   Holding your nose whilst eating deadens most of the flavour & the differences between similar foods fade: Strawberry ice cream tastes like vanilla ice cream, cola becomes very much like orangeade & apples very much like pears.

The flavour components are the thousands of different volatile compounds released by food - particularly as it is chewed & rolled around by the tongue - that escape into the nasal cavity through the back of the mouth.   The smell from the nose is important too in anticipating tastes & flavours.