The Science of Taste
You can see a threat, smell danger, hear an alarm and feel an injury. But did you know that your sense of taste ranks right up there as one of your most effective defence mechanisms?
As the gateway to your body, your mouth has the responsibility of ensuring that it only allows good, and not bad ingredients to enter your system. Good choices mean highly nutritious foods that keep us healthy and make us stronger. Bad choices mean wasting energy on food that is poor in nutrients or even poisonous to us. As humans evolved our sense of taste helped us choose which foods to consume and which ones to avoid.
Taste begins as soon as food breaks down in your mouth. As you chew, enzymes in saliva reduce food to identifiable molecules. The job of analyzing those molecules falls to the taste buds, flower bud-like receptors found within papillae (Puh-pil-ee), those tiny bumps found on the tongue and throughout the mouth.
Taste buds are made up of about 10 to 15 cells grouped together in bunches similar to orange segments. Tiny finger-like hair stick out from the cells reaching out to direct molecules into taste pores where they are analysed. Once a molecule has been identified, nerve fibres at the bottom of each taste cell transmit signals to larger cranial nerves that then carry those taste sensations to the brain. At the base of the brain, taste signals are processed and sent along to higher brain areas where the decision is made to either accept or reject the food.
Taste is not flavour. We can distinguish about 100,000 flavours, which is the combination of all the senses when experiencing food. We not only taste but smell odour, and feel texture when we experience food. Even sound and sight can contribute to flavour.
Courtesy of Sci Show Kids (Don’t forget to Subscribe to them!) They give an amazing explanation about how we taste our food!
Receptors in your mouth identify five specific tastes: savoury, sour, sweet, bitter, and salty. Sweet signifies a source of sugar, which means energy. Sour might indicate a source of vitamin C, a substance we need but do not produce. Bitter may indicate an Otis danger. Papillae at the back of the throat are most sensitive to bitter and can cause a gagging reflex in response to the potential poison. Scientists continue to look for taste receptors and they may soon find those that identify fat, alkaline (the opposite of sour), metallic, starch, calcium and water.