Try eating something you like, perhaps an orange or a banana, while you are holding a freshly cut onion under your nose. You may be astonished how much the enjoyment of eating will diminish. This is because much of our enjoyment in eating comes from the fragrance of the food.
Researchers say the about three-quarters of the sense of taste actually comes from the sense of smell. While the taste buds pick up sour, sweet, salty and bitter flavours, food has odour molecules that dominate the sense of taste.
It may sound strange at first, but in addition to the sense of taste, the eyes also play a major role in deciding whether something tastes good or not. In contrast to the other senses, the sense of taste is very weak: while it is possible for us to distinguish thousands of colours with our eyes, we have the ability to distinguish only a few - about 5 flavours. So our sense of taste does not rely only on the tongue, but also on the eyes. For example, yellow, orange, and especially red food is considered sweeter than food of other colours. Even professional wine connoisseurs have been fooled in the past. When French researchers offered them white wine dyed with red food colouring, nine out of ten professionals could not distinguish it from ordinary red wine.
Taste is one of the traditional five senses. It refers to the capability to detect the taste of substances such as food, certain minerals, and poisons, etc. The sense of taste is often confused with the "sense" of flavour, which is a combination of taste and smell perception. Flavour depends on odour, texture, and temperature as well as on taste. Humans experience tastes through sensory organs called taste buds, concentrated on the upper surface of the tongue. There are five basic tastes: sweet, bitter, sour, salty and savoury (the technical name for this last is umami), sometimes described as a brothy or meaty taste
Since the tongue is only able to taste these few separate flavours, how, you might ask, how come not all sweet foods taste the same? This is because your favourite candy might be a combination of sweet and salty. And the chips in your chocolate chip cookie could be a combination of sweet and bitter. Everything you taste is one or more combinations of these few flavours.
The ability to detect flavours probably evolved as a protective mechanism. Foods that were sweet or salty were usually safe to eat and provided needed nutrients, like carbohydrates and salt, and consequently those flavours came to be desired. Sourness and bitterness, by comparison, often meant food was spoiled or contained toxins and were a warning sign not to eat it.
Those mechanisms served well to prevent a cave dweller from starving or getting poisoned, but unfortunately they are still with us, and in today's world lead straight to ice cream, soft drinks and obesity.
Some medical experts suggest we drink a glass of water every hour or so, and cease smoking. Dry mouth can adversely affect our sense of taste and nothing screws up the smell receptors in your nose and the taste receptors on your tongue like cigarettes. Long-term smoking can even permanently damage these smell receptors.
Rev. Alan Stuart Ex missionary to Korea, Retired Minister, UCA
(02) 8876 1870