Did you ever wonder why your favourite foods taste so good? Well, you can thank your taste buds for letting you appreciate the sweetness of strawberries and the bitterness of lemons.
Taste buds are sensory organs that are found on the tongue and allow to experience tastes that are sweet, savoury, salty, sour and bitter. People generally have between 2,000 and 10,000 taste buds which are renewed regularly like other cells in the body. Age, smoking, medical conditions mean that, with time, some of those taste cells do not get replaced. That’s why certain foods may also taste stronger to some people, in particular children. Others happen to have more taste buds, they are the super-tasters. Do you hate Brussels sprouts? You may be a super taster! Although don’t claim you’re a food connoisseur just yet, it just means you are more sensitive to bitter tastes.
But if food was only experienced as taste, chefs around the world would be out of a job! Your taste buds cannot take all the credit. Aroma, texture, sight and much more create the sensation in our brains which we know as flavour and make us like or dislike certain foods.
Most of what we perceive as taste is actually smell (or aroma). Whilst we’re eating, the food releases chemicals that travel up into our nose and trigger olfactory receptors. These send messages to the brain and together with our taste buds help create the flavour of that sumptuous chocolate brownie by telling the brain all about it! That’s also why our food may not have much flavour when we suffer from a cold or hayfever for example. Take the sweet test… Pop a strawberry sweet in your mouth and hold your nose. Your taste buds may be able to tell your brain you’re eating something sweet but you won’t be able to pick the exact flavour until you let go of your nose.
Other senses play their part too. The colour of our food and drink can not only determine whether it is appetising, but its flavour, too. Our experience, expectations, associations, context and cultural norms determine how we view colour. Most of us would associate green with crunchy salad leaves, fresh brocoli and maybe an under ripe fruit. Green orange anyone?
And more than just colour, the overall presentation matters. Hands up who thinks tea in a nice cup and saucer tastes better than in a plastic beaker? The old adage ‘we eat with our eyes’ is indeed true.
So the next time you’re enjoying a lovely Victoria Sponge, thank your senses, your tongue and your nose in particular! Without them, life wouldn’t have so much flavour.