« back to encyclopedia search results
A sense that detects some of the chemical constituents of food.
Smell and taste are almost indivisible in many people"s minds, but only the tongue is well equipped with taste receptors, or taste buds, though there are some taste buds on the palate, the pharynx and the tonsils.
The surface of the tongue is covered with tiny projections, called papillar, which are in turn covered with the taste buds. We have about 3,000 taste buds (evidently, a pig has twice as many) - although Desmond Morris claims we have 10,000 - and they decline in number and lose their sensitivity as we grow older, which is said to be one reason that old people complain that things don"t taste as good as they used to. Queen Victoria, at 57, bewailed the fact that strawberries didn"t taste as good as those of her girlhood.
There are four fundamental taste properties: bitter, salty, sour (or acid) and sweet (plus the controversial 5th 'Umami' - giving savoury or meaty sensations like soy sauce); and our taste buds register the proportions of these properties in everything we eat and drink.
The tip of the tongue is especially sensitive to sweetness and saltiness, the sides to sourness and the back of the tongue (where some of the buds are raised-up on long nodules) to bitterness. There are practically no taste buds on the tongue"s centre.
The tongue can detect sweetness at a dilution of one part in 200, of saltiness at one in 400, of sourness at one in 13,000 and of bitterness at one in 2 million.
But odors can be detected at a dilution of one part in a billion or more; hence bread never tastes as good as the bakery"s aroma, and coffee likewise.
With exceptions like high game, smelly cheese and the durian fruit of the Eat Indies (which is delicious but has an offensive smell), to taste good something must also smell good. Anyone whose nasal passages are blocked by a cold, sinus trouble etc. knows how "tasteless" food can be, though there is nothing the matter with the tongue.
The sense of taste in animals is a subject of some dispute; some people feeling the advertising of "gourmet" pet foods as immoral. There is also the unpleasant fact that we spend more on pet food than on food for the poor.
If you enjoy cooking take a minute to look at ‘Simon Scrutton French Cookery Classes’ on Google – and learn how to make top class bistro-style dishes. Suitable for beginners upwards. Small classes.