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Food's Fact | 析飲析食篇

The anatonmy of taste

“To loathe the taste, of sweetness, whereof a little More than a little is by much too much.”

– William Shakespeare (King Henry IV, Part I)

Have you ever wondered how come the love for food varies among us? Some people born to be a foodie and some just couldn’t care less about food? The answer lies in the fact that we all vary in the amount of taste buds on our tongue innately.  The five tastes namely Salty, Sweet, Sour, Bitter and Umami (a specific taste in meat) are experienced by different people according to their taste buds.

“People live in different worlds of taste intensity where supertasters live in a ‘neon’ taste world, while others live in a ‘pastel’ world.” said Linda Bartoshuk, a physiological psychologist from University of Florida. Supertasters have the ability to taste components in food that others don’t detect; and they can taste the food more intensely. This sensation matters because the intensity foods impact on us directly influences our eating behaviours. Since some people cannot experience food as strong as the others, it explains why some people are destined to be oblivious of food.

To test your taste buds, you can conduct a simple scientific experiment by putting a couple of drops of blue food colouring on the tongue, and you’ll see a bunch of fungiform papillae stand out on the blue background. The more taste buds (fungiform papillae) you have, the more sensitive to taste you are. Generally speaking, non-tasters have fewer than 15 papillae in that area, while supertasters (coined by Bartoshuk in 1991) have over 30.

Experiencing food is also different by people at different times in their lives as the sense of taste tends to decline with age as the taste buds degenerate. Very often, the first sense a person loses is the sense of smell, and this impact on the taste as smell is a major contributor to the sense of taste.

By Jennifer Chan

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