Sport and Health

The Science of Taste: Understanding our 5 Tastes! 

Everyone eats and drinks, but not everyone feels the same way about the many tastes we come across. The human sensory system allows us to distinguish around 100,000 different flavours, each channelling different taste receptors. Taste receptors in your mouth signal to your brain the taste types, including sweet, salty, acidic, bitter and umami!  Your sense of smell also plays a large factor in determining tastes. Both senses combined help our bodies determine what tastes we do or don’t like.

Sweetness is often described as the ‘pleasure taste’. This is due to its presence of sugar which is desirable to the human body, as it has the ability to increase energy. It’s not surprising that a survey recently conducted by HelloFresh showed that 97% of Kiwi kids love dishes that contain a sweet element. Sweetness usually complements other taste sensations. Adding a dash of sweetness to a dish, such as a drizzle of honey can help take the edge off a more salty or bitter-tasting dish. Adding a side of honey-roasted carrots to dinner is a sweet element that also contains loads of good nutrients for you and the kids!

Salt is a taste that is known to enhance the flavour of food. It helps to bring out various tastes and aromas that may otherwise be hard to detect in a dish. Salt can be used to reduce intense bitter flavour or can be added to increase the sweetness of a dish, which is why a huge 92% of Kiwi parents find it easy to serve their child a salty dish.

A dash of lime or vinegar has the ability to take a dish to another level. Acidity is an acquired taste and is commonly referred to as sourness. For many people, especially children, it can be hard to swallow, and a flavour that some families leave out for this very reason. Around 20% of Kiwi parents struggle to get their children to eat food that contains an acidic element.

Bitterness is a taste that we are most sensitive to, and 36% of Kiwi kids won’t eat anything with a bitter taste. Some vegetables like Brussels sprouts and broccoli contain elements of bitterness, which is why many people (not just fussy eaters!) refuse to eat them! Despite this, bitter ingredients can help to balance out the sweetness of a dish.

Umami directly translates to ‘good flavour’ in Japanese, and is also known as the ‘fifth taste’. Our umami taste is triggered by foods that are rich in glutamate or nucleotides, such as beef, soy sauce and parmesan cheese. Umami is commonly described as a savoury ‘meaty’ flavour and is largely found in fermented food and food which is high in protein.

Although our brains can recognise the same five tastes as everyone else, the chemicals that trigger those signals vary in intensity from person to person, explaining why people react differently to different tastes! Our taste preferences start developing before we are born, based on the food our mother ate!  As we grow older, our tastes begin to change and we may start to like foods we didn’t earlier on. This is known as the Science of Taste!

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