The Ecology of Humans (14-1-1) The Senses of Taste

 The Senses of Taste

One cannibal said to another while they were eating a clown: “Does this taste funny to you?”

Beyond the overwhelming contribution of smell, how something tastes, and how appealing that taste is, is determined by a confluence of perceptive factors, beginning with how hungry you are.

A food’s appearance strongly influences its flavor. Presented with 4 glasses of fruit drinks (cherry, orange, lime, and grape), you would probably be able to correctly identify all of them. But if you could not see the drinks, chances of correctly identifying them drops to 20%.

Sound influences taste. The pleasantness of consuming fruits, chips, crackers, and other stiff foodstuffs is summoned in part by how it sounds when we chow down. Freshness snaps crisply.

Taste and touch go hand in hand. The texture of a food has much to do with how it tastes. Hence apple sauce may not taste much like an apple.

Taste is itself influenced by a food’s temperature. Taste sensitivity is at its peak when a food is close to the same temperature as the tongue (22–37 ºC). Restaurant dinners are sent back more often for being too cold than for any other reason. Fine restaurants know this and test the temperature of their dishes to determine the optimal delay between when a food leaves the heat and arrives at your table. For expert tasters, a very few degrees make a telling difference in how something tastes.

The tactile sense of taste is affected by the irritants inherent in spicy foods. Such pungent spices do not affect the taste buds. Instead, they tickle the sensitive touch fibers on the mucous membranes of the inner mouth. Wasabi also triggers the trigeminal nerve at the back of the throat and in the nasal passages, which is a considered a touch receptor.

Diet and body condition affect taste. The obese do not taste fat nearly as well as the lean, and generally have less sensitive sweet and salty tastes. Being less sensitive to the most satisfying tastes is itself a formula for increased consumption.

The final arbiter of taste is the mind. Expectation shapes taste.

Subjects given a glass of wine before dinner and told it was from California thought that the wine and food eaten afterwards tasted better than those who received the same wine, but were told it came from North Dakota, a state not known for top-quality vineyards; likewise, price. The same wine with a higher price tastes better than when low-priced. You can’t cut-rate taste.