What you need to know about your sense of taste

It is one of the most basic senses. It allows you to evaluate foods and beverages to know what is safe. This also helps your body digest food.

Like other senses, taste helped our ancestors to survive.

Chemical compounds are responsible for the taste of food. These compounds interact directly with your taste buds’ sensory cells (receptors). These cells transmit information to your brain, which allows you to identify the taste.

The human tongue is capable of recognizing several different tastes. Each taste serves an evolutionary purpose. For example, it can identify spoiled food or toxic substances.

What is your primary type of taste?

There are five types of taste receptors:

  • Sweets
  • Sour
  • Salty
  • bitter
  • Enjoyable

Take a closer look at these different types of tastes.


In general, sweetness comes from sugar or alcohol. Some amino acids can also be sweet.

Scientists believe we have evolved to enjoy sweetness, as it helps us identify foods with high energy density. Sweet foods contain a lot of carbohydrates like glucose, which our bodies use as fuel.

Sweet foods can include:

  • honey
  • strawberries
  • Candy
  • fruit juice
  • Cake


Acids have a sour or tart taste. Hydrogen ions are responsible for the taste.

Foods that are spoiled or rotten often taste sour. We evolved to detect sourness to recognize these harmful foods.

Not all sour food is dangerous. We can eat foods that are sour without harm.

  • vinegar
  • Lemon juice
  • cranberries
  • yogurt
  • buttermilk


Saltiness is often caused by adding table salt or sodium Chloride to foods. Mineral salts can also cause it.

The balance of electrolytes and fluids is dependent on sodium. We can detect saltiness to ensure we are getting enough sodium.

Salty food include

  • soy sauce
  • Processed meat
  • Olives preserved
  • You can also find out more about


Many different molecules can cause bitterness. These molecules are found mainly in plants.

Many plants that contain bitter compounds can be toxic. To avoid poison, our ancestors developed the ability to detect bitterness.

Bitterness can be good or bad. Anger is usually tolerated in small amounts or combined with other flavors.

Bitter foods include:

  • coffee
  • wine
  • dark chocolate
  • arugula


Amino acids are responsible for the savory taste. Aspartic or glutamic acids are the most common causes. Sometimes, savory can also be called “umami” (meaty) or “savory.”

Scientists believe that savoriness can increase appetite and regulate protein digestion.

These foods are savory:

  • Meat broth
  • Aged cheese
  • ripe tomatoes
  • asparagus

Tastes being researched

Scientists are currently researching other tastes, such as:

  • Alkaline (opposite to sour).
  • Metallic
  • water-like

What is the umami flavor?

  • Umami has been the taste that was discovered most recently. It is a Japanese word that roughly translates into “savory” or meaty in English.
  • In 1908, a Japanese scientist named Kikunae Ikeda discovered glutamic acids in kombu. The salts of glutamic acids were responsible for the seaweed’s savory flavor. This includes Monosodium Glutamate or MSG.
  • Since Ikeda’s discovery, umami substances are now found in many other foods. Scientists discovered umami receptors on our taste buds, which was the moment scientists accepted Umami as a brand new taste.

What is the difference between flavor and taste?

  • Taste and flavor don’t mean the same thing.
    • Taste refers to the perception by the sensory cells of your taste buds. Your brain detects sweetness when food compounds activate sensory cells.
    • Flavor includes taste and odor. Your sense of smell is responsible for odor. When sensory cells interact with odor molecules, your brain receives messages from your nose.

What is the taste system?

  • Taste papillae are tiny bumps on your tongue. Each papilla contains multiple taste buds, each with between 10 and 50 receptor cells. Taste receptor cells are also found in your throat lining and on the roof of the mouth.
  • The receptors in your mouth analyze the chemical compounds of your food. Then, the receptors send nerve signals to the brain, producing taste sensations. This allows us to link different tastes with various emotions.
  • Contrary to popular opinion, the entire tongue can detect all five tastes. There is no “zone” that corresponds to each bite. The sides of the tongue are more sensitive than the center to all tastes.


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