Taste is an enigma, a fusion of experiences for our brain made up of taste, smell, site, sound, and texture. A series of sensory intakes, yet one single sensation, a reverse Synesthesia, a crossmodal perception. A classic experiment demonstrates the weakness of “taste” when confused by other senses.
French researchers conducted a series of experiments where they colored a white wine red with an odorless dye. They then asked a panel of wine connoisseurs to describe its taste of the wine. The results: connoisseurs described the wine as if it were a red wine descriptors instead of a white wine. This experiment has been conducted in various ways with different flavors and colors of drink. The colors we see play a significant role in how we perceive drink.
Taste buds contain the taste receptor cells (aka gustatory cells). The receptors are located around the small papillae structures (taste buds) on the upper surface of the tongue, soft palate, upper esophagus, the cheek and epiglottis. The papillae structures detect five elements of taste perception: salty, sour, bitter, sweet and umami.
We each have somewhere between 2,000 and 10,000 taste buds, each consisting of 50 to 100 specialized sensory cells that can be stimulated by tastants; taste-provoking chemical molecules that are dissolved in ingested liquids (saliva). When stimulated sensory cells trigger signals that are transferred to the ends of nerve fibers, then send impulses along cranial nerves to the brainstem’s taste regions, which are relayed to the thalamus and the cerebral cortex – we perceive taste.
That’s a very simple explanation of the process. But as said before, our perception of taste requires more. Our sense of smell is closely aligned with our sense of taste – every child knows to hold his or her nose when ask to taste something bad. Our sense of smell can discriminate between 1,000 to 4,000 odors. The interface of taste and smell greatly enhances our perceptions of food and drink. But research shows that texture and sound also enhance taste, and as shown in the wine experiment, the appearance of foods and drinks can make people “see” flavors before they taste them – a point that every good chef is well aware of.
And again, the only possible application I can think of is virtual reality.
- Taste bud
- Taste and Smell
- Making Sense of Taste
- The Surprising Impact of Taste and Smell
- Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter … and Umami
- Taste and texture
- How does the way food looks or its smell influence taste?
- Chemical Senses: Olfaction and Gustation