The 5 Senses: Taste

Humans have five basic senses: touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste. Today, we are going to focus on taste, which is also referred to as gustation.

Understanding how taste works is crucial when formulating a dietary supplement product because it can help not only create flavors but speculate target consumer preferences and anticipate changes in palates. For consumers, taste is often a significant factor in the decision to purchase and, more importantly, to continue using a product.

Generally, we have about 9,000 taste buds on the tongue, soft palate, throat, and esophagus. As children, our taste buds are not fully developed, which is why children tend to desire overly sweet or sour products. As we age, we slowly lose taste buds.

 

Our tongue naturally has a combination of sodium, potassium, and calcium ions. When we bite into a food substance, the saliva breaks down the food particles and alters the concentration of the sodium, potassium and calcium ions. The interaction of ions stimulates taste receptors within our taste buds. Taste buds cover the surface of the papillae, small bumps on the top and sides of our tongue, soft palate, upper esophagus, cheek, and epiglottis.

 

The chemical molecules are converted into signals and transmitted through the facial nerve to the thalamus and gustatory cortex of the brain to determine whether the food has a salty, sweet, bitter, spicy, or umami (savory) taste.

While the different taste receptors can be found all over the tongue, taste receptors are unique and can only detect one type of taste molecule. For instance, what we perceive as salty activates a different taste receptor than the molecules that we perceive as sweet. Proteins in food, such as the red meat of a burger, are interpreted in a special way. Unlike sour, salty or bitter receptors, the sweet taste receptors are the only receptors that can identify the proteins and send signals to the brain. Our brains translate proteins as sweet. This is one of the reasons why the taste of a juicy, marbled steak feels so organoleptically rewarding and addictive.

Taste research continues to advance as scientists make discoveries, such as taste receptors in the gut and pancreas, and develop substances that suppress certain taste receptors. This could lead to potential treatments for disease, regulating hormone disorders, and control over taste sensations in pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals.

 

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