There May Be a Sixth Basic Taste And You’ll Never Guess What It Is
Keep on eating and maybe you’ll figure it out.
Don’t cut carbs, taste them.
There are five senses. Eight planets (R.I.P. Pluto) And until recently, there were four basic tastes: sweet, salty, bitter and sour.
That all changed in 2009 when the United States added Umami — a savory flavor detected in meats, vegetables, fishes and green tea — to their list of basic tastes (Japan and other east Asian countries began classifying Umami as a flavor over 100 years ago.)
And now, researchers at Oregon State University are campaigning to add a sixth flavor to the list: starchy.
Scientists previously assumed the only carbohydrates human beings could taste were simple sugars like fruit juice, brown sugar and honey. But in a recent study performed at Oregon State University, researchers discovered human tongues are capable of detecting the starchy flavor found in complex carbohydrates like bread, rice and cereal.
How Did They Do It?
Food scientist Juyun Lim and her team assembled 100 volunteers and offered them several solutions containing complex carbohydrates. The study participants described the solutions as tasting starchy — even after they were given a compound that prevented their tongue receptors from tasting sweet flavors.
These findings confirm Lim’s hypothesis that human beings can taste complex carbohydrates, even before they are broken down into simple sugars. In other words, people can taste starch. And it tastes, well, starchy.
Why Is This Significant?
This isn’t the first time a new flavor has been discovered. As recently as last year, a study was published at Purdue University, advocating the addition of “fatty” or “oleogustus” to the basic taste list. Other proposed candidates for the sixth taste include calcium, carbon dioxide and water.
But it’s no easy feat to join the ranks of the five basic tastes. Before being inducted, a flavor must first be proven to be recognizable, useful, have its own set of tongue receptors and produce a physiological response. And so far, there are no tongue receptors that are unique to the starch flavor.
Where starch excels as a taste is in its usefulness; starch provides people with important sources of energy. That’s why many athletes load up on complex carbohydrates the night before competition—they take longer to digest and can be stored as glycogen, which is an easy and accessible form of energy.
What Is Still Left To Learn?
While Lim and her team were able to prove that humans can taste starch, they aren’t entirely sure how. But this study and others like it prove that when it comes to taste, there is still a lot left to discover.
Let the taste tests begin!