Many of us were taught that humans can sense four tastes: salty, sweet, sour, and bitter. But did you know that there are actually seven tastes? And ongoing research suggests there may even be an eighth.
This is the simplest of the tastes. Salt is actually the compound sodium chloride, which is necessary for the human body. That’s because it regulates fluids and creates nerve impulses. Humans perceive it as warming, soothing and drying. Any foods with sodium chloride are perceived as salty. Examples include soy sauce, celery, baking soda/powder, seaweed and olives.
Sweetness indicates the presence of sugars in foods, along with certain proteins. The sweet taste is pleasurable to most people, except in excess. It is calming and relaxing. Also, the tongue may perceive it as moist. Common foods that taste sweet are sugar, cinnamon, dill, honey, butter, wheat, almonds, carrots and avocado.
Sour tastes let us know that there are acids in certain foods. This stimulates the digestive system, metabolism and appetite, but, as an added bonus, can also relieve gas. Citrus fruits are the most common sour fruits. Other sour foods include yogurt, sour cream, tomatoes, vinegar, goat cheese, pickles and sauerkraut.
The bitter taste receptors identify bases in foods. Humans taste bitterness so that we may avoid naturally toxic substances, most of which taste bitter. Because of this, it is the taste we are most sensitive to. In fact, we are so sensitive that many perceive bitter foods to be unpleasant, sharp or disagreeable. Some bitter foods include coffee, unsweetened cocoa and citrus peel. Quinine, found in tonic water, is also quite bitter.
This flavor is often described as “savory” or “meaty.” Salt magnifies the taste, which is why adding salt to a tomato amplifies the flavor. Umami-rich foods include Parmesan cheese, miso, soy sauce, mushrooms, walnuts, grapes and broccoli. To a lesser degree, it’s also found in meats.
This taste is in addition to the basic five tastes that humans perceive. Astringent foods contain tannins, which constrict organic tissue. It causes a puckering sensation that may also be described as rubbery, styptic, dry or rough. In addition, it may be described as harsh when found in wine, or tart, in sour foods. The astringent flavor is found in tea, unripe fruit, nutmeg, rosemary, green apples, spinach and lentils.
The pungent taste is perceived as dry heat. It can boost metabolism and circulation, aid digestion and reduce body fat. Pungent foods include basil, chili powder, all hot peppers, ginger, peppermint, cayenne, horseradish, onion and garlic.
An Eighth Taste?
Since the 1800s, there have been arguments over whether or not fat is another taste that humans can perceive. The theory is that humans developed it in order to ensure we got enough high fat during times of food scarcity. In 2005, French researchers discovered that rats do have the taste receptor for fat. It is still unclear whether humans do, but it is clear that fatty foods like French fries are absolutely delicious.
Text by Jennie Tippett