Mak­ing Sense of Taste

Reader's Digest Asia Pacific - - Food -

To bet­ter un­der­stand taste, try to re­call your last sum­mer bar­be­cue. Think of the salty crunch of potato chips, the feel­ing of bit­ing into a freshly grilled sausage or that tangy gulp of le­mon­ade…

At its sim­plest, taste is the trans­mis­sion of sig­nals from thou­sands of taste buds on the tongue, throat and roof of the mouth to the brain. How­ever, touch, sound, smell and sight are all in­volved.

Those chips, for ex­am­ple, aren’t the same with­out their sound. Ex­per­i­ments at the Univer­sity of Ox­ford have shown that the louder a chip crunches, the more likely the eater is to per­ceive it as fresh. That can of beer might also have a dif­fer­ent flavour from one per­son to another. Vari­a­tions on the TAS2R38 gene will change the shape of your bit­ter taste re­cep­tors, which de­ter­mine how strongly you taste foods such as broccoli or Brus­sels sprouts. And sci­en­tists now be­lieve that the way you smell, dic­tated by gene OR62A, may be re­spon­si­ble for the soapy aroma and taste some de­tect in that po­lar­is­ing herb co­rian­der.

As rec­ol­lec­tions of sum­mer bar­be­cues at­test, emo­tion and mem­ory also sig­nif­i­cantly in­flu­ence the way we eat. In the clas­sic In Search of Lost Time, Mar­cel Proust stops short af­ter tast­ing a tea-soaked madeleine cake. He re­alises the rush of feel­ings that the treat aroused re­mind him of Sun­day morn­ings he used to spend with his aunt Leonie. What Proust un­der­stood more than 100 years ago about the happy ef­fects of taste, neu­ro­sci­en­tists now be­lieve can work both ways. Warm as­so­ci­a­tions with the smell and taste of Grandma’s straw­berry short­cake can leave you with a pen­chant for straw­ber­ries and baked sweets. But be­ware: a foul food mem­ory, of even one spoiled egg salad, for ex­am­ple, can turn

you off a dish for life.

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