from the urls-we-dig-up dept
Thanks to the receptors in our taste buds, eating is one of life's greatest pleasures. Of the five different taste sensations, sweetness is probably the most pleasing. Starting from infancy, our bodies are already programmed to seek out sugar because it provides the energy to keep us going. There is also some indication that babies can be influenced to like salt if they are exposed to salty foods early on. As part of an evolutionary survival mechanism, our bodies are programmed to avoid eating bitter tasting things because many toxic compounds taste bitter. People like to eat sour-tasting foods, like citrus fruits or pickles, but from an evolutionary perspective, sourness is generally a warning for food spoilage. Finally, umami is supposed to be a "savory" taste, which is produced when our taste buds detect glutamate, the salt of the amino acid glutamic acid. Foods that naturally have an umami taste include cheese and tomatoes, so it's no wonder that pizza tastes so good! Here are a few more tasty tidbits.
- Many animals, including cats and dolphins, can't taste sweet things. It turns out that a large number of carnivores can't taste sugars because they have non-working versions of the genes responsible for making sugar receptors on the tongue. [url]
- Researchers are working on developing artificial tongues that can mimic the human taste response to various flavors. However, to fully reproduce the experience of taste requires the development of an artifical nose, because a large part of "taste" is actually due to smell. [url]
- The elusive "salt receptor" is unlike the receptors for all the other tastes, and figuring it out is complicated by the fact that sodium is essential for life but can kill you at high enough doses. (Apparently, it takes only a few mouthfuls of salt water from the Dead Sea to kill a person.) Researchers now believe that there are two receptors or mechanisms involved in tasting salt -- one that makes salt desirable and another (the elusive one) that makes it undesirable at high concentrations. [url]