Eating with all five senses: Taste

Eating is something we do many time every day and uses all five of our senses. Let’s explore the sense of taste and how that relates to eating habits.

Michigan State University professor Sungeun Cho and graduate student Ed Szczygiel believe an important sense we use when we eat food is taste. How does the food we put in our mouth taste? Taste is one of the main things people think about when we bite into an apple or drink coffee.

Five basic tastes can be identified when we eat something:

  1. Sweet. This includes honey, sugar and many other sweeteners.
  2. Salt. This includes table salt.
  3. Sour. This can come from lemons, limes, grapefruit, etc.
  4. Bitter. This can come from cocoa, coffee beans, etc.
  5. Umani. Umami was discovered in 1908 and means pleasant to the taste or savory. Umami taste comes from things like soy sauce or parmesan cheese.

Taste takes on a complex combination of sensations and leads to a chemical feeling factor that affects different sensors and areas of your brain. These are called chemical irritants and can stimulate the trigeminal nerve ends. These types of chemical irritants include burn, heat, cold, pungency, tingling and others. One example of this is chewing gum. Chemical irritants can be put into gum and give a tingling sensation when chewing.

During the 4-H Health and Food Science Camp at MSU, students experimented with the sense of taste. They were given two different tastes: salt and sweet. They had to describe how the substance taste and if there were any chemical irritants they felt in their mouth while tasting.

Students in the MSU Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition are learning and researching many different areas related to food and our senses.

The Michigan 4-H Youth Development Program developed a variety of science lessons that are designed to be used in classrooms or groups. One in particular deals with senses awareness and relates to the many things youth learned about sensory science during the Michigan 4-H Health and Food Science Camp. For more information on this, see the MSU Extension article, “Youth explore sensory science at MSU.”

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