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Flavour Science: Observing, Understanding, and Tasting

The terms "taste" and "flavour" are frequently used interchangeably in everyday speech. Both "I love the flavour of napalm in the morning" and "I love the taste of napalm in the morning" are equally likely to come out of our mouths, and both phrases effectively convey the message. However, we are going to use more precise language for this debate.

Salty, sour, bitter, sweet, and umami are the only five sensations our tongues can sense when we talk about "taste" in this context. (There is growing evidence that suggests humans may also have particular receptors for fat on their tongues, making it the sixth-and possibly most delicious.) The term "flavor," on the other hand, refers to the entire sensory experience, which goes beyond simply the five or six tastes to encompass the highly nuanced and varied realm of fragrance.

Many of us instantly picture one of those classic taste bud maps when we think of the word "taste." Drawings of tongues with distinct sections that depict how we taste sour on the sides, sweet up front, and bitter at the back—you definitely know the ones we are talking about. But in reality, things do not operate that way. Instead, thousands of taste buds are located on each of the bumps, or "papillae," that cover our tongues. About 100 taste cells are located within each taste bud. Additionally, only one of each of the five (or six) tastes can be detected by each of those taste cells. Contrary to what those taste bud maps have long suggested, the cells are actually quite evenly dispersed over the tongue.

Protein receptors on the surface of the taste cells are responsible for detecting the majority of flavors on our tongues, including bitter, sweet, umami, and fat. The bitter, sweet, umami, and fatty molecules snap together in certain ways, and when they do, the cells transmit signals to the brain informing it of the molecules' presence. The receptors are like locks, and the chemicals are like keys.

Also acids, as expected, behaves differently than salt. Guy Crosby, the science editor at America's Test Kitchen, asserts that our cells do not contain protein receptors like lock-and-keys on the surfaces of their salt - and acid - detecting organelles. The cells themselves are instead accessible through channels that let salt and acid ions enter. He says, "Think of it like the Lincoln Tunnel". They enable the passage of ions from the cell's outside through its membrane to its inside. Furthermore, because ions have an electrical charge, they alter the electrical charge of the cells, which signals to the brain that a flavor is either salty or sour.

On the other hand, there is a big question of whether the smell helps or changes how we taste. But contrary to popular belief, taste is more than merely the union of gustatory (taste) and olfactory (smell) sensations. Specialized senses of taste and smell as well as another reaction known as the common chemical sense combine to create the overall experience of taste. The trigeminal nerve can cause the surfaces of the mouth, throat, nose, and eyes to become chemically sensitive. The system plays a part in delivering intense or powerful taste sensations, like the searing capsaicin of chili peppers or the cold flavor of mint, even though it is a natural pain and heat receptor created to assist protect the body. While the common chemical sense does not truly register as a taste sensation in the brain, it nonetheless has an impact on how we generally perceive the flavors of the items we are eating. Our tongue and nose communicate distinct taste sensations to the brain.

Works Cited:

"Flavor Science: How We Taste Sweet, Sour, Salty, And More". Serious Eats , 2022,


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