| FLAVOR 101| - Athlon Media Group

| FLAVOR 101 |
Number of distinct aromatic flavor
compounds in a fresh strawberry
The author of Tasty unravels why some foods
are “yum” and others are “yuck.”
he origins of our sense
of taste stretch back 500
million years, when
creatures developed the
ability to sense prey in the ocean
around them, devour and appreciate it. To this day, the five basic
tastes—bitter, salty, sour, sweet
and umami (savory)—help ensure
our survival. Each works through
specialized proteins inside our
taste buds called taste receptors
that latch onto molecules in food
and drink, sending signals to the
brain through the nervous system
and producing sensations from
“ew!” to “mmm!” The brain seamlessly weaves these together with
aromas and other sensory information to shape the overall flavor.
Taste perceptions vary dramatically from one person to the next,
and they start forming in the
womb, where the fetus senses the
chemical signatures of the meals
Mom eats. As kids grow and their
brains go through developmental
spurts, tastes can become quirky.
Picky eating, an aggravating puzzle
for many parents, may have been a
useful evolutionary trait to prevent
our hunter-gatherer ancestors
from gobbling poisonous berries.
To add to the puzzle, some of us
are genetically predisposed to
taste some foods differently. A
classic example is cilantro, which
tastes like soap to 10 percent of
the population.
As we age, our taste perception
grows less acute. This can lead
us to become more adventurous
eaters—able to appreciate the
bitterness of Brussels sprouts,
espresso drinks or the hops in
some beers.
1. Ramp up aroma
The smells released by
chewing can enhance
flavors, partly by tapping
into our memories.
2. Add variety
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors
enjoyed diverse diets, so many of
us crave varied, strong flavors,
such as the heat of chile peppers.
SALTY Our brains are programmed so that a little salt
tastes good, and a lot tastes
bad. This ensures we consume
just enough to maintain the salt
balance our bodies need to
function. But beware—your
palate can adapt to crave a lot
of salt, as in the case of people
who eat the typical American
diet. The good news: If you cut
back on salt, your taste buds
can adapt to be satisfied with
SOUR The mouthpuckering sensation is
caused by acids in
lemons, yogurt and
sourdough bread and
other food. Scientists aren’t
sure exactly how it works, or
even its precise biological purpose, but many suspect that
sourness originally signaled
that food was decomposing and
was potentially unsafe to eat.
SWEET The most elemental of
taste pleasures, sweetness signals the presence of sugars, the
foundation of the food chain and
a source of energy. Today,
though, our sweet tooth is overstimulated by an avalanche of
sugar in our diet.
UMAMI Japanese for “delicious
taste,” umami is produced
by certain amino acids. It’s
best described as
“savory”—a taste rich in flavor released by cooking,
curing or aging. Examples
of umami foods include
seared and cured meats,
aged cheeses, fish sauce,
green tea, soy sauce and
cooked tomatoes.
The five basic tastes may soon
be joined by fat. A growing body
of research suggests the
tongue has receptors that can
detect fatty acids, and the
luxurious appeal of high-fat
foods like ice cream and butter is more than just a matter
of texture.
If you don’t like strong flavors—especially bitter tastes, spicy fare or high-fat
foods—you might be among the 25 percent of the population that are supertasters. You can find out by counting the papillae (pink bumps that contain three to
five tastebuds) on your tongue. Go to Parade.com/supertaster for a simple test.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John McQuaid is the author of Tasty: The Art
and Science of What We Eat (Scribner), inspired by his struggle to understand his
kids’ strange and contradictory food choices.
3. Strike a balance
The most gratifying foods contain just enough spiciness or
richness, but research shows
too much flavor is a turn-off.
4. Consider mouthfeel
Food texture—mushy, crunchy or
creamy—affects flavor and enjoyment. So does temperature and if a
food makes you pucker up.
5. Eat with your
eyes Colors, arrangement and even dishes or
cutlery can influence how
the mind perceives flavor.
14 | MAY 17, 2015
© PARADE Publications 2015. All rights reserved.
By John McQuaid
BITTER A poison alarm, bitterness is a distinctive bad taste
accompanied by a reflexive
“yuck” expression on the face.
Hundreds of
mostly found
in plants, taste
bitter. But a little bitterness
makes food interesting—and
healthy. Antioxidants, which aid
metabolism and help the body
ward off cancer, account for
much of the bitter taste of kale,
dark chocolate and coffee.