What tantalises your taste buds?

Firstly, a brief science lesson to illustrate the difference between taste and flavour. Taste is derived from chemical senses detected by the receptor cells, of which there are at least 50, in each of the tastebuds that dot every part of our tongues. Whereas flavour is a combination of senses, not just taste, but also smell and touch, perceived by the brain. There are generally agreed to be four tastes: salty, sweet, sour and bitter, but several more are thought to exist.

We all have unique preferences for tastes – some of us cannot stand sweet foods for example, but because our tastebuds change over the course of our lives, what we like and dislike also changes. Taste can also be inherited genetically – a person who doesn’t like the bitter taste of dark chocolate may pass that on to their children.

Things such as illness, vitamin deficiency, mood, and smoking can also affect taste. Interestingly, because the effects of smoking can make food seem bland, one of the reasons that e-cigarettes and e-shish devices such as those sold on http://www.eshishin.co.uk/ have become so popular recently is that they come in a wide variety of fruity flavours.

Mood and taste
One of the most involving areas of study around taste concerns mood. It is widely known that eating healthily can, as well as improving our physical health, also improve our mental health. But how we feel can also affect how we perceive different tastes.
Back in the late 1990s, a scientific study evaluated how a group of people tasted an artificial sweetener. In an initial test, most of the group found it far more sweet than bitter. The scientists then stressed the candidates out with a series of unsolvable tests and an airhorn, before having them taste the sweetener again. This time, the group rated the artificial sweetener as being much more bitter. The test indicated that the more stressed people are, the less likely they are to find certain foods so sweet. This could be could explain why, when we feel rotten, we load up on foods that are bad for us as a way of alleviating the symptoms.
Another piece of research in Bristol, this century, found that studying a person’s tastes can give useful clues into which chemicals in their brains are peaking or dipping. This could one day help doctors to medicate for depression more accurately.

Individual tastes
Our personalities mean that we all taste foods individually. A dessert may seem delicious to one person, but resemble a mouthful of sawdust to another. There is also a small section of society known as Super-Tasters. These people have a genetically heightened sense of taste, meaning that some of the most common foods and drinks, such as coffee, ale or chilli, are unpalatable to them. However, one advantage that Super-Tasters have over the rest of us is that they tend to be a lot slimmer, being resistant to many of the foods people love, but which are actually bad for them, such as crisps, chocolate and soft drinks.

New discoveries
Scientists are leaping to fresh discoveries all the time. This research is eagerly followed by food manufacturers, naturally keen to discover ways they can enhance the taste of their products while still adhering to guidelines on the amount of sugar or salt they can add.

E-cigarettes are just one example of how technology is moving forward, allowing us to continue to enjoy a range of different tastes and flavours. Will science one day help people to maintain their tasting abilities despite their mood or general health?