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tony h

How do we perceive taste?

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It is my understanding that taste comes down to four basic operators: sweet, salt, sour & bitter.  If that’s true then how do we perceive such things as mint, chilli, aniseed?  Can anyone help shed some light on this?

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Add to those four basic tastes, "meatiness" as well (just been "discovered" bu scientists).

Many of the other "tastes" or flavours (such as aniseed and coffee etc) are more akin to our sense of smell, infact you won't be able to taste them with a blocked nose. Chilli is different, the "hot" sensation is because the active ingredient actually stimulates the bodys heat receptors, thereby tricking the brain into sensation of heat. I think that several other chemicals work in an analogous manner (such as menthol, in mint), but I can't remember the specific receptors used off the top of my head.

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Umami. With an "m".


"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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As specifically referring to chiles, the main component in their effect is the heat, which is not related to taste at all.  The chemical capsaicin and related alkaloids specifically target the receptors that convey the sensation of heat to the brain.  The brain is essentially tricked into thinking that part of the body is being exposed to heat.  This has no bearing on the taste buds as this same chemical can cause the sensation of heat on other parts of the body such as the hands, eyes and, er, well you get the picture...

There is actually no damage inflicted at the cellular level.  This is why the comments about chiles burning out the tastebuds or damaging the digestive tract are false.

In fact, once a person develops a resistance to capsaicin, they are able to detect a whole range of flavors that had previously been masked by the sensation of heat.  This is why the chilehead is so enamoured of hot and spicy foods.  It's not that we can take more heat than other folks, it's that we developed a tolerance for it and can enjoy the myriad underlying flavors.  Of course there's also the matter of the endorphins released by the brain to quell the burn...   :wink:


=Mark

Give a man a fish, he eats for a Day.

Teach a man to fish, he eats for Life.

Teach a man to sell fish, he eats Steak

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Mark, what's your favourite all-around chile? I love ancho but pasilla is also nice and fruity. And Thai bird chiles are so wonderful.


"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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