Until now, it was believed that humans could only detect five different primary tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. The latter was added to the list just seven years ago, after scientists discovered the savoury taste found in foods like mushroom, seaweed, cured meat, and fish triggered entirely different receptors in the brain.
Now it looks like researchers have discovered yet another taste to add to the list: starch. The discovery of the new taste could go far in explaining our insatiable desire for carby foods like pasta, rice, potatoes and bread. It might even explain why I recently ordered a portion of chips in a bar half an hour before I was supposed to be eating a three course meal at a nice restaurant.
When you think about it, the idea that we can’t taste starch is pretty weird. As Juyun Lim at Oregon State University points out: “Every culture has a major source of complex carbohydrate. The idea that we can’t taste what we’re eating doesn’t make sense.”
Previously, many scientists explained away the problem by stating that we were simply tasting the sugar produced when we eat carbs. In an attempt to prove this idea wrong, Lim’s team gave volunteers a compound to block both the saliva enzyme and sweet receptors, meaning the starch taste had nowhere to hide.
They discovered that the subjects were still able to taste the starch. Lim explained: “Asians would say it was rice-like, while Caucasians described it as bread-like or pasta-like. It’s like eating flour.”
If you thought we’d finally compiled the definitive taste list, you can think again. Scientists are now on the hunt for a wide variety of suspected tastes; from the metallic twang you get from blood, to the flavour of carbonated drinks. It looks like our tastebuds are a lot smarter than we give them credit for.