Sorry Science, Starch Is Not a “Taste”

The latest research is a bitter pill indeed

September 8, 2016 9:00 am

In 2009, umami became humankind’s official “fifth taste,” joining those old stand-bys salty, sweet, sour and bitter. A few years later, taste researchers are looking to add yet another “new” taste to the list, advancing a theory that supposedly explains why we enjoy grubbing on carb-heavy foods like pasta, pizza and toast.

A study published in Chemical Senses, led by Oregon State University professor Juyun Lim, makes the case that starch — that’s right, carbs — merits a place in the hierarchy of primary taste.

“Every culture has a major source of complex carbohydrate,” Lim points out to New Scientist. “The idea that we can’t taste what we’re eating doesn’t make sense.”

That doesn’t sound very scientific to us, but what do we know?

In the study, Lim and her team isolated carbohydrates and found that subjects were able to readily identify the starchy taste in solutions that contained longer or shorter carbohydrate chains. The difference were mostly cultural.

As Lim explained, “Asians would say it was rice-like, while Caucasians described it as bread-like or pasta-like. It’s like eating flour.”

But as the Science of Us pointed out, Lim’s study is just a start. There are some fairly strict scientific criteria that need to be met before something can accurately be called a primary taste. Among them: Tastes need to be able to trigger specific receptors on our taste buds, which would allow us to percieve and process the taste in our brains, and they must trigger downstream effects in the rest of the body. Despite the new findings, starch still falls short.

So while the rest of the internet goes crazy crowning carbs the new sixth taste king (see: here and here and here), let’s not forget they were making the same suprious claims about oleogustus, the taste of fat, and kokumi, a certain type of rich mouthfeel, not even a year ago.

Point is, the way we taste is surely more complex than we originally thought, but while I hate to be bitter, this hunger to keep adding elements to the taste hierarchy is increasingly hard to swallow. 


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