Find out more about the food you eat.
To help plant breeders improve the potatoes and tomatoes we eat we need to understand the background to the qualities (e.g. flavour) we are interested in. Below are some of the qualities investigated by EU-SOL and how genes can affect them.
What is taste?
How do we taste and what tastes can we detect in our food?
We taste with our ‘taste buds’. If you look in a mirror you can see these; they are in the tiny bumps that are all over your tongue and the inside of your mouth.
Photographer: A. Reinhold. Copyright: GFDL
Taste buds are clumps of around 100 taste cells. These taste cells respond to types of chemicals and give rise to one of five basic tastes. Below are the 5 basic tastes and the chemicals that give rise to them:
Caused by sugars e.g.
- Sucrose – cane (table) sugar
- Fructose a sugar often found in fruit, it is the main sugar in melons
Caused by acids, for example, Citric acid, which is responsible for the sour taste of lemons.
Caused by salt, for example, Sodium Chloride (table salt).
Caused by wide variety of compounds.
Most toxic compounds taste bitter, for example, it is a poisonous alkaloid that makes tomato stems taste bitter. But it is important to note that by no means all bitter tasting compounds are toxic, for example burnt sugar.
Umami (a meaty taste)
Caused by some amino acids – the units that make up proteins (meat).
The most famous example is monosodium glutamate (MSG). MSG is often added to food (particularly in Chinese cuisine) to give it a ‘meaty’ flavour.
The difference between taste and flavour
The flavour of a food is actually a combination of its taste and its smell. As you eat a food you get the taste of the food from your mouth and the smell of the food from your nose at the same time, together these make up its flavour. This is why food has a funny flavour when you have a cold and can’t smell properly. Some foods taste almost exactly the same if you can’t smell them, for example fruit flavoured sweets.