Saturday, 4 February 2012

Why do things have flavours?

Everyone loves food, whether it be a manly munch of a plate of bacon, or a child eating chocolate, taste goes hand-in-hand with life.

Taste doesn't seem as complicated as sight, hearing or touch. No nodes or bones or anything are involved, just chemical reactions. But it's the sense we know least about.

We have senses due to stimuli. When you have a stimuli (a change in the environment), your sensory neuron shoots up to the relay neuron in your nervous system. That then talks to your motor neuron which tells your body how to react.

For example- someone has farted, your sensory neuron tells your relay neuron that there's a fart in the air, and your nervous system then tells you to move away from the smelly person. (I hope)

Taste is exactly the same, however it involves more chemistry in it.

Back to instincts

It all goes back to basic survival instinct! Taste helped us identify what to eat/drink, and if it would kill us or just send us to the toilet for a week.

  • Sweetness - If things were sweet, they usually contained calories, a source of energy. (Think of sweets)
  • Bitterness - Oftenly, bitter foods were poisonous. Come to think of it, does anyone like bitter foods? I thought not! Also why most people don't really like sprouts or celery.
  • Sourness - Sour foods were regarded healthy, such as orange but also resembled spoilt food like out of date milk.
  • Saltiness - Important minerals and vitamins were often salty. Your body needs 6g of salt a day to function well!
The chemical culprits

All tastes are caused by certain molecules.
  • Saltiness - caused by the presence of Sodium ions (Na). The formula for table-salt is (NaCl).
  • Bitterness - Caused by the molecule Quinine. Only a tiny amount is needed, for those of you who do chemistry, the bitter taste threshold is 0.000008M.
  • Sweetness - The most common molecule is Glucose. And for you chemistry people, sweetness is linked to Aldehydes and Ketone groups. (Both involve oxygen)
  • Sourness - Basically acidity, the lower the pH the more sour it is. Again, for you people interested in chemistry, it's the amount of H+ ions.
Why do we like unhealthy foods so much?

We all love fast food, my personal one being the heavenly Big 'n' Tasty from Mcdonalds or 12 piece bargain bucket from KFC! 

Fast food are processed, we all agree on that, but the disadvantage with that is that there is an illusion of false nutritions which we don't get when we eat them.

A fifth flavour?

You all know the 4 tastes; Salty, bitter, sweet and sour. But some guys over in  Singapore believe they isolated a fifth taste!

Food is a combination of the 4 tastes. For example, chocolate could be 80% sweet, 15% bitter, 3% sour and 2% salty. 

However there is a seaweed that Japanese scientists found that couldn't be combined with the 4 tastes. They named the fifth umami. 

This fifth taste is apparently present in tomatoes and some meat as well!

So now you know why things have flavours, next time you sprinkle some salt on your chips, just think of all the NaCl you're putting on it!

1 comment:

  1. wow....there's so much info on here i had no idea it even existed!!! this is really interesting :D well done!