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The Six Sensations of Taste


What is Taste?

Taste has traditionally been defined as the five tastes interpreted your tongues taste buds - bitterness, saltiness, sourness, sweetness and savouriness. More recently however, the term has expanded to include the official sixth sensation of taste - fat.

How Does the Body Interpret Taste?

The tongue contains tens of thousands taste buds (specialised sensory organs) that are segregated on the tongue according to the taste they are designed to interpret. Each contain thousands of microvilli, microscopic hairs that send signals back to the brain which can then perceives how any particular food tastes.

The nose also plays a big part in taste interpretation. Olfactory receptors deep inside the nose help to interpret not only what is being smelt, but also certain chemicals released with a foods aroma. This interpretation works with the interpretation of the taste buds to inform the brain on what sort of taste is being experienced.


The bitterness of certain foods is often experienced by individuals as unpleasant, sharp and undesirable. It is the most sensitive of the five tastes, and is thought to originate from the primitive humans ability to detect potentially toxic compounds in plant food sources. Good examples of bitter foods include raw cocoa, dandelion greens, lemons, marmalade and wild chicory.


Taste perception of saltiness can be attributed to the presence of sodium, chloride and other alkali metal ions in foods. Whilst our bodies require a small amount of salt in the diet for good health, consumption of too many salty foods can lead to high blood pressure, heart problems and oedema, just to name a few. Good examples of naturally salty foods include sea salt, table salt, sea vegetables, canned and smoked fish, animal stock, pickled foods, cured meats, yeast extract, olives, feta cheese and soy sauce.


It is the acidic nature of some foods that we interpret to be sour. This is due to the relatively high, dilute content of hydrochloric acid, which can sometimes also cause the sour taste to feel ‘hot’. The sour sensation also promotes salivation, cleanses the digestive system and stimulates the appetite. Good examples of sour foods include lemons, lime, grapes, vinegar, some wines, spoiled milk, fermented foods and sour cream.


The pleasurable taste sensation of sweetness is most often experienced with foods rich in carbohydrates and sugar. There are also other artificial and natural substances that may give a sweet sensation at a much lower concentration, allowing the substance to function as an efficient sugar substitute. Good examples of sweet foods include most fruits, table sugar, honey, jams, carrots, beetroot, cakes and wine.

Savouriness (Umami)

Certain amino acids (such as glutamate and MSG) are responsible for the savouriness taste sensation. Considered fundamental in foreign cuisines such as those of Korea, China, Japan and Thailand, savoury foods are described as having a rich, meaty, relished taste to them. Good examples of savoury foods include Kombu, soy and fish sauce, parmesan cheese, lamb and beef.

The New Sixth Taste: Fat

Recent scientific studies have revealed that humans can detect the official sixth taste - fat. It was demonstrated that certain individuals are naturally more sensitive to it, eat less of it and have lower body mass indexes as a consequence. Examples of foods that taste fatty include oils, fatty meats, cured meats, fried foods, cookies, cakes and full-fat dairy products.

Other Taste Sensations

Other taste sensations that may also be associated with the taste of food include:

  • Calcium
  • Dryness
  • Metallic
  • Hotness/ prickliness
  • Coolness
  • Numbness
  • Heartiness (kokumi)
  • Temperature

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