Every man to his taste (part 1 of 2)

In this diptych, I'd like to show you the world of taste sensation! In this way, I hope you'll discover something new about how taste works, and why there's no arguing about it. Or is there?

Today I am describing the structure and experience of taste and this culinary journey starts with the little things in life: molecules.

The building blocks of flavour.

Each ingredient has its own network of chemical structures called Volatile Compounds.

The combination of these volatile compounds give the ingredient its unique flavour. The complexity of the ingredient depends largely on the number of types of volatile compounds (hereafter referred to as V.C.).

For example, in lettuce, 20 V.C.'s can be identified, cucumber has about 80 and coffee consists of over a thousand V.C.'s!

The experience of taste and aroma

The reason why V.C.s are so important for taste is because they carry an odour. And as much as 80 per cent of taste formation happens not in the mouth, but in the nose! What's more, the formation of flavour in the nose is also much more complex than that which takes place in the mouth.

You see, in your mouth there are taste buds which, when something hits them, send a signal to your brain. Your brain uses these signals to form a taste. Your taste buds react to the molecules in the food or liquid such as: acids, sugars, fats, proteins, et cetera.

Your taste buds distinguish between five categories:

  • salty

  • sweet

  • sour

  • Bitter

  • Umami

Next up, Aromas!

As you will have gathered by now, 80% of flavour is formed by the aroma.

Why? Because there are only 5 different taste receptors in your mouth, while the nose contains about FOUR HUNDRED different kinds of smell receptors!

A certain combination of "smell activation" of these receptors is associated with an aroma.

In 2014, American researchers discovered that -because there is a lot of overlap in the activated odour receptors between different flavours- the human nose can distinguish about BILLION odours.

De Textuur van smaak.

So. 20% of flavour is formed in the mouth and is called taste. 80% of flavour is formed in the nose, and is called aroma. Let's take it one step further.

Besides this full 100% flavour distribution, there is another very important player in the formation of flavour. You guessed it: Texture!

I have been asked so many times at the bar whether the whole shaking and stirring of cocktails is just bullshit, that the rebuttal often shoots out like an impulse:

"Have you ever had a cappuccino?"

After all, the ingredients in "a shot of espresso with hot milk" and a "cappuccino" are exactly the same. The difference in why the latter is preferred, is entirely because of the texture of the ingredients. In a cappuccino, the milk is foamed up and poured over the crema layer of the espresso. Your brain, when drinking your cappuccino, picks up the texture of the foamed milk through the vibrations in your jaw and eardrums. Thus, officially, texture is not part of the chemical formation of taste, but it says so much in the culinary field that it counts.

So shaking a cocktail does wonders for the taste experience.

When the bartender doesn't shake your espresso martini, you can forget about the nice layer of foam and the taste of vodka will be more prominent than you would like.

To summarize:

  • Taste takes place on a molecular level in your mouth and accounts for 20% of the taste.

  • Aroma also takes place on a molecular level -but then through volatile compounds- in your nose and accounts for 80% of the taste.

  • Texture is what makes the difference in the experience of the taste.

And to make it as clear as possible, one simple formula which I hope you will never forget:


Next month, part 2 will be online. See you then!