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, We'll take a closer look at the five flavours, the thirteen aromas identified by James Briscione in his book 'The Flavour Matrix' and we'll finish off with some examples of texture.
The five flavours explained
As mentioned in the first blog post on taste, our brain recognises the five main flavours based on the signals given off by the taste buds. From an evolutionary perspective, humans have a survival instinct and our brains are therefore full of beliefs about the taste of everything we put in our mouths.
People are very sensitive to the bitter taste, because almost every toxic substance has a bitter taste. So most people don't like a drink that is too bitter because it sets off mental alarm bells.
Sour ingredients often evoke the association with spoilage.
On the other hand, our brain loves sweet tastes. The taste represents simple carbohydrates that our body and brain can use immediately, so this is more than welcome. Dopamine is also released when sugar molecules are consumed.
Salt: cells need salt, therefore salt goes beyond the receptors in your mouth. It also wakes up other receptors, so the taste sensation of a drink is enhanced by the addition of salt. Dave Arnold, the author of Liquid Intelligence, is a great advocate of adding a pinch of salt to almost every cocktail he serves.
Finally, Umami: this flavour was discovered some 100 years ago by a Japanese chemist, Dr. Kikunae Ikeda, but only officially recognised as a fifth flavour in 2002. There are many different amino acids in our food, and it is the glutamate amino acid that gives rise to the complex taste of 'umami'. Some examples of Umami-rich ingredients are: mushrooms, soy sauce, parmesan cheese and tomato paste. Although plenty of creative cocktails with this umami flavour have been created, there are no world-famous or classic Umami cocktails yet.
The thirteen Aromas:
Short Disclaimer: Scientifically, there is no definitive answer as to how aromas should be categorized These thirteen are not sacred and not everyone agrees with this selection. But as indicated in blog post part 1, there are no less than four hundred different types of olfactory receptors and there are thousands of different aromatic compounds. In addition, the world has tens of thousands of different ingredients and therefore over 1,000,000,000 unique smells can be distinguished! To translate this into thirteen typical aromas must have been a tremendous challenge for James Briscione, and I for my part am in agreement with the aromas he has described in his book when it comes to all the ingredients in the world. However, for describing drinks such as beer, wine, cocktails and such, these aromas are not always perfect.
Without further ado:
Alcohol: The smell of ethanol.
Phenol: is a specific hydrocarbon. In high doses you smell tar, in low doses red wine.
Floral: This flowery scent is often a little less sweet and more perfume-like compared to fruit.
Fruity: Since there are many different types of fruit, this category can be divided into: Berries, Citrus, Jam, Melon, Fruity and Tropical fruit.
Maillard: This category was created thanks to Louis-Camille Maillard, a French chemist. He discovered a reaction in the combination of amino acids and reducing sugars that produces the delicious smell we recognise in baked bread, chocolate, roasted meat, caramel, popcorn, aged rum and nuts.
Marine: All smells that remind you of the sea.
Pungent: Smells like mustard, wasabi and radish.
Sulphite: A protein-like aroma, often found in (of course) boiled eggs, cauliflower, narcissus, corn, truffles, wine, chickpeas and aquafaba
Terpene: This aroma comes from the turpentine and is divided into: Medicinal, Gasoline, Smoke, Spicy, Wood and Cannabis.
Vegetal: An earthy odour commonly identified with earth, mushrooms, tomatoes, avocado, paprika, apple, grass, dill and parsley.
Dairy: Anything dairy. Often a mild, sour, fatty odour.
Acid: Acidic odours can give the nose a tingling sensation. Sour can be smelled in dairy products, but also in more complex ingredients such as cocoa, coffee, alcohol and bread.
Savoury: Basically anything that is described in taste as savory or umami.
Finally, the textures that also play an important role in the perception of taste. Because in case you forgot from part one:
FLAVOR = TASTE + AROMA + TEXTURE.
The most common textures are:
Fat: Fat coats the tongue and washes away some sharp tastes (such as sour and salty) and perceptions (such as spicy and astringent). The experience is thus soothing. For now, fat is a texture, but researchers have found a fat receptor in the taste buds of mice, rats and even humans. It is therefore only a matter of time before fat will be seen as the sixth taste.
Spicy: Capsaicin is a tasteless and odourless ingredient, but it creates a burning sensation when it comes into contact with the nerves in our mucous membrane. You can get used to this feeling, so the more spicy margaritas you drink, the less spicy they seem to become.
Astringency: This dryness in the mouth comes from the tannins (tanic acids) found in red wine, tea, cranberry, walnuts or unripe fruit such as green bananas.
Creamy: The silky texture of dairy comes mainly from the fats. It gives a rich mouthfeel and when combined with the right ingredients (often salty) can create a longer aftertaste.
Freshness: This is one of my favourite textures, because it works like mathematics: you either understand it, or you don't. The freshness is mainly associated with fresh, cold vegetables (celery, onion, pepper), leaves (spinach, basil) and herbs (mint). These ingredients contain volatile compounds that are destroyed when heated and are therefore gone after cooking. The aromas released from these ingredients when they are still raw give off a refreshing, uplifting sensation. Order a Gin-Basil Smash or a Southside cocktail and you will know what I mean from the first sip.