Remember the blissfully ignorant days when it was thought that the human tongue was only able to register four primary tastes (sweet, salty, sour and bitter)? That was until 2009, when umami – the strong savoury flavour – was recognised as another integral taste. Now, nearly 10 years later, taste receptors are the centre of discussion once more. New studies suggest that there is a sixth taste – the flavour of starch.
The study was run in Oregon, in which 22 volunteers were given solutions that contained longer or shorter carbohydrate grains to see if they could taste it. Despite being given a compound that blocks sweet taste receptors on the tongue, the volunteers could still detect a ‘floury flavour’ in the solution containing shorter carbohydrate grains. That means the tongue can taste carbohydrates before they’re broken down into sugar molecules.
Initially it may seem absurd to label starch a taste, but really think about that plate of penne or chunk of ciabatta and you’ll realise that the floury note your mind conjures up is unmistakable.
As it turns out, the tongue is a widely misunderstood creature and even that little diagram we once thought to be a map of the tongue is actually incorrect. We don’t taste in neat compartments of our tongues – each taste bud contains multiple taste receptors and these taste buds are scattered throughout the tongue.
And there’s more: it seems this taste receptor might be the reason we crave pasta in the same way we crave sweet treats like chocolate.
The complementary study was conducted by Deakin University in Victoria, Australia, with the study aiming “to investigate the associations between oral complex carbohydrate sensitivity, anthropometry, and dietary intake in adults”. Translation for those among us who aren’t scientists? They wanted to find out if there is a link between carby cravings and the sensitivity of starch receptors in our tongues. For the study, 34 subjects’ taste buds were examined for sensitivity to starch and carbohydrates. Their carb intake and waist measurements were also measured. The results showed that people with the starch-sensitive receptors had larger waist measurements.
This seems to explain our cravings. In the same way that a salt craving can only be sated with something deliciously savoury like a packet of chips, so can only a comforting potato bake cure our carb cravings.
Larger studies with more participants will likely be necessary to cement these revolutionary findings.
In related news, a different study recently concluded that pasta can aid weight loss. (It’s a bit more complicated than that – read about it here.)
As for us, we’re just pretty thrilled to discover we have a new taste. We will definitely commence testing it out immediately…