Aside from the gimmes -- friends, family, dog, etc. -- there are few things in this world I care about more than toast. So you can imagine my delight when I read on New Scientist that there's a scientist at Oregon State University who believes "starchy" is a veritable taste, no different than salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and, the late-21st-century addition, umami.
Food scientist Juyun Lim did a series of tests in which volunteers were given various carbohydrate solutions. The participants all identified a starch-like taste both before and after they were given a compound that blocks the tongue's sweet-taste receptors, so we know they detected this taste before the carb broke down into sugar, as carbs do. "Asians would say it was rice-like, while Caucasians described it as bread-like or pasta-like. It’s like eating flour," Lin says.
"Every culture has a major source of complex carbohydrate. The idea that we can't taste what we're eating doesn't make sense," she says. Though perhaps the issue until now was not so much that we couldn't taste what we eat, but that we didn't have the accurate language to describe it. However, terminology alone doesn't dictate if something can be considered a true "taste." Taste buds must be able to identify separate molecules and so far Lim's team hasn't done this yet. Though there's certainly precedent here; umami was only accepted by scientists as a taste in 2002.
Whether it will be considered a basic taste remains to be seen, but the much-maligned carbohydrate is finally getting the respect it's been denied since Atkins started that whole low-carb craze in the early '90s. Today's a good day.
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