Scientists from the University of Oregon believe they’ve just discovered a sixth taste– “starchy.”
It’s long been known that there are four basic tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, and sour. In 2009, umami was added as the the “fifth taste.” The most recently recognized and most complex to understand, umami can essentially be described as a “savory,” “brothy,” or “meaty” taste. The most prominent examples of foods rich in umami components are dried shiitake mushrooms, fish, shellfish, spinach, soy sauce, and fermented or aged products involving bacterial or yeast culture.
However, a recent study seems to have detected a sixth taste. Published in Chemical Senses last week, the study exposed that humans can actually isolate and identify the taste of starch.
Juyun Lim, associate professor of the Department of Food Science and Technology at Oregon State University told CNN, “We are taught that humans can taste only five taste categories. It seems, however, that we can taste other chemicals that comprise foods such as starch degradation products and fatty acids.”
So there’s a floury flavor now, and maybe this helps explain why we’re all so obsessed with carbs.
Complex carbohydrates, like starch, form an important source of energy in our diets. It’s long been thought that starch can only be identified through sweetness since the two go hand-in-hand (i.e. starch breaks down into sugar), but scientists at the University of Oregon found that there’s more to the story. In the experiment, researchers blocked the test subjects’ sweet taste receptors in food that contained starch and found that the subjects could still detect the glucose oligomers (i.e. starch) with their taste buds.
“I believe that’s why people prefer complex carbs,” says Lim. “Sugar tastes great in the short term, but if you’re offered chocolate and bread, you might eat a small amount of the chocolate, but you’d choose the bread in larger amounts, or as a daily staple.”
This is the first evidence that detects humans can taste starch as a flavor on its own without any sweetness involved–big news for the food and scientific community–and the finding only builds on evidence suggesting human taste is way more complex than we once thought. While researchers have yet to identify a specific grouping of taste buds that recognize “starchy” flavor (an essential factor to something officially being recognized as a flavor by the scientific community), these findings further open the door of the dynamic nature of human taste and how it affects what our bodies crave. For now, we’re taking this as a reason to celebrate with a big dish of noodles.