PREVIOUS: SMELL & TASTE (Part 4d)
SITE: Acetylcholine & Olfactory Perceptual Learning
GUSTATORY Learning (Taste)
In some ways understanding taste is more complex than the other senses because even though taste, smell & sight are separate areas of the brain, they overlap significantly in how we experience things in our environment.
All our senses work together, but smell & taste are special partners. When we eat, our tongue gives us the taste & our nose the smell of food. Approximately 80–90% of what we perceive as ‘taste’ is in fact due to our sense of smell, so when the nose is congested, food tends to lose its taste.
Taste & smell are essential for survival, helping to identifying what’s edible & what’s toxic material. Together, these two neural-peripheral systems lets us identify flavors. They’re being used in the development of food, beverages & pharmaceuticals, to enhance or mask their tastes & smells.
•The ancient Greeks believed that the 2 most basic tastes were sweet & bitter, but Aristotle (c. 350 BC) was one of the first to develop a list of others.
• Ayurveda, an ancient Indian healing science, has its own tradition of basic tastes: sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter & astringent
•The Ancient Chinese regarded spiciness as a basic taste
• Now we know the mouth can distinguish sweet, salty, sour, bitter & umami (flavor of certain glutamates, described as savory, meaty or as broth), long known in Asian cooking, & which only recently has been found to have its own taste receptors.
Taste is produced when something put into the mouth reacts chemically with receptor cells on taste buds that are mainly on the tongue, but also in the roof of the mouth & near the pharynx. (BUDS)
The number of taste buds can vary greatly from person to person. Average is about 10,000, each one having about 1,000 taste cells, acting as receptors. In general, women have more than men, & as is the case of color blindness, some people are insensitive to some tastes.
People develop taste preferences based on what they are fed in early life. Giving children a chance to think about which tastes they do or don’t like encourages them to try new types and/or new combos of foods.
While our sense of taste & smell may seem less involved in learning, they are our oldest ones, built into the oldest structures of the brain, so are often more deeply ingrained & intact than the other, ‘newer’ senses.
Although most researchers assume that no one is a Gustatory Learner, those who do favor ‘taste’ as a way to express themselves tend to use words such as bitter, chocolate, minty, sour, spicy….
However, some do acknowledge the importance of this sense. The Forest School in a woodland setting (UK) have incorporate Gustatory & Olfactory education. They believe smells & tastes provide valuable links to learning & remembered experiences, much as Proust described how the taste of the madeleine biscuit evoked a string of memories.
Students of all ages & learning levels benefit from Forest School activities which require them to use these senses, such as having a drink & snack while key information or explanations are made on forest trips, & cooking on campfires which lend their own special flavor to the food.
DIAGRAM: People use a wide variety of factors to decide if something is acceptable to eat. These include types of flavor, like how spicy a food is, how it smells, its texture, temperature & whether it’s something they want to eat for personal, cultural or religious reasons.
The Monell Chemical Senses Center (PA) is the world’s only independent, non-profit scientific institute dedicated to basic research & publications on taste & smell. Their scientists come from many disciplines, working to understand the mechanisms & functions of taste & smell, to define the wider importance of these senses in human health & disease. They also conduct studies on chemesthesis – chemically induced skin sensations, such as the burn of capsaicin (in hot peppers) or the tingle of carbonation. Their experts are available to comment on how taste and olfaction relate to any aspect of our daily lives.
NEXT: Overview (Part 5)