22 jul. 2011

The Sixth Taste

We all know the four tastes, sweet, sour, bitter, salty. The fifth is supposed to be umami, or savory. I'm not convinced by that, because I think it is just saltiness combined with a particular mouth-feel. But let's accept that there is a fifth taste.

The sixth taste, then, would be piquancy, the effect of mustards, horseradish, and hot peppers on the tongue. You can't argue that this culinary heat is olfactory, a smell. It is very much felt in the mouth, not the nose. You could argue that it is a tactile sensation, not a true taste. But you could irritate the inside of your elbow with hot pepper juice, and that wouldn't be quite the same as "tasting" the peppers, right? There is something qualitatively "taste-like" about eating peppers that you couldn't reproduce on other parts of the body, where the heat of hot peppers would merely be an irritant.

I'm not necessarily convinced by my own argument, but I don't know quite where it goes wrong either. If I am right and have discovered the sixth taste, then i have made an amazing insight, just like the Japanese chemist who discovered the fifth one.

9 comentarios:

John dijo...

Agreed, on both the non-uniqueness of savoriness and the uniqueness of piquancy.

Cheers!

Elisa dijo...

I'm pretty sure the cutting edge of taste science dictates that the whole four tastes (or five tastes) thing is bunk.

Jonathan dijo...

That's good to know. I think the whole separation between taste and smell is pretty questionable as well.

Elisa dijo...

I was reading somewhere recently that our tendency to think of the five senses as distinct is fallacious in general, because we almost always use more than one sense to apprehend anything (for example lipreading to understand speech).

Jonathan dijo...

That makes a lot of sense to me.

John dijo...

Did you read about the separation of the senses with your hearing? With the touch of your knuckles?

Obvs. the senses aren't completely segregated; neither are they completely integrated. Seems to me much more useful in daily life to think about them as segregated rather than integrated.

Same with the flavors. If I want to make my dinner saltier, I don't pour sugar on it.

Jonathan dijo...

You're basically right, John, but since the conventional way of thinking about them is separate, the interesting new idea is to see them as somewhat less separate than previously thought. I'll concede there are substantial areas where they don't seem to overlap all the much.

Elisa dijo...

Actually John, people can read with their fingers (it's called braille). That's because 99% of "reading" happens in your brain. You can also "read" with your ears -- ever listen to a book on tape?

John dijo...

Yes, Elisa, I am aware of Braille and books on tape. I was asking you how you read the information.

I was making assumptions, obviously. It could be that Jonathan has readers who read his blog through Braille. I would further assume, though, that blind people might agree that seeing is a separate sense.