Professor at the Department of Food Science at the University of Copenhagen
Breaking the Wall of Bad Taste. How Psychophysics and Neurophysiology Can Improve our Food Choices
Thank you. I guess it is appropriate that I speak about taste just before lunch. If you happen to dislike the lunch, I hope to demonstrate to you that there is still hope. Because, breaking the wall of bad taste, or rather, I think opening up the wall to almost any taste is indeed possible. I will show you some examples of that and explain some of the mechanisms. But, when we are talking about tastes, we better sort of discuss what we mean by it. And, you all know that we have five, so-called, basic tastes: sweetness; you are familiar with sweetness, saltiness, sourness, bitterness, and then this other, so-called fifth basic sense, umami. I think that you will have a taste of a typical umami thing now, right? (So, if you pass these things around.) Umami is a savoury taste associated with monosodium glutamate and small peptides. It is meaty and savoury. It has been found that in order to explain all of what the tongue can do with taste, we need to include other tastes than the four usual ones. But, this is not taste on the tongue. What I am talking about is really taste of foods. When you have a cold, which I am sure that you have had, your food has not tasted the way that it should. That is really, because taste of food is not taste in the taste sensation from the tongue sense. Taste of food is really a highly complicated interaction between taste sensation from the tongue, smell from the nose, touch or tactile sensation—so-called mouth feel; you can tell the difference between a chewy thing and a non-chewy thing. Then also, what we call trigeminality, or chemesthesis, which allows you to perceive hot spices. When all of this come together in the brain, as this highly complicated figure on the left illustrates. We refer to it as flavour, and flavour, in a scientific sense, is really what we mean by the taste of the food we eat. So, what we need to understand is flavour perception, or maybe, rather than understanding flavour perception, we need to understand flavour appreciation. We heard about perception and attention just ten minutes ago, and that is also very important here. But, two of us can have the exact same percept of a thing. For example, this cube is red to me, and I am sure it is to you also Stefan, but you might like it much more than I do, right? So, appreciation does not follow immediately from perception. And, if we deal with how to change what we eat, either to get more pleasure or to be more healthy—less obese—we have to understand where preferences come from. They could be coded in our genome, and it seems as if three of them are: sweetness, the appreciation of sweetness, and the appreciation of fattiness as well as a dislike of bitter taste.