Lovers of fine chocolate naturally find themselves developing a larger vocabulary for how to talk about chocolate - its appearance, texture, mouthfeel, aroma, and of course, taste and flavor. There is an incredible amount to say about each of these aspects of fine chocolate, and we want to make sure that we aren’t hampered by outdated information as we begin to talk. As it turns out, there is quite a bit of incorrect information about the very basics of taste that even some current textbooks propagate. An informal survey of friends revealed four common misconceptions about taste which are revealed and addressed here to help us all start this exciting conversation from common ground.
Taste and flavor are the same.
Most of us use the words “taste” and “flavor” interchangeably, but they have very different meanings. “Taste” refers to what happens on our tongue when we put some chocolate in our mouth. As the chocolate melts, food molecules enter the pores in our taste buds and interact with the many different chemical receptors present there. The information gathered is what we call taste and is one aspect of the chocolate’s flavor. All of our senses contribute to flavor. In the case of chocolate, its taste, aroma, mouthfeel, snap as we break it, and even its glossy or not-so-glossy appearance comprise the overall experience that we call its flavor.
Our tongue is divided into tasting “zones.”
For many years we thought that our tongues had certain taste receptors in specific locations on the tongue’s surface. We believed we could taste sweetness only at the tip of our tongue, bitterness only at the back, etc. Now we know that all kinds of receptors are located on all parts of our tongue, especially on the sides. However, it is true that we are more sensitive to bitterness at the very back of our tongues. Scientists believe that this was an evolutionary adaptation to stop us from eating toxic plants, many of which are bitter -- we would be sure to notice the bitterness just before we swallowed the poison and would reject it. Our survival as a species depended on it.
Our taste buds are only on our tongue.
More taste buds are located on our tongues, but there are also taste-detecting cells in the back of the throat, in the nasal cavity, the epiglottis, and the upper part of the esophagus. Infants and very young children have additional sensory cells in the middle of the tongue, on their lips and the insides of their cheeks, and on the hard palate.
There are 5 basic tastes we can perceive.
Sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami or savory are the classic five tastes. However, researchers are identifying other receptors for specific tastes that may be added to this list in future textbooks. These cause foods to taste fatty, metallic, alkaline (the opposite of sour), and water-like. Scientists usually talk about ten different levels of intensity at which we can experience each taste, so even considering only the five classic tastes, there are more than 100,000 possible taste combinations. That gives us a lot of possible ways to describe chocolate!