“Make food simple and let things taste of what they are” by Curnonsky
Songkran or Thai New Year is such an important festival, and it may look a little different this year. However, some things can remain the same, such as cooking special dishes to be eaten at this time. These dishes that may include Khao Chae — cooked rice in flower scented water with various condiments, Mango Sticky Rice, Prawn Pad Thai to name but a few. Already ones mouth is watering, knowing that these dishes are made with such exquisite flavours.
For more than two decades I have written about, talked about and advised about, the five flavours from which people make their meals. These flavours are salt, sweet, bitter, pungent and sour.
So how do we get to taste these flavours. The official word used for our taste is gustatory. Two of the main processes that help us to recognise flavour when we eat, are taste and smell.
Firstly, we taste from taste buds that contain taste receptor cells. You find these cells on the front and back of the tongue, the sides, plus the roof of the mouth. The little bumps that you can see on your tongue are called papillae. There are two types of papillae, one called circumvallate and the other fungiform and contain taste buds. There are approximately 10,000 taste buds in the mouth and they are replaced every 2 weeks. In older folk the taste buds decrease to approximately 5,000.
There are areas of the tongue that hold different receptors for flavour. When you eat one of the flavours, be it salt, sweet, sour, bitter or pungent the receptor will process an electrical charge and that releases a neurotransmitter. That electrical charge passes along a neurone and that message is carried to the brain.
Once the information is received by the brain, we have that moment of recognising what the taste is. How amazing that our receptors can send these signals to help us distinguish multiple flavours all that the same time.
The scientific community continues to discuss, debate and research whether in fact we have regions of the tongue associated with different taste sensations or whether there
are only three specialised nerves that have been discovered and that they are responsible for the tastes we have.
I am always advising people of the importance of chewing, also known as mastication, to start the process of digestion. Chewing not only aids in digestion but we now clearly see the importance of being able to enjoy the flavour of the food we eat through the saliva that is in the mouth. Saliva is another transport mechanism to our taste buds. The majority of people never chew their food long enough to truly impart enough salvia to assist with the breakdown of food particles.
The science of taste is an ongoing scientific project. Further studies are being conducted on a new taste Umani, which is the taste of amino acids in meat broth and aged cheese. The other exciting investigation is whether we have taste buds specifically for fat. Learning more about how the body works and what we are capable of is exciting. It’s your body, why not know how it works.
Another fascinating area of your tongue is that it is a window to your health. Look in the mirror and stick out your tongue. A healthy tongue is pink and you can see the papillae. The tongue can be pale, white, black or grey, which are indications of health challenges.
Oral thrush is a yeast infection inside the mouth. Patches appear that resemble cottage cheese on the side of the mouth. Oral thrush can occur from taking antibiotics, inhaled steroids, or people wearing dentures.
If the tongue in some way has been irritated white patches may appear which is called Leukoplakia. This is often seen in people who smoke. This condition needs to be addressed as soon as possible as it may be a precursor to cancer.
If the tongue is red, the first thought is Vitamin B12 deficiency. Easily rectified by Vitamin B12 foods or supplements. A blood test will help determine if a person is deficient in B12.
In very young children who have Kawasaki disease the appearance of the tongue is red similar to a strawberry appearance. This is very serious and must be seen to immediately.
Good dental hygiene is so important for having a healthy mouth and tongue. When people do not have good dental hygiene the bacteria in the mouth can grow and a coating almost like hair is formed over the tongue, making the appearance look black and hairy. Canker sores also known as mouth ulcers usually go within a week or two. The common thought is that these are bought on by stress.
If a lump or a sore appears on your tongue seek medical advice as soon as you can. It might be nothing or it could be the start of oral cancer. One item to give up is smoking. Smoking causes the tongue to be irritated.
One unique ability for some people, is that they are extremely sensitive to taste. There are people who are considered super tasters and they are several times more sensitive to bitter and other tastes than most people. This phenomenon is associated with the amount of fungiform papillae and therefore taste buds on the tongue and may run in families.
We must not forget that taste is also associated with food texture and temperature. Different temperatures have a different reaction on food particles. If the food consumed is thick then the mastication process required to chew the food so the inner particles can get to the taste buds is greater. This is different from a food that melts with the heat of the mouth or is in liquid form.
The sense of smell is present when we eat. When you have a stuffy nose or if you have a cold for example, there is no taste to the food you eat. Further discussion on smell will be included in my next article.
There are a number of things that can limit our sense of taste, from the types of food we have eaten during our life, to our environment and where we live. There is also internal and external pollutants in our home to take into consideration. However, when you come to the process of eating your food, take time to chew and enjoy all the taste sensations that food has to offer.
“Cooking is all about people. Food is maybe the only universal thing that really has the power to bring everyone together. No matter what culture, everywhere around the world, people eat together.” Guy Fieri
Health and Happiness