The sixth flavour

“There is a sixth flavour that explains why we like carbohydrates.
While researchers thought we loved pasta because our saliva made it sweet, a new study shows that there is a starchy flavour that is hard to resist.
This is why we love pasta so much.

Stick your fork into a big bowl of pasta, wrap the spaghetti around it and eat it slowly. Bite into a slice of bread or a warm baguette. Bite into the fries. Many of us declare our love for starchy foods and find it difficult to do without them. The explanation for this passion is simple. Researchers have discovered a new “starch” flavour that our taste buds recognise and enjoy.

Today we know five flavours: salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami, the taste of ‘tasty’. However, these do not include a major component of our diets: the complex carbohydrates found in pasta, bread, rice and potatoes. “All cultures have a major source of complex carbohydrates. The idea that we don’t feel what we eat doesn’t make sense,” Juyun Lim of the University of Oregon, who conducted the study, told New Scientist. These complex carbohydrates, such as starch, are composed of several long chains of sugar molecules.
Starchy’ flavour

Previously, researchers thought that our taste buds reacted to the sweet taste that spreads after saliva has processed the starch. Professor Lim’s team had volunteers taste different carbohydrate solutions. They all detected a particular taste in the solutions containing both long and short chain carbohydrates.
“They called this flavour ‘starchy’. Asians would say it tastes like rice, while Caucasians describe it as tasting like pasta or bread. It’s like eating flour,” explains Juyun Lim.

More surprisingly, the volunteers could still taste it when given a compound that blocked the taste buds responsible for detecting sweetness. So there is indeed a specific taste for carbohydrates. “This is proof that we can smell the starch as its own flavour,” adds Professor Lim.

For the moment, his team has not yet succeeded in identifying the papillary sensors responsible for detecting this taste. Tests still need to be carried out before this taste is fully recognised as a basic taste. For Juyun Lim, we recognise the taste of starch because it is useful to us, as it is contained in foods that are a source of energy:
“I think that’s why we prefer complex carbohydrates. Sugar tastes good in the short term, but if you’re offered chocolate and bread, you might eat a little piece of chocolate, but you’ll choose bread as your staple.”

Source: Camille Malnory – September 2016