Have you ever wondered why airline food sometimes tastes so salty? Why it is that you can’t really taste much of what you eat during a flight? And why are herbal or pasta dishes with tomato sauce so often on the menu? Whenever I fly I always notice that I have cravings for tomato juice and ginger ale, none of which you usually find in my fridge at home. I thought I’d delve a little deeper and find the answers to questions like these.
Your taste buds are to be found on your tongue, your palate at the back of your mouth and your pharynx. Basically, you can taste six different primary flavours: sweet, sour, bitter, umami (savoury) and fatty (astringent). The taste of a foodstuff is defined by the combination and concentration of substances that elicit a specific taste. However, in addition to their basic tastes, temperature, aroma, appearance and consistency also help define the taste of foods.
How something tastes is a combination of what you see, smell and feel. Our sense of smell plays an important role in all this, as does the effect of saliva. Solid foods are broken down by saliva and chewing. This, in turn, facilitates the transfer of flavour to our taste buds.
You can taste different flavours across your whole tongue. Contrary to what we used to believe, specific areas of the tongue are not devoted to discerning specific tastes. And the older you get the more taste buds you lose, which explains why your taste (experience) changes over the years.