Posted in Kafevend Blog
If you've ever wondered why there is something of a disconnect between the smell of coffee and its taste- or indeed in a number of other consumable items not covered on the blog- then have we got a treat for you: many paragraphs of scientific explanation! First up is a look at semantics. Taste and flavour- aren't they the same thing?
First of all we will have a look at taste. We're sure you know the basic tastes: sweet, sour, bitter and salty. A more recent addition to the list is something called umami, which is our perception of savoury tastes. It was first proposed by a Japanese scientist called Kikunae Ideka back in 1908, and subsequent work established the taste was linked to certain chemicals called glutamates.You might also hark back to your early years in school and a certain diagram that shows the surface of the tongue divided up between the various tastes- this is actually false! You can detect the difference between them anywhere on your tongue. Whilst these basic tastes are important, they are just one aspect of the senses that come together to create flavours.
Something that also has an impact on our perception of flavour (and something you might not have heard of before- we certainly hadn't!) is the trigeminal nerve. Amongst its various duties are the detection of temperature and texture inside the mouth, which both affect how we perceive food and drink.
The other important sense when it comes to flavour, and really the decider, is your sense of smell. Whilst there are just five tastes that we can identify, there is a huge range of smells that we can detect with our impressive nasal apparatus. This means that foods that share the same taste can have distinct flavours thanks to the way smell interacts with our interpretation. Obviously we all know that we can smell things by breathing in through our nostrils, and long time readers of the blog might recall how powerful this can be when it comes to our memories and desire for food or drink. We have another way of smelling however, which has perhaps the biggest effect on flavour.
Just as we smell things from the outside in, we also smell things from the inside out. What we mean is that volatile chemicals are released as we chew our food or sip our drinks, and these enter the nasal passage from the other end at the back of our mouths as we exhale. These "retronasal" scents heavily modify the flavour we perceive in food and drink.
Modifying flavours is important business these days, with many scents recreated synthetically. A good example would be vanilla. It is tremendously expensive thanks to its finicky nature, and so scientists have devised a synthetic vanilla flavouring called ethylvanillin. This chemical compound has the same flavour as vanilla- in fact, it is more potent- and is cheaper to produce too.