Want Food to Taste Better?

The Lempert Report
September 18, 2020

Eat faster! 

A new study published last month in the journal PLOS Computational Biology might explain why humans register some tastes more quickly than others, potentially due to each flavor’s molecular size and also provided the explanation as to why humans register taste more quickly when food or drink moves over their tongues quickly, as compared to when they are held in their mouth steadily. So savoring your food or wine might not be the way to go.

“Our tongue has papillae on it that act like a sea of kelp in an ocean,” said Kai Zhao, lead author of the paper and an associate professor at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. “Those papillae – the small bumps that contain taste buds on the human tongue – move and sway as food or drink flow past them.”

They found that passing flavors over the tongue quickly caused the flavors to penetrate into the papillae gaps quicker, and that would register flavor more quickly.

And their findings could explain why taste buds were quicker to register a sweet compound with small molecular size as compared with those with large molecular size, such as salty flavors.

This study focused on the early stages of taste – what happens before taste buds have even registered a flavor. Compared with the other senses – sight and sound, for example – taste operates on a sort of time-delay; it takes our taste buds a little longer to register flavor.

“Our taste buds are important,” Zhao said. “They help us figure out what food to eat, how much food to eat, and how to balance the body’s nutritional needs with its energy needs.”