… and umami! or “the tasty flavour”, which is the approximate literal translation. So the answer to the question in last poll was 5: the basic tastes are sweet, bitter, salty, sour and umami. If you replied 4 you are not so far from the answer because the fifth flavour was only officially added to the list at the begining of this decade.

But, what is a basic taste? Our tongue is populated with thousands of receptors that are sensible to some molecules. Up to now 5 different kind of receptors have been identified. One kind reacts for example to the presence of sugary molecules and then sends to the brain a signal informing it that we are eating something sweet. Similarly there are receptors that react to sodium ions sending a signal of something salty and other receptors react to acid and sour substances.

In the case of umami, the receptors react to glutamic acids, which can be found in protein-heavy foods such as beef, lamb, Parmesan, Roquefort, soy sauce and fish stock. As you can see it does make sense to call it the tasty flavour :).

It seems that lately there is some speculation that we might have a 6th kind of detector which would react to fatty substances. I get the feeling that this is one of those things that changes in each generation like the number of letters in the Spanish alphabet or the number of plantes in the solar system :).

Even though our tongue basically only detects 5 different kinds of molecules, our brain then is able to process this information creating a whole range of flavours, just like it can interpret a wide range of different colours from the 3 basic ones. To do this it is able to detect different concentrations of each of the flavours and also complement this information with the smell and visual input of the food.

So look, smell and enjoy your meal!