When I was six years old, I asked my school teacher how many tastes there are. She nodded sagaciously, then said with great conviction and believability, "there are four: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter."
But I just couldn't make any sense of this proposition. How could four tastes equal all the hundreds of complex tastes I was familiar with? For example, chocolate and honey are both sweet tastes. So how come they don't taste the same? She replied to the effect that what we refer to as "taste" is really a combination of the four tastes and smell from which we get the many and varied experiences we call "taste". Huh?
The next step on this tasty, smelly voyage was my discovery that it is believed there actually there are five tastes, not four. The fifth taste, "umami", was discovered in 1908 ("named" would be more accurate than "discovered"). It's not easy to define umami; it's vaguely (at least in my mind) associated with "savouriness". But the journey doesn't end here.
For any item of food or drink, the final experience in the mind of the eater or drinker is determined by:
- the five tastes: sweet, salt, sour, bitter and umami
- olfactory aspects, ie the smell/odour of the food or drink
- texture, ie crunchy, smooth, soggy, hard, soft, soft center within a hard and crunchy core, etc
- temperature (eg English people love drinking warm beer; everyone else prefers cold), and
- visual aspects, ie shape, size, color and composition/structure (eg food prepared, presented and served to colour-coordinate with dining room place settings).
All of which only serves to highlight one of the themes I'm always banging on about: the untrustworthiness of language, that it conceals and confuses more than it reveals.