five tastes

getting to know the five tastes

Our tastebuds are able to detect 5 different elements of taste:

Sweet: detected in the presence of sugar and small carbohydrates. It is generally regarded as a pleasant feeling. It’s easy to like sweet foods.

Salty: detected in the presence of sodium. It is generally regarded as a pleasant feeling. It’s easy to like salty foods.

Bitter: produces a sharp feeling. This is often regarded as unpleasant. It generally takes more exposures to bitter foods before we learn to enjoy them.

Sour: detected in the presence of acid. A high amount of acid results in a puckered face, which is often regarded as unpleasant. It generally takes more exposures to sour foods before we learn to enjoy them.

Umami: detected in the present of glutamate. The flavour is best described as delicious, which is actually what Umami means in Japanese. Other descriptors include earthy, meaty, or simply flavourful. The food additive Monosodium Glutamate gives food an umami flavour, which is why many food companies and restaurants will add it to their foods. Glutamate is found naturally in foods such as tomatoes, parmesan cheese, and mushrooms.

And maybe….

Fatty: scientists used to believe that fat was only detected in the mouth by the texture it provides foods. Newer research shows that there might actually be specific receptors in the mouth for fat. More research is needed to solidify this as fact, but if so, fat would become the 6th taste!

Anthropologists and biologists believe that humans’ natural preference for sweet and salty foods were developed in bygone eras. These types of foods are generally more energy dense and safe to eat, while bitter or sour foods may be poisonous. As you can see, for survival purposes it’s advantageous to prefer the sweet over the bitter! It makes sense that our tastebuds would still be more wary of those potentially deadly flavours.

Here’s another explanation: breastmilk contains a high amount of a sugar called lactose. Breastmilk tastes sweet. It’s advantageous for a baby to prefer sweet tastes and enjoy breastmilk from the start! Additionally, since breastmilk (or formula which mimics the sugar content in breastmilk) is the first food a baby gets, it learns to like sweet foods first!

Try this activity with your kids to teach them about the different flavours! Choose one food that is strong in each of the flavour types, then get your children to describe how each one tastes. Try to choose foods they are already familiar with. When you talk about a new food that you are introducing to your kids you can refer back to this exercise. “The brussel sprouts have a bitter taste. Remember how the broccoli tasted when we did the taste test? It was bitter too!”

Being familiar with the flavour types will help them to realize that they can learn to like all kinds of new foods!


Make a list of 3 bitter or sour foods your child has not yet learned to like.

Keep these foods on your weekly grocery list and keep offering them to your children.