There’s a New Basic Taste in Town: 'Starchy'



Photo by: Paolo_Toffanin ©Paolo_Toffanin

Paolo_Toffanin, Paolo_Toffanin

It may seem like only last year (actually, it was only last year) that scientists were celebrating the discovery of a sixth “basic taste” — something to join the ranks of sour, sweet, salty, bitter and that Johnny-come-lately, umami, as a fundamentally distinct and discernable flavor.

Well, fat, we hardly knew ye, because now there’s a new sixth primary taste in town: starchy.

Could this explain humanity’s common craving for carbs?

“Every culture has a major source of complex carbohydrate,” Juyun Lim, an associate professor of food science and technology at Oregon State University, in Corvallis, Ore., told New Scientist. “The idea that we can’t taste what we’re eating doesn’t make sense.”

Lim and her team set out to determine whether we perceive complex carbs as their own thing or rather, as had been assumed, by breaking them down into simple sugars and perceiving them as sweet. It turned out that volunteers were quite handy at detecting carbs as a distinct flavor.

“They called the taste ‘starchy',” Lim told New Scientist. “Asians would say it was rice-like, while Caucasians described it as bread-like or pasta-like. It’s like eating flour.”

Starch hasn’t yet met all the criteria for inclusion in the pantheon of primary tastes. These flavors must be recognizable, physiologically useful and perceptible with specific receptors on the tongue. Tongue receptors for starch have not yet been identified, but Lim’s research helps check the first box. And starch plays an important role as a nice gradual source of energy — as anyone who has ever carbo-loaded before a race may attest.

Lim notes that people often scarf down carbs in greater quantity than they do other foods, including sweets.

Photo courtesy of iStock

Keep Reading

Next Up

Scientists Say They've Discovered a Sixth Basic Taste: Fat

Researchers at Purdue University say they’ve found evidence that there’s a sixth basic taste: fat.

There's a New Chef in Boot Camp: Tyler Florence Joins Anne Burrell on Worst Cooks in America, Season 6

Food Network's Worst Cooks in America is back for Season 6 and this time Tyler Florence is joining Anne Burrell to coach 14 of the worst cooks imaginable.

Bobby's Going Back to Basics on All-New Barbecue Series

Get the first look at Food Network's Bobby Flay's all-new series, Back to Basics on All-New Barbecue Series, premiering on Sunday, June 22 at 11a|10c.

Buy Here, Not There

Trying to find the best grocery shopping deals can be tricky. With so many options, sales and per unit prices, the best places to buy certain items are not always the most obvious choices. The Kitchen hosts are taking a closer look at your common grocery purchases and determining where the best place to buy them is: the supermarket or the warehouse store.