Ah, pizza: bae, the glue that holds our life together — it seems that pizza is one of those few foods that's universally loved by everyone. Why does everyone love pizza so much? Is it because we all love that combo of dough and cheese? Is it because we're all just buying into the internet hype, too scared to admit that pizza isn't all that great? It could be both or none of those reasons, or it could be because scientists have discovered a sixth taste, starchy, that might explain why we're all obsessed with this Italian food.
So we all know the five tastes — remember that tongue diagram from middle school? How we can all taste flavors that are sweet, bitter, salty, sour, and umami (savory)? Yes, OK, well now researchers at Oregon State University have found evidence that we might be able to pick up a sixth sense — no, not for dead people, but for starchy foods. Does this basically put anyone else's entire life into perspective, or am I alone?
Onto the study: Researchers gathered 22 subjects (which doesn't seem like all that much, but I'm not a scientist), and had them taste solutions containing different levels of carbohydrates. They were then asked to rate how each compound tasted. Subjects called the taste "starchy." Lead researcher Juyun Lim said that "Asians would say it was rice-like, while Caucasians described it as bread-like or pasta-like."
"But wait," you might be asking yourself, "couldn't that just be because broken down carbs can taste sweet — weren't the subjects just picking up on sweetness?" Not so fast (but good question). Researchers then gave the participants a compound that blocks the tongue's receptors for detecting sweet tastes. The results? They still detected the starchy taste. Finally, when the participants were given a compound blocking the salivary enzyme that breaks down complex carbs into simpler ones, they stopped tasting the starchy taste when given complex carbohydrates. That indicates the floury or starchy taste comes from shorter carbohydrate chains.
Basically all this means that there's a huge possibility that human taste is a lot more complex than we thought, and it indicates that starch could be its very own flavor. Which, again, could explain why we all love bread, and therefore pizza so much. It's important to note that researchers still haven't pinpointed a location for starch receptors on the tongue (think back to that diagram), but this is still an important step.
As someone who has never had a sweet tooth and always opted for more bread and cheese instead of dessert, this is really helping me understand myself in a very profound way. So thank you, science, for helping me learn about myself. And for giving me an excuse to order pizza right now. Even though I had a slice yesterday. Bye.
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