The Impact of Information on the Experience of Eating
For years, Ajinomoto Co., Inc. (“Ajinomoto Co.”) has been disseminating information about umami, MSG, food and nutrition to help people in Japan and throughout the world to eat well and live well.
The most recent example of this was on December 11, 2017. Ajinomoto Co. sponsored an event called “Nature Café” organized by Nature Research that publishes high quality product and services represented by a prestigious scientiﬁc journal Nature. The purpose was to hold a traditional scientiﬁc conference, but in a relatively casual atmosphere that would promote discussion.
The theme of Nature Café was “Taste Science, Culture and Communication.” Highly renowned speakers from the USA, Germany, the UK, and Japan contributed their expertise in a wide-ranging discussion on the physiological mechanisms of taste, the reasons we like the tastes that we do, the many factors that constitute the experience of ﬂavor, and the impact of information on our diet.
The Difference between Taste and Flavor
People typically use the words “taste” and “ﬂavor” interchangeably. But scientiﬁcally speaking they’re completely diﬀerent.
Taste is one of the ﬁve basic human senses. According to Nicholas Ryba, Principle Investigator at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, USA, and one of the researchers responsible for discovering the umami taste receptors on the human tongue, this means that taste is built into the tongue and the brain, and we don’t learn the tastes based on experience. Proof of this is that newborn babies show a strong preference for sweet tastes within hours after they are born. These babies don’t need to learn what “sweet” means, or that they like it, and the reason is that the preference for sweetness is “hard-wired” into the human system. In a way, taste is an objective experience, detected on the tongue and processed by the brain.
On the other hand, according to Kathrin Ohla, Group Leader at the German Institute of Human Nutrition, ﬂavor is a lot more complicated. The reason is that it involves all ﬁve of our senses—sight, sound, smell, touch, and of course, taste. This might sound counterintuitive at ﬁrst, but consider this: would we enjoy coﬀee as much if it didn’t smell so good? Would we enjoy eating at a fancy restaurant if the food looked disgusting? Would an ice cream be as enjoyable if it were hard and warm instead of soft and cold?
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