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Because of a mistranslation of a German paper written in 1901, there is a myth that we taste different flavors on different parts of the tongue. But this isn't true each taste bud recognizes every taste. Every second you chew, your tongue and its 10,000 taste buds evaluate hundreds of millions of molecules.


Generally it has been thought  there are four tastes – sour, sweet, salty & bitter however many people include a fifth which is spicy.  In the 20C  a sixth taste called umami was  identified by a Japanese scientist named Kikunae Ikeda  This is the taste of glutamate. It is common in Japanese foods, particularly kombu, a type of sea vegetable.

Glutamate is found in most living things, but when they die, and organic matter breaks down, the glutamate molecule breaks apart. This can happen on a stove when you  slowly cook meat, when you age a parmesan cheese, or by fermentation as in soy sauce. When glutamate becomes L-glutamate, that is when we get umami.

Kikunae Ikeda learnt how to produce the flavour in industrial quantities and patented  the notorious flavour enhancer MSG

The French say they have found a taste bud for fat. And recently the Japanese announced a seventh taste, kokumi, which is hard to translate into English  it describes compounds in food that don’t have their own flavour, but enhance the flavours with which they’re combined.

Ancient Chinese medicine practitioners found that the five flavours of foods each have their own characteristics and functions for health.

Sour flavour can calm the body.
Bitter flavour can clear heat.
Sweet flavour can tone the body.
Spicy flavour can expel wind and cold from the body.
Salty flavour can help the body to dissolve stagnation.

Chinese five elements theory establishes the relationships between the five flavours and the five organs.  Each organ is paired with a flavour that supports the health of that particular organ

Heart – Bitter.  Liver – Sour. Spleen – Sweet. Lung – Spicy. Kidney – Salty.

This means when you eat foods, certain flavours act on one organ more than others do.

Ayervedic also brings an understanding to the attributes and potential consequences of overuse to  different tastes.

Embracing all tastes, in a balance that is right for you, has a vital role to play in your physiology, health & wellbeing


Oct 2014


by Daphne Lambert