Crispy french fries, fresh crusty bread, homemade spaghetti.
Are you salivating? Scientists think they might know why.
New research shows that the starchiness we love in carbohydrates may actually be its own independent taste. Aside from the established tastes of bitter, salty, sour, sweet and umami, “starchy” may also be uniquely identified by humans.
Scientists previously thought people craved complex carbs because they are broken down into sugar, an addicting flavor for many. But Juyun Lim of Oregon State University found that when the sugar molecules are removed from a carb, people taste a distinct flavor.
“They called the taste ‘starchy’,” Lim told New Scientist, noting that most cultures have a “major source” of complex carb. “Asians would say it was rice-like, while Caucasians described it as bread-like or pasta-like. It’s like eating flour.”
Lim tested people’s ability to taste the isolated flavor by giving them different carbohydrate solutions. They described the taste including both short and long carbohydrate chains as starchy, and could identify the flavor when given a compound to block the enzyme that would have caused them to taste sweetness as the carbs break down.
“I believe that’s why people prefer complex carbs,” says Lim. “Sugar tastes great in the short term, but if you’re offered chocolate and bread, you might eat a small amount of the chocolate, but you’d choose the bread in larger amounts, or as a daily staple.”
Starchy isn’t officially a new taste, though. Scientists must first prove it has its own set of tongue receptors, which Lim and her team have yet to do. They must also show the taste is useful physiologically for humans, a criteria that may be fulfilled by the important energy carbohydrates provide.