Most of us use the terms taste and flavor interchangeably, but they’re actually different. Taste refers to the five basic receptors: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami (the one we didn’t learn about in school). Flavor is a combination of taste plus the other sensations that influence our perception of food, such as aroma, texture, juiciness, mouthfeel and color.
The ability to detect sweet, salty, sour, and bitter has been key to our survival throughout the ages, directing us toward vital foods and away from potential poisons. Sweet means energy-giving carbohydrates. Salt indicates essential minerals for life-sustaining cell functions and wound healing. Sour says to “proceed with caution,” since many foods sour as they deteriorate. Bitter warns “spit it out, don’t touch it” because many natural toxins taste bitter.
Umami [oo-MOM-ee], known as the fifth taste, is described as meaty and savory or delicious (umami is derived from umai, the Japanese word for delicious). It is the taste of glutamates – the salts of an amino acid - and other small molecules called nucleotides.
The Amazing Umami Effect