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The Chemistry of Basic Taste

Flavor is a combination of aroma and taste. We detect taste via our taste buds that are placed on our tongues. The taste buds are doing transduction through chemical reactions to sensory nerves, and our brain can conclude each taste [1]. Because of this, we can distinguish the delicacy of fruits and cakes for their sweetness or sourness, and also allow us to detect food that might be harmful due to its bitterness or sourness.

In this article, we will discuss more on each taste category, such as: sweet, sour, salt, bitter, and umami.


The sweet taste usually comes from the carbohydrate groups, especially the sugar groups and derivatives such as glucose, fructose, galactose, and so on. Sweet sensation comes from various ligands, for instance, AH-B theory was one of the accepted and well-known models. These models described that sweet-tasting compounds contain a hydrogen donor (AH) and hydrogen acceptor (B) [2].


The sour taste comes from the presence of acidity in the food or drink. The taste buds detect sourness from the hydrogen ions (H+) dissolved in a watery solution (i.e. saliva). This sensation is pleasurable in small amounts rather than big amounts, so in the case of too much sourness, we can evaluate if the food is good or bad. Naturally, sourness can come from oranges, grapefruit, apples, berries, and fermented products such as yogurt.


Salt is composed of Na+ as a cation and Cl- as an anion. The cation is responsible for the saltiness sensation, and the anion is modifying and masking the saltiness into bitterness (i.e. CsCl, CsBr, and MgSO4). This taste is pleasurable when presents in the small amounts [3].


Bitterness is related to the alkaloids (i.e. caffeine, quinine, strychnine) and can sometimes be toxic. For example, in nature, animals can sense a certain plant as toxic and avoid it. The bitter taste can also come from a combination of great numbers of compounds [3].


The umami taste is the most recent taste category which is found in mushrooms and seaweed due to the glutamate content. Others also describe umami taste as savory due to its meat-like taste. Most common umami nucleotides are inosine monophosphate (IMP), guanosine monophosphate (GMP), and xanthosine monophosphate [3].

Other taste

Scientists also found several other tastes such as :

- Cooling effect

- Pungency

- Fatty

- Astringency

- Metallic

- Alkaline

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