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The Science Behind Tasty Food

20 June 2022

When developing a new food product, there is no question as important as how does it taste? If your product doesn’t taste good, consumers won’t like it and they probably won’t buy it. While price and health benefits are important, taste reigns supreme.

As we set out to create a delicious food product, first we must understand the fundamentals of taste. How do we taste, why do we taste, and what are the five types of taste? Keep reading to learn more!

How We Taste

We get our sense of taste from our mouth, as well as our nose. This is why taste becomes dulled whenever we get congested.

After you take a bite, the enzymes in your saliva begin to break down the food. Your sense of taste, however, starts on the tongue. Thousands of bumps called papillae line the tongue with each papilla containing 50 to 100 taste cells. 

These are your taste buds, which form part of your sense of taste. Papillae are also located on the roof of your mouth and in your throat. Each cell has chemical receptors sensitive to the five types of taste: bitter, sour, sweet, salt, and umami.

Your nose also tastes your food through a process called retronasal olfaction. As food enters your mouth, flavour-rich air moves up the air passageways connecting the back of the mouth and the nose. 

This air travels to the scent receptors in your nasal cavity. The brain then combines the information from your nose’s scent receptors and your mouth’s taste buds. When this happens, you experience complex flavours.

The chemicals in food stimulate the taste cells, which produce an electrical message that travels to the brain stem via taste nerves. At this point, your brain begins to form a conscious taste experience. You may feel certain emotions or recall specific memories. 

Furthermore, the trigeminal nerve is activated, feeding the brain with more information. The trigeminal nerve is responsible for sensations of heat or burning, cooling, and tingling.

It turns out that there are also taste receptors in other parts of your body, such as your small intestine. These are particularly sensitive to sweetness. 

They release hormones and insulin when they detect sugar. Your intestines also have bitter taste receptors, which can trigger vomiting or diarrhea. 

Why We Taste

While we now associate taste with preferences and pleasure, it was critical for basic survival. Taste can indicate a rich calorie source or warn the brain of potential poison. In fact, taste was crucial for identifying essential nutrients.<

For example, sweet foods are usually high in calories and therefore, supply valuable energy. Sour foods can indicate vitamin C, while salty foods contain sodium, potassium, and magnesium. 

Additionally, savoury (or umami) flavours come from the presence of amino acids, which are important protein building blocks.

Conversely, bitterness serves as a warning. Bitter-tasting things tend to be toxic so humans have developed a natural aversion to them. Likewise, sourness can also indicate that something has spoiled and gone bad. 

The taste receptors in the back of your throat are especially sensitive to bitterness and can cause you to gag or spit out your mouthful. 

Similarly, the intestines have bitter taste receptors in order to purge your body of a potentially poisonous substance.

The Five Types of Taste


We’re hardwired for sweetness. Historically, calories have been hard to come by—but are just as crucial for survival. Sweet foods mean high calories so instinctively, we want as much as we can get. 

This has unfortunate health consequences in modern life where sugar is easily accessible and found in many food products. Thus, there is a lot of research and development into alternative sweeteners. 

These are designed to give that pleasurable burst of sweetness without relying on calorically dense sugar.

As with all aspects of taste, sweet preferences vary between individuals and age groups. Infants and children are more sensitive to sugar than adults and want it even more. 

This makes sense as calories are essential for growth and development.

While sweet sensitivity increases or decreases depending on exposure, sweet preferences are fairly static. Regardless of how many sweet things you consume, your preferred level of sweetness stays the same.


Salt is essential for health. However, when we see salt in the headlines, it’s usually because of overconsumption and the resulting averse health effects. Unfortunately, salt is a key part of flavourful and appetizing food.

Salt tastes good, reduces bitterness, and releases sweetness—providing you don’t use too much. Current attempts at salt substitutes tend to taste… off.


Umami, or savoury flavours, come from amino acids. A lot of amino acids means a lot of protein, which is crucial for survival. When you think savoury flavours, think roasted meat or soy sauce.


Sour is either very good or very bad. Foods that are poisonous, spoiled, or unripe taste sour, which is a sign to stay away. For that reason, we tend to have a natural caution around sourness. 

However, sour can also signal the presence of vitamin C. The acidity found in fruits (like lemons) gives a sour taste—but is not at all harmful.


As we covered earlier, bitterness usually means poison. We’re biologically wired to be averse to bitter foods. So much so that the taste receptors in our throat and intestines can trigger vomiting and diarrhea.

Taste and Food Product Development

Your experience of flavour and individual taste preferences are just that—individual. Developing a food product that absolutely everyone will love is pretty much impossible. 

This is why offering multiple flavour varieties is so important. You can tailor and modify the taste of your product to appeal to specific consumer groups.

That being said, most food product development aims to create flavours that will appeal to as many people as possible.

Focusing on specific flavour profiles for specialised products allows you to appeal to your consumer’s unique preferences, but you don’t want to leave out too many people. 

When designing a food product, you should always keep the average taster in mind.

Food product development is complicated. Fortunately, Hela Spice has the expertise and equipment to design the perfect signature flavour for your new product. We use high-quality ingredients and expert processes to produce enticing tastes that your customers will love!

To learn more about food product development, visit Hela Spice at www.helaspice.com or contact us here.

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