The quest for the perfect cocktail. It sounds like something out of a fantasy movie but it’s consumed bartenders and molecular gastronomists for decades. How do you craft the right balance of bitter to sweet? Do you add salt or sugar? Lemon or lime?
At Science Space Wollongong, we’ve begun the quest and it turns out it’s a lot more complicated than following a recipe. And that’s because the way our brain processes taste is super complicated.
Taste Map Myth
Remember that taste map of your tongue? You probably first came across it in school. It might have looked something like this:
The thing is, it doesn’t take long to disprove it right? I mean if you’ve ever put anything like a lemon onto your tongue you’ll know that you can taste it everywhere, not just in the sections reserved for “bitter” taste.
The flavour map is a myth that’s hung around for ages. So if that’s not the answer, how exactly does taste work?
Taste and flavour can be affected by a few different things and our taste buds are only a tiny piece of the picture.
Your sense of flavour comes from your nose. When you’re chewing, molecules from the food gets sucked up into your nose where you’ve got a bunch of flavour detectors. So your tongue can tell if that blueberry muffin’s sweet but your nose tells you it’s blueberry flavoured.
That’s not all. Not by a long shot.
Taste And Your Genetics
Your genetics play a huge part in whether or not you like something. Take coriander for instance. Do you love it or think it tastes like soap? Well, that’s probably genetic. Some people have a gene that means you’re really sensitive to a particular chemical in coriander that makes it taste terrible. And it’s not just for coriander – scientists have discovered that genes really do play a part in our food preferences and sensitivity to certain molecules.
It’s definitely not all in your head – it’s in your genes too.
And then there’s saliva. We all have different levels of proteins in our spit that can affect how food gets broken down and sent to the receptors in our noses. For example, some people are better at breaking down starches in bread to sugar – it might taste sweeter and therefore better to some people.
If that wasn’t enough, the billions of bacteria that live on and in you (ew) are constantly eating your food and changing how it tastes. This has HUGE implications for the perception of taste because the types of bacteria you have might be completely different to the person next to you. That creates a completely unique experience of flavour and taste!
The Perfect Cocktail
So how do you create the perfect cocktail? Well the short answer is “it’s complicated”.
For the long answer, why don’t you come along to our Science of Cocktails night on the 6th of December to find out from an expert?
You might even get to put some of these theories to the test.
Sounds delicious right?