Step aside salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami! There's a (possible) new taste in town and it explains why all you want to eat is tater tots and pasta until you die, a very fat and happy tater tot pasta person.
A new study out of Oregon State University in Corvallis suggests that "starchy" might be the sixth flavor, and a highly addictive one at that. (Actually, I added that last part about highly addictive, but hey! You know it's true! You don't need science to tell you something that you know in your heart.)
Juyun Lim, a researcher on the study, said, "Every culture has a major source of complex carbohydrate. The idea that we can't taste what we're eating doesn't make sense."
As New Scientist writes: "Complex carbohydrates such as starch are made of chains of sugar molecules and are an important source of energy in our diets. However, food scientists have tended to ignore the idea that we might be able to specifically taste them, says Lim. Because enzymes in our saliva break starch down into shorter chains and simple sugars, many have assumed we detect starch by tasting these sweet molecules."
For the study, Lim's researchers gave volunteers a range of carbohydrate solutions containing long and short carbohydrate chains. Interestingly, the test subjects could make out the floury flavors even when given compounds that block the receptors on the tongue for detecting sweet tastes.
Lim and her team think the taste might be useful to humans, and that's a major criteria for a taste.
"I believe that's why people prefer complex carbs," said 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."
However, starch doesn't yet meet all the requirements to be considered a primary taste—as the researchers have yet to identify specific starch receptors on the tongue.
Follow Laura on Twitter.