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How we taste food

This article looks at how we taste food, and taking the time to really savour our food and experience these sensory processes in action.
A woman putting a sandwich into her mouth
© BBC Good Food

Taste is surprisingly complex and involves many senses. Can you think what they might be?

The taste of food

The taste of food often evokes strong emotions and memories. This is illustrated in some of the languages we use – phrases like ‘sweet nothings’ and ‘sour grapes’ are good examples.

Many of us think the taste is simply down to the perception of food on the tongue, but it involves much, much more than that. The sensation of taste involves smell, texture, and temperature, as well as the triggering of taste receptors located on your tongue.

In fact, we can only truly taste our food when the sensation on the tongue is combined with the aromas we smell in our nasal cavity. This means if our sense of smell is weakened, for example by a blocked nose or symptoms of long covid, then the ability to taste our food may be dulled and even distorted.

How we taste our food

Let’s take a journey into your oral and nasal cavities and see how a toast and jam breakfast gets received…


  • As we prepare our breakfast, the brain starts to receive messages from the sight and smell of the food – just think about the aroma of toasting bread – does it make your stomach rumble? If it does, that’s because your stomach starts to secrete gastric juices in anticipation of the food it’ll soon receive.
  • These messages via the brain continue as you spread your toast with jam. When you lift the food to your lips the smell of the bread and jam will start to fill your nostrils.
  • When you take that first bite and start to chew, the texture of the toast and its mouthfeel increase your desire for the food and makes your saliva flow. This sends more triggers to your stomach, priming it for the arrival of the food.
  • While you chew, more aromas are sent to the back of your oral cavity and onto other smell receptors in the nose.
  • When the jam hits the tongue, the taste receptors are activated. This is intensified by the change in temperature of the hot toast as it cools as you chew.
  • Sugar molecules from the jam latch onto the sweet taste receptors on the tongue, this signals to the brain that a sweet food, a source of quick energy, is being eaten. The brain now knows you’ll soon have ready energy available as fuel.

If you’d like to learn more about how we taste food, check out the BBC Good Food online course, below.

© BBC Good Food
This article is from the free online

Sweet Tooth: Understanding Sugar and the Body with BBC Good Food

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