Tag Archives: Umami

Senses 5; Taste

2 May


The Senses 5; Taste


The sense of taste is such a difficult thing to define that composing and making this image has been very difficult. It has been through about ten iterations, all were rejected, and still what has been achieved is not really to my satisfaction, perhaps I’ll return to this after a while.

Taste is the discernment of food sensed on the tongue; the perception is very heavily overlaid by the sense of smell. The sensations of different tastes are allocated to various areas on the tongue – an experiment we did as medical students was to find and describe those loci; bitterness, right at the back of the tongue, sweetness, right at the front, sourness and salt on the sides of the tongue. Since those days another taste – called umami has been described (Japanese, umai “delicious” mi “taste”). This can be recognised asthat mild aftertaste of savoury especially after eating meat. There is still controversy over whether it is a basic taste – or not.

Quite apart from the influence of smell on the taste of food is the effect of temperature, and especially texture on perception is important. The bubbliness of a carbonated drink for example changes the experience. This is sensed through specialised nerve endings on the tongue and palate.

In this picture I have fused images in my environment in an attempt to indicate a variety of taste sensations. Salt sea is overlain by a field of sugar-cane, and the horizontal lines of the waves compete with vertical curves of the grassy sugar- cane in an exciting way. I’d intended to layer it with aloes to provide bitterness, but in the end the radiating lines from the shadow of a bitter aloe help to focus the eye into the right lower third where a stream of bubbles rises within the outline of a champagne glass. I chose the rather old-fashioned champagne coupe rather than the modern fluted glass. Legend has it that the coupe glass was moulded from Marie Antoinette’s left breast.

Finally the chest X-ray is from a man with severe long-standing bronchiectasis – a condition that causes dilation of the air-passages of the lung which become filled with infected mucus. These unfortunate people classically have foul smelling breath and live with an awful taste in their mouths. Behind the beauty and excitement of the champagne lurks the darker side of this grave disease

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