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Heston Blumenthal: ‘We are just scratching the surface of taste’

Culinary wizard Heston Blumenthal believes we are just skimming the surface of taste and are close to throwing out the theory of the five basic tastes.

Speaking at a Sherry and food pairing event at Shoreditch House in London last night, the Michelin-starred chef praised research into new taste receptors that is bringing us towards a fresh understanding of the workings of the tongue.

Blumenthal told Decanter, ‘In experiments, fruit flies found receptors for C02, so there is evidence that carbon dioxide is a taste. There is also a growing argument that fat is a taste.’

‘To say there are only five tastes simplifies things’, Blumenthal continued. ‘Scientists found 21 receptors for bitterness on the tongue, which can be detected by supertasters’.

Supertasters are said to have more taste buds on their tongue than other people and tend to have stronger food dislikes, particularly for bitterness.

‘We are also looking into the idea that the tongue has tactile receptors. If you put an embossed letter “L” on a supertaster’s tongue, they could tell you what letter it was. My tongue doesn’t do all that.’

The Fat Duck chef has recently discovered new compounds in Sherry that help explain why it is such a food versatile wine.

‘It was like finding a needle in a haystack – you can’t just do a blanket search for compounds in wine.’

Blumenthal discovered that while Sherry does not contain umami itself, (the elusive fifth savoury taste), it contains a group of compounds known as diketopiperazines, or DKPs, that enhance the flavour of umami-rich foods such as meat, fish, parmesan cheese and shiitake mushrooms, and act as a taste booster.

‘Sherry has compounds that wines don’t have. The DKPs develop from the yeast activity. I think it could also work with red and white wine. It’s on my list of things to look into.’

Written by Lucy Shaw

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