In a follow-up experiment, volunteers were given a compound beforehand that nullified the sweet receptors on their tongues. Upon taking a slurp of the carbohydrate solutions, the participants could still detect the starchy taste, which strongly implies that long-chain complex carbohydrates can still be registered before they are broken down by our saliva.
Then, the participants were given a compound to inhibit the enzyme that breaks down the long-chain starch polymers into short-chain ones. Consequently, they found that they could detect a starchy flavor in solutions containing short-chain polymers, but not long-chain polymers.
So, not only is there strong evidence for a starchy taste, but it appears it specifically comes from short-chain starches.
As the authors of the study note, from an evolutionary standpoint, the ability to taste starch would be a highly beneficial adaptation, as these carbohydrates are incredibly nutritious and clearly aid survival. In fact, the primary reason taste exists is so we can identify substances that provide us with energy – and to detect toxic substances we shouldn’t ingest.
So perhaps our enjoyment of starchy, high energy-density foods such as pizza and pasta doesn’t just come from the fact that we think they taste great, but from the fact that our tongues can chemically identify them when we plonk them in our mouths. Isn’t science sweet?
If you're not really hungry by this point now, you are highly unusual. Anastasia Izofatova/Shutterstock