Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Umami receptors

Today I came across a great NPR story on the science of taste buds and the discovery of "umami," Japanese for "tasty" or "delicious." I particularly enjoyed the illustration of our taste buds, borrowed from Gray's Anatomy. We have little key-hole-like receptors to house what's been historically considered the only 4 flavors: sweet, sour, salty and bitter. And now, the 5th flavor discovered in this century, umami a.k.a. MSG.

I also enjoyed the last segment of the story, "The moral," which speaks to the artist's intuition, his or her instinctive feeling about the truth of things. It goes to show once again that something can't be deemed untrue just because scientists have yet to discover it.

"...an artist is busy about his/her work and happens to observe something or sense something about the real world that scientists have not yet noticed, or that scientists say is not true. But because artists are so good at describing what it's like to experience the world, so intent on delivering the truth of what it feels like to be alive, so intuitive, in each of these eight cases, the artists learn something that the scientists don't discover until years later."