These tastes are just the beginning, however. Each sensation tells an important story in human evolution. Of course, each taste has both healthy and unhealthy foods associated with it!
A sweet taste can signal the presence of sugars and other carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are essential for providing and storing energy.
Salty foods usually signal the presence of sodium. Sodium is an element necessary for maintaining our bodies’ water balance and circulating the flow of blood and nutrients.
A sour taste can signal the presence of acids. Acids may indicate that food is spoiled and no longer healthy.
Umami is a savory or “meaty” taste. Umami can signal the presence of proteins, which perform an array of important cellular functions in our bodies.
Use our video, part of the National Geographic Channel series “Eat: The Story of Food,” and read through our questions to think about your own tastes.
Then, think about what an animal tastes! Although all mammals have a sense of taste, the flavors they detect can vary widely. As Michael Pollan, an author in the video, says: “If you’re a koala, you eat eucalyptus. If it’s not eucalyptus, it’s not food!” Read our Fast Facts to learn more about what animals taste.
Animals have taste!
- Rodents, such as mice, can taste a flavor humans cannot: starch. Starch is a type of carbohydrate found in foods such as rice, potatoes, and corn.
- Many carnivores, from cats to sea lions, have lost their “sweet tooth”—they cannot distinguish sweet tastes.
- Whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals have a very reduced ability to recognize any taste except salt!
- Cats and dogs can “taste” water with much more sensitivity than humans.
- Pandas and koalas, whose diets are very restricted to certain plants, cannot recognize umami—“meaty”—tastes.
chemical compound that reacts with a base to form a salt. Acids can corrode some natural materials. Acids have pH levels lower than 7.
fluid pumped by the heart through arteries and veins, delivering nutrients to tissues. In humans, blood consists of plasma in which red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets are suspended.
type of sugar that is an important nutrient for most organisms.
smallest working part of a living organism.
to move around, often in a pattern.
to separate or mark as different.
chemical that cannot be separated into simpler substances.
capacity to do work.
change in heritable traits of a population over time.
material, usually of plant or animal origin, that living organisms use to obtain nutrients.
animal with hair that gives birth to live offspring. Female mammals produce milk to feed their offspring.
required or needed.
substance an organism needs for energy, growth, and life.
one of many complex compounds, made of chains of amino acids, that make up the majority of all cellular structures and are necessary for biological processes.
perception or awareness of stimuli through the senses.
to rot or ruin.
type of chemical compound that is sweet-tasting and in some form essential to life.
poisonous substance, usually one produced by a living organism.
strong "meaty" taste.