It’s something we do every day, often without thinking: pop food in our mouth and chew. Taste is such an important part of life and, when the food is good, a huge source of pleasure.

However taste can also be kind of confusing. What we often call taste, is really about flavour and that’s more to do with smell. Taste is what we detect with our tongues, and more specifically, with our taste buds.

You may have learned in school that there were four, then with the addition of umami, five tastes. I was also taught that different parts of the tongue pick up different tastes. Well, you might be surprised to know that neither of these is entirely correct.

It turns out that we don’t really have sweet versus salty tongue areas. The ‘tongue map’ comes from some German research by D.P. Hanig which was published in 1901. However we actually detect the different tastes on all areas of the tongue.

That said, it does help to start with the five basic tastes. They are a good starting point for playing around with flavours and making delicious food. Let’s just for the sake of argument mix up flavour and taste a little, as that’s what we do when we cook and eat.

The exciting thing about tastes is not just how they behave on their own, but how they interact together to make food magic.

It’s helpful to know that a little bbitter at the start of a meal can kick off your appetite. It also helps you feel satiated at the end of a meal. Why not start things out with a few leaves of chicory drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice? You can then finish the meal with a couple of squares of good dark chocolate.

So without debating what might make up the sixth, seventh or tenth taste, I’ve put together a handy infographic as a starting point to a taste investigation. This is as an introduction to the basic tastes and a few starting suggestions for how they work together.

I’ll expand on this in future articles to give you some more ideas for spicing up your cooking and getting a natural feel for how to balance your dishes.


Please include attribution to with this graphic.

Basic Tastes Introduction Infographic


If you’d like to go a bit more indepth and get some tips for cooking by taste, here’s my suggested reading list:


And if you’d like some tips for slowing down and paying more attention to what you’re tasting, check out my post on tasting meditation. How do you take the time to taste?