As understanding of how we taste food grows, so does the evidence that the oral taste receptors steer us towards the nutrients our bodies need. Furthermore, the discovery that many of the same taste receptors present on the tongue also exist throughout the digestive system suggests that these receptors may play a role in regulating appetite and satiety.
A recent feature in Nature* describes how malnourished children, given soups made from plain stock or from stock fortified with amino acids, generally preferred the amino acid-fortified stock over the plain variant – even when this was used in tasty, high-calorie soups. The author quotes Paul Breslin, a taste perception researcher at Monell Chemical Senses Center, “This suggests that somehow there’s this ‘wisdom of the body'”.
Umami Taste Preferred
The children’s preference may well be due to the fact that amino acid-fortified soup will be rich in free glutamate which, as well as delivering umami taste, signals the presence of protein. Protein in the diet is the source of amino acids, which are needed for healthy growth and development, and for normal metabolism. The fact that we have evolved to taste glutamate is not a surprise once we realize that it is an amino acid found abundantly in food.
More about Glutamate and Umami Taste.
*Reference: “Taste: More than meets the mouth” by Michael Eisenstein Nature Vol 468, No 7327