MadSci Network: Science History

Re: Where can I find the tastes and flavors of acids?

Date: Wed May 26 17:18:25 1999
Posted By: John Christie, Faculty, School of Chemistry, La Trobe University, Bundoora, Victoria, Australia
Area of science: Science History
ID: 927070456.Sh

I must admit to failure in trying to find your book. It sounds like a 
fascinating concept, but a very boring book. There are thousands of acids 
and many of the common ones are terribly corrosive or poisonous. One of the 
most remarkable things is that anyone who undertook a project like this 
survived to write the book!

I came up with one reference that might interest you (thanks to AltaVista) 
on taste of amino-acids. 
But many amino-acids are not really acidic, because they have both acidic 
and basic parts (basic being the opposite of acidic) that often cancel one 
another out.

Taste is, of course, one of the least discriminating of our senses. I am no 
authority in the area, but I believe that there are only a small number of 
different sensations that can be detected by the taste buds -- many 
references say only four: sour, bitter, salty, sweet. There is a lot more 
to flavour than taste. A large measure of the flavour of anything comes 
from the odour/aroma (sense of smell) and the texture (sense of touch).

We are often told that all acids (and only acids) taste sour. The sour 
taste receptor is apparently pretty much a detector of hydrogen ions, and 
all acids produce hydrogen ions to a greater or lesser extent when they 
contact a watery environment like that in our mouth -- that is pretty much 
what being an acid means.

I think it is a good idea for you not to go into the business of tasting 
acids for yourselves. But I can suggest a few that are safe for you to 
taste in dilute solution. Citric acid is the acid that makes lemon juice 
sour. Ascorbic acid is an important acid otherwise known as vitamin C. 
Malic acid is present in apple juice and grape juice. Acetic acid is the 
acid present in vinegar. Lactic acid is present in sour milk and in some 
fruit juices. Do not go beyond those.

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