In the language of cigar tasting, tastes contribute to the backbone of the gustatory experience. The perception of taste is provided by the molecules in the smoke that get dissolved in our saliva. Our palate, the entrance and mucus of our tongue and our lips, are the places that are mostly receptive to smoke tastes.
Sweet, Bitter, Salty, Savory and Sour are the well-known basic tastes. Savory is the most recently added taste and stands for “meaty”, what some people call umami. Scientists are researching new tastes and we can expect more breaking news on them. The currently recognized ones are highlighted in red on the chart below.
As we have mentioned in our article on the Olfactory and Gustatory Senses, at Cigar Sense we simplify the verbiage of mouth and palate perceptions by defining as tastes not only the basic tastes, but also the tactile/palate perceptions or mouthfeels. In fact, to the basic tastes, we add Spicy, Creamy and Dry, which are quite common in cigars. These are highlighted in green on the chart below.
Especially found among native English-speaking people, is a phenomenon referred to as the Sour-Bitter confusion. According to some scientific researches, Sour may happen to be called Bitter and vice versa. It seems that one reason for this phenomenon to appear is that the affected people have more cultural experience with sweet and salty foods than with sour and bitter foods. And, of course, the incorrect cultural labeling of typically sour foods as bitter, for instance “bitter lemon”, causes the phenomenon to expand. It is good to be aware of this as it may impact the way you understand your perceptions while tasting a cigar.
There might also be misconceptions about certain tastes. I noted that some cigar manufacturers tend to like to see creaminess on their cigar profiles they see published. Creaminess is a great attribute to find in a cigar. Many great cigars present this in their profile. However, many other great cigars do not. Therefore, it is important not to judge a cigar based on commonly inherited concepts. All is a matter of personal preference but, very importantly, of balance.
Another misconception relates to the tongue map.
The tongue map, so often reproduced when talking about tastes, is wrong and this was debunked many years ago. As Steven D. Munger confirms, it all started in 1901, when “David P Hänig found that there was some small variation around the tongue in how much stimulus it took for a taste to register. He published a line graph plotting the relative change in sensitivity for each taste from one point to the next, not against other tastes. It looked as if different parts of the tongue were responsible for different tastes, rather than showing that some parts of the tongue were slightly more sensitive to certain tastes than others. His graph was re-imagined by Edwin G Boring in the 1940s, in a version that had no meaningful scale, leading to each taste’s most sensitive area being sectioned off in what we now know as the tongue map.” Despite the scientific evidence that each receptor type is found across the whole mouth, the tongue map is still common language in cigar seminars and blogs today. We believe that, after all, it is positive to draw the attention on the tastes and on their importance, even if the support used for it is not correct.
To recap, every taste receptor, wherever it occurs, can detect all five tastes. There is also is a genetic component involved which helps explain why some people experience anise as a pleasant spice, while others experience it as unpleasant.