For any gourmand who has ever wondered why certain wines pair so well with a hearty steak, or how a palate-cleansing sorbet works its magic between courses, science has an answer now.
Oral astringents -- substances that elicit a "rough" or "dry" taste, such as high-tannin wines -- occupy the exact opposite end of a taste spectrum relative to substances with fatty, or "slippery" qualities, such as steak, according to a study published Monday in the journal Current Biology.
Because the dry wine and slippery beef tastes are opposites, they are constantly working to undercut, or reduce, the opposing sensation during the course of a meal, the study said. If diners sipped only water with their steak, they would perceive much more quickly the sensation that their mouths had become coated with fatty, or slippery, substances, it said.
"The opposition between fatty and astringent sensations allows us to eat fatty foods more easily if we also ingest astringents with them," said study author Paul Breslin of Rutgers University and the Monell Chemical Senses Center.