Scientists say that fatty sensations and astringency represent opposite… (Stefano Paltera /For The…)
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.
The researchers found that astringent sustances such as wine, tea, sorbets and pickles need not be strong to oppose fatty sensations. That's because the overall sensation of dryness or roughness builds with each bite or sip.
The affinity that people have for oppositely paired tastes may be due to the body's need for a diverse diet, according to Breslin.
"The mouth is a magnificently sensitive somatosensory organ, arguably the most sensitive in the body," he said. "The way foods make our mouths feel has a great deal to do with what foods we eat."