How do we taste sugar, bacon and coffee? Science finds a surprising answer

Red organic matter on a black background.

A microscope image of taste buds in a mouse tongue shows taste cells with TRPM4 ion channels highlighted in red. Credit: Debarghya Dutta Banik

Researchers identify a new chemical pathway that helps the brain detect sweet, savory and bitter flavors

Release Date: January 8, 2018

Kathryn Medler, University at Buffalo taste expert, in a lab.
“Our research shows that there is redundancy in the taste system. This is important because taste is actually central to our survival.”
Kathryn Medler, associate professor of biological sciences
University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. — How do we taste the sugary richness of candy, or the bitter undertones of coffee? What about the savory flavors of smoked and cured meats?

Until now, many scientists believed that a single protein — TRPM5 — acted as a gatekeeper for tasting these delectable foods. Remove TRPM5 from a person’s taste cells, and they would no longer be able to identify sweet, bitter or savory (also called umami) foods.

A new study challenges this thinking. The research, published on Jan. 8 in the Proc