Hiding the Taste of Calcium

Nov. 25, 2008

Why stop at five basic tastes – sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami – that register on the human tongue? Geneticist Michael Tordoff of Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia says his team has identified special calcium taste receptors in mice, and he believes humans likely can taste calcium as well.

“Calcium can now be considered a basic taste,” Tordoff told the Boston Globe. Each of the basic tastes has an evolutionary purpose. Sweet and umami signal that a food is nutritious; bitter warns that food may be bad or even poisonous. Calcium tastes good at low-concentrations, but then it becomes unpleasant. The flavor of calcium may prevent us from consuming what we need for healthy bones (1,000mg a day for adults, according to the USDA), a reason to develop tastier high-calcium foods.

To get your recommended calcium intake from dairy sources, you’d have to consume a few ounces or cheese and drink more than two glasses of milk. Non-dairy sources include sardines, kale and soy, which are not typical choices in the American diet. Thus, calcium is being added to non-dairy foods and drinks such as orange juice.

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