22 October 2005

Spicy Sensations

I love to cook. And I LOVE good food. On a student budget, that means being very creative with spices to make very bland and plain things taste awesome.

It's intriguing to me how everything that is sensed is actually perceived in the brain. Pain, light touch, position sense of where our limbs or trunk are in space, and taste. Sure, taste buds are on the tongue, but there are a few sensory nerves involved to convey those taste sensations to the brain where they are then interpreted as: sweet, salty, sour, bitter.

Interestingly, in other countries, other taste sensations are detected and valued. In Japan, the umami taste sensation experienced in savory meats is highly appreciated. Umami is often enjoyed by unknowing Americans when they taste monosodium glutamate in a number of fast food, restaurant chain, grocery store foods. MSG makes food taste AWESOME! The only problem is it turns your brain into swiss cheese over the course of a lifetime, and increases the liklihood of Parkinson's.

So, I was in search of what makes spicy food taste spicy. There isn't a "spicy" taste bud. But, I knew one of the sensory nerves had to have receptors to relay to the master computer brain for interpretation and experience. Turns out it's the trigeminal nerve, or cranial nerve V. The trigeminal nerve has 3 divisions: opthalamic (V1: sensory), maxillary (V2: sensory), and mandibular (V3: motor & sensory). This fat nerve is what conveys sensation when you have a toothache, jaw pain, feel a light breeze on your cheek, and it moves your jaw when you chew your food. This nerve also conveys taste sensation for the anterior or front 2/3 of your tongue: sweet, salty, and sour. It also has a few other fun taste sensations like fizz from the CO2 in sodas and spicy in chili and carribean jerk chicken.

Read more about what cool tastes this nerve conveys here.

Interested in various types of spicy chilis? Check out the chili pepper institute homepagePosted by Picasa

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