Mmmm, Calcium-y

When I was a kid, there were only four kinds of charms in the Lucky Charms box: pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars, and green clovers. Today of course there are too many charms to keep up with.

So it goes with tastes. Once there were four: sweet, sour, salty, bitter. Then somebody snacked on a mushroom or some dashi and discovered a fifth taste, umami. Now, researchers say they have found a sixth taste (not to be confused with The Sixth Sense), and you’ll never guess what it is. Calcium.

What does calcium taste like? According to Michael Tordoff, a behavioral geneticist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, where the taste was first found, “Calcium tastes calcium-y.” He went on to remark that it also has bitter and sour notes, which makes sense, given that the vegetables with the highest calcium content are strong-tasting leafy greens like collard, kale, and bok choy.

So why doesn’t our milk taste as bitter as an IPA? Because the calcium tends to bind with the fats and proteins, making it less easy to discern.

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