9

Are there any scales that have been applied to any of the five basic tastes or other types of food sensations that have been quantified based on their affect on people, similar to the Scoville scale?

Sure you could say that people's experience of something like sweetness is subjective, but you could say the same thing about spiciness.

14

Yes, and Wikipedia has a brief summary of these scales (with some further details in other portions of the article and the links).

Basically, at least four of the five recognized primary "tastes" have a reference compound that other foods are compared to subjectively. For sweetness, a solution containing the test compound is diluted until sweetness can barely be detected by a human taster (similar to the Scoville scale). Sucrose is given the reference value of 1 (or sometimes 100). Sourness is similarly rated in comparison to a dilute hydrochloric acid solution, saltiness is rated in comparison to a dilute table salt (sodium chloride) solution, and bitterness is rated relative to a dilute quinine solution. (I've not heard of any similar scale for umami.)

In most cases, the reference compound is given a value of 1. The most common way to reference these scales is as the "[taste] index," as in "Citric acid has a value of 0.46 on the sourness index," which means it has to be diluted slightly less than half of how much hydrochloric acid would be for it to be on the threshold of human sourness detection.

(By the way, while these scales show us something, they are mostly useful for comparing single pure substances. For culinary purposes, their value is somewhat limited by the complex interactions among various tastes and flavor components. Even individual substances can change flavor depending on environment: for example, a complex molecule may taste relatively neutral at neutral pH, but with increased acid and thus sourness, it may acquire a salty flavor.)

  • I did see that in the wiki article, but I've never seen any of them used or referenced in a culinary setting. Yes, with complex interactions they do change, but Scoville is only used for unique raw peppers as well. – Aaron Aug 17 '14 at 7:05
  • @Aaron It depends on your definition of] "culinary setting". That kind of scale (for all taste directions) is very common among food technologists. None of these scales (including Scoville) is popular with home cooks. The Scoville is very frequently referenced among people who care about eating food, not preparing it, especially in a "my sauce is hotter than yours" settings. It is also popular in marketing material targeting eaters. – rumtscho Aug 17 '14 at 13:17
  • 1
    In food science, these basic reference scales are generally used with rating tools known as Magnitude Estimation and the Labeled Magnitude Scale. I think the Scoville scale is more widely known because foods can achieve very high values. It's less impressive to say that a food is 0.6 on the sourness index, and most people would simply describe that as "fairly sour". – logophobe Aug 17 '14 at 16:05
  • OK, based on these comments, it sounds like the popularity of the Scoville scale over these other scales in common parlance is more marketing that anything. – Aaron Aug 17 '14 at 16:39
4

Your example of sweetness reminded me of degrees brix: the sugar content of an aqueous solution. Might this be an example of what you are seeking? Not sure I can come up with anything close for other tastes...

2

There is a scale known as the pyruvate scale that measures the pungency of onions and garlic

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.