We can represent colors as an additive combination of red, green, and blue intensities. Can we do the same with flavors using sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami?


It seems like a useful way to represent flavors, but maybe there are reasons this approach isn’t valid. If that’s the case, I’d like to know why. With five tastes on some scale as parameters, you could cover an enormous range.

In: Chemistry

Colors are points on a spectrum. But flavors are produced by distinct chemicals. So whereas describing color is like marking a point on a ruler, describing a flavor is more like looking something up in a dictionary.
Talking about the amount of each flavor is still a good descriptive tool, but it is not precise in the same way color is. It is not quantifiable.

You could theoretically do this for the component of the experience of taste comprised only of the the literal sense of taste, i.e. what the taste buds do. But with the overall experience that we think of as taste, other factors play a huge role, not the least of which is smell.

But since the actual sense of taste basically boils down to sensing the amount of receptors of each type firing on a certain area of the tongue or mouth, that is definitely comparable in a way to how vision is basically just sensing the amount of receptors of each type firing on a certain area of the retina.

The biggest difference is that we are very, very visual animals as a result of our primate heritage, so we devote a lot of neural space to processing images. We don’t have as much need to analyze data via taste, so we don’t devote nearly as much mental resources to it.

For animals like dogs, they still use vision (and have pretty good vision by the standards of the animal kingdom as a whole), but devote a lot more neural power to smell and taste, so it would be useful to think of the amount of information they get that way as comparable to our vision.