Taste: Salty, Sweet, Sour, Savory, Bitter

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Of the five generally recognized tastes, three are especially prominent in fruits and vegetables. Sugar is the main product of photosynthesis, and its sweetness is the main attraction provided by fruits for their animal seed dispersers. The average sugar content of ripe fruit is 10 to 15% by weight. Often the unripe fruit stores its sugar as tasteless starch, which is then converted back into sugar during ripening to make the fruit more appealing. At the same time, the fruit’s acid content usually drops, a development that makes the fruit seem even sweeter. There are several organic acids— citric, malic, tartaric, oxalic—that plants can accumulate in their vacuoles and variously use as alternative energy stores, chemical defenses, or metabolic wastes, and that account for the acidity of most fruits and vegetables (all are acid to some degree). The sweet-sour balance is especially important in fruits.