Suite and sour ...
For all that, Swiss scientists gave a new twist to the question this week when they unveiled - in the journal Nature - the case of ES, a professional musician with the rare but uncanny ability to "taste" sounds.
A good year of tests at Zurich University has proved that the woman experiences specific tastes whenever she hears different tonal intervals.
For her a minor second is sour, a major second bitter, a minor third salty, a major third sweet and a minor sixth creamy.
In this way she could identify them perfectly, even when put to the ultimate test when - to confuse matters - solutions tasting sour, bitter, salty or sweet were added to her tongue and she was asked to identify the relevant tone intervals by pressing a button on a computer keyboard.
Scientists call this crossing of the sensory wires, which allows a stimulus to one sense (here sound) to be perceived by another (here taste) by the name synaesthesia.
It most commonly involves colour and you will probably not be surprised to hear that ES also "sees", for example, C notes in red, while F sharp is violet.
But her association between sound and taste is extremely rare, calling into question whether Tchaikovsky's Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is really in good taste and if the concert-goer should take Schubert's Trout Quintet with a pinch of salt - especially with a suite to follow.
Perhaps the poet WH Auden was thinking on these lines when he said: "Music is the best means we have of digesting time."
It's in the genes
STILL on the subject of taste, scientists at the German Institute for Food Research say the country's traditional love of saurkraut may be inherited in the genes.
It seems that taste gene hTAS2R38 gives most Germans their liking for two bitter substances found in large quantities in cabbage, the main ingredient of saurkraut.
Perhaps further research can identify the fish and chip gene the Yorkshire Pudding gene or the English pudding gene. We hope not.
Much more comforting to think of ourselves as individuals with individual tastes, rather than that massive numbers of us should be pre-disposed to follow the same line of thought.
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|Publication:||Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)|
|Date:||Mar 5, 2005|
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