Did you know that fruit flies have calcium receptors on their tongues -or whatever fruit flies use to taste stuff? Anyway, apparently they don’t like it. I probably shouldn’t either, for that matter, but I am a bit worried that I can’t actually remember what it tastes like.
It was easy growing up in the old days–we only had four tastes to learn then, and I was fairly sure I could recognize each one -sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. And yet, for some reason Miss Plumple, my Grade 1 teacher, never gave us tests on those kinds of things. No, we got colour tests, Capital Letter Printing tests, times-tables tests -or was that Grade 2?- but never any of the things I could ace. Grade 1 was pretty well a loss leader.
Anyway, by the time I made it to adulthood and they figured I could handle it, I was told about another taste that had somehow been hiding in my mouth all those years: umami. It made me wonder how I could have gotten away without it for all that time, and then, at a moment’s notice, was instructed to clear a place on my tongue for it. I can’t say I’ve noticed the difference though. I mean, to tell the truth, I was really proud of having already branched out on my own -I could already taste savoury. It was all that the big 4 were not, and I certainly didn’t need another obviously made-up word with too many m’s telling me that things were different now. In fact, until recently I still called umami by its old names: meaty and cheesy, okay? Was that so wrong?
Now that I’ve retired, though, I decided that I’d better hurry up and make my peace with the Universe, so I practiced pronouncing the word in front of a mirror. I figured if I could make it all the way through without sliding on the m’s, nobody would know that for all those years I lived a lie. And yet, if I were in a restaurant and somebody asked me about the food, I’d still feel silly describing something as a little too umamoid. But I’d like to think I can change.
And that’s when I heard about the fruit fly and its calcium taste receptors. I wonder why somebody even looked. I mean, fruit flies eat fruit, right? So, I looked it up –there’s 6 mg of calcium in 100 mg of apple. For that matter, 3% of an orange is calcium… Who knew? Still, that doesn’t seem like enough to justify making a new receptor does it? The tongue’s already pretty crowded. I keep burning mine on baked potatoes, so maybe fruit flies don’t have as much scar tissue. Or maybe they wait until their food cools, like most mothers advise.
Why would it matter that fruit flies have something? They have wings –I don’t. They seem to have 6 legs, although actually I’m just estimating that –maybe some of them are arms… Of course they also have big red eyes which I also have early in the morning, so maybe it’s not such a stretch to think we might share some gubbins on our tongues. I think I’ve even read that we’re all descended from fruit flies –or is it the other way around? I forget the details- but even if we do share a grandmother or two, I’m still a little puzzled by the calcium thing.
Calcium is good for teeth and bones, right? Uhmm, maybe I mean fluoride… Anyway they don’t have many teeth or I imagine they would make it difficult for them to take off. So I can see why they might have tongue buds that warn them against stockpiling too much of it. I’ll bet their calcium receptors are much like my boiled spinach receptors –both warn if the tongue gets too close. And yet, on the other hand, if we’re both supposed to share grandparents in common –actually, maybe it was great grandparents- why a calcium warning receptor? I need calcium; I would have appreciated a welcome handshake, or something, not a threat… You can’t have it both ways, eh?
And then there’s the greatest puzzle of them all: why don’t I even know what calcium tastes like? Seems like a big waste of evolution.
Maybe I’m just reading too much into these studies, however –maybe they appear in those little, upstart back of the laundry-room journals for a reason. Science has claimed new sixth-taste senses before, and each time they create quite a stir. People get strangely worked up when it comes to stuff on their tongues –especially if they think there might be something strange on them they didn’t know about. For a while, tongues were all you heard moving at the average bus stop. You remember, the first was for fat, I think, although I seem to recall there was a suspicion that the scientific grant enabling the findings might have been supported by the butter industry. Coloured margarine was beginning to squeeze into their market. Uhmm, and then there was the receptor for starch. I’m not exactly sure where it was supposed to be located. Somebody suggested the collar, but I think they were probably kidding.
The new sixth taste sense kid on the block I really wondered about, however, was the one for water. That’s right, water. Come on, eh? I can’t remember wondering about the taste of water, unless it looked funny. Or the dog had just drunk some from a puddle. Perhaps tasting water is like the ability to curl your tongue, or the one that makes the bathroom smell if you’ve eaten asparagus –not everybody can do it. Sometimes I feel like a loser.
Anyway, I’m glad I’m not still in Grade 1. First of all I’d be older than most of my friends, but mostly, I’m not sure how Miss Plumple would handle all the uncertainty about taste buds. What would she do with that big pink tongue drawing she used to prop up on her desk? Let’s face it –in Grade 1 you need certainty about the world; you need to have absolute faith in what your teacher says… Or was that Grade 2?