Tobacconist University
Taste College

Taste College: The Human Senses


Taste, also known as gustation, is the human sense which drives our appetite and protects us from ingesting poisons. We taste with sensory organs [that detect chemicals] called taste buds which are located on our tongue.

Our taste buds are limited to sensing only five distinct tastes:
salt, sweet, sour, bitter, & umami.

Umami Sour Sour Sweet Bitter Salty Bitter Umami Sour Salty Sweet Salty
Taste Chart

It is important to note that we have taste buds spread all over our tongues to differentiate the five tastes, but we perceive these tastes to have a more localized effect. For instance, we perceive sourness on the outer sides of our tongue, bitterness on the back, sweetness and saltiness on the tip, and umami throughout.


Saltiness is the taste produced by sodium chloride (and other salts). As with food, the perfect amount of saltiness can make flavor come alive; too much can ruin; and too little can make flavor fall flat.


Sweetness is typically produced by the presence of sugars in a substance. Sweet flavors in natural (un-flavored) tobaccos can be subtle or pronounced. Some tobaccos, like Virginia tobaccos, naturally have a higher sugar content than others. Alternately, the sweetness can be coaxed out of tobaccos through fermentation and curing methods; as with maduro cigar wrappers.


Sourness, or tartness, is an indicator of acidity or acids in a substance. Too much acidity will overwhelm the palate (sense of taste) and inhibit the true flavors of tobacco (or any other delicacy) from emerging.


Bitterness is usually an indicator of alkaloids or of an alkaline substance. The taste is usually characterized as dry and/or astringent; similar to the flavor of black coffee or quinine (tonic water). Among other effects, tobacco fermentation releases ammonia, which is an alkaline compound. Ultimately, extreme or unbalanced bitterness in tobacco will taint the other flavors and finish.


Umami is often defined as savory (savoury), or sabroso in Spanish. For many people umami has a mouth watering effect and creates a tantalizing sensation all over the tongue: it has also been described as "deliciousness". The umami taste is common in fermented foods, aged cheeses, meat, ketchup/tomatoes, mushrooms, boullion/broth, soy sauce, MSG, and breast milk. Specifically, umami is the taste of L-glutamate, the dominant amino acid in living things: it is released through death, rotting, fermentation, and cooking.

Cigar makers use the word sabroso to describe the perfect balance of saltiness, bitterness, sourness, and sweetness in tobacco: that synergistic balance creates a sensation that transcends the potential of each individual taste, and creates something more extraordinary and complete: that is umami.

Taste Chart

Sensory Thresholds

In order for people to sense a substance through taste or smell, it must be present in sufficient concentrations. Individual sensitivity will vary for everyone, and there is no limit to personal preferences.

Absolute Threshold is the smallest concentration of a substance that can be detected by our senses; like one puff of smoke in a room may be the minimum amount for someone to detect the tobacco aroma.

Terminal Threshold is the extreme point of saturation where the addition of more stimulus will not yield any more sensation; like ten people smoking cigars in a room where the eleventh cigar will not change what you smell.

Somewhere between these two extremes lies a pleasurable experience. At the recognition threshold we are able to sense specific tastes and smells. At the differentiation threshold we can sense gradients in the tastes and smells; lighter to heavier, milder to stronger, etc...

The most important thing to remember is that sensory thresholds are different for everybody. So a tobacco that is too mild for some can be perfect for another.

One man’s spice
is another man’s fire.

Certified R&D Tobacconists: United States

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Zachary Bachmann, CRTGeorgetown Tobacco
Washington, DC - United States
(202) 338-5100

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Andrew Jarman, CRTMayan Import Company
New Orleans, LA - United States
(504) 269-9000

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Raymond Noriega, CRTStag Tobacconist (Stag of Colorado Ltd.)
Colorado Springs, CO - United States
(719) 633-0669

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