If the photo above has you salivating for a slice of freshly baked bread, there may be more going on than you realize. You're probably craving the taste of nutty whole grains and perhaps some salty butter slathered over a warm slice, and you may also be craving the comforting sensation that comes from the carbs. But, scientists now believe that you're able to taste those carbs, or more accurately taste the starch in those carbs, adding another reason why foods like bread, pasta and potatoes are so appealing.

Scientists from the University of Oregon have identified a sixth taste, one that can recognize the taste of starch all on its own, reports IFL Science. This sixth taste joins the ones we already know about: salty, sweet, sour, bitter and the more recently recognized umami (savory). Until now, it's been believed that humans could only detect starch because of its relationship to sweet since starch breaks down into sugars. But scientists used special preparations to test whether volunteers were able to detect glucose oligomers (starch) independent of sweet.

They blocked the sweet taste receptor with lactisole in preparations that contained starch, and the test subjects were unable to "detect sweet substances (glucose, maltose and sucralose), but they could still detect the glucose oligomers." Researchers believe this suggests that the ability to detect glucose oligomers is independent of the ability to detect sweet.

spaghetti-meatballs When eating a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs, humans not only taste salty, sweet and savory, but they can also taste starchy, say researchers. (Photo: Annie/Flickr)

From an evolutionary standpoint, the authors of the study — which was published in the Oxford Journals — say this makes some sense. Starchy foods are energy-dense and starch is vital for our survival. The ability to taste them would be "a highly beneficial adaption" since the nutrition from carbohydrates keeps humans alive.

In fact, scientists say the main reason we have the ability to taste is to determine which things provide us with energy and which things are toxic.

Interestingly, when people of Asian ancestry described what they were tasting in the study, they identified a "rice-like" taste. When Caucasians described what they were tasting, they identified a "pasta-like" taste.

It seems scientists have just legitimized our love of carbs. Thank you, science!

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.