Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Matter of Taste

Taste may be the least understood and most personally unique of all the senses, with genes and even geography playing major roles in the flavors we prefer.

History of Tasteful Discovery ~ Click for PDF
The mistaken notion that the tongue is sectioned into specialized zones for sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and later umami, resulted from a haphazard study done in 1901 by a German scientist named D.P. Hanig. Yet despite its inaccuracy, the "tongue tasting map" took hold and reigned until 1974 when another scientist, Virginia Collings, finally examined the research in enough detail to expose its folly. 

Adding to its mystery, taste is integrally tied to the sense of smell. In fact, much of the flavor we experience in our mouths is actually the result of aromas that flow toward the olfactory lobes through a connection at the back of the mouth. This is called Retronasal Olfaction and is the reason behind the slurping and swishing sounds that are common in wine tasting.

Lauren Buzzeo, Tasting Director for Wine Enthusiast Magazine, demonstrates the practice of "aspirating"- using the tongue to suck air into the mouth - in Step 4 of this video Wine 101: How to Taste.
Smell and Taste connect

A Festive Rogue River Blue Cheese
Of course, flavors and aromas are enhanced by all the other senses, creating the impression we record in memory.

An attractive presentation is often what we notice about a food in the first place.  An interesting texture that invites being touched can also spark curiosity about how it would feel against the tongue.

From a practical perspective, it is not surprising that all the senses influence our experience of taste.  This interplay has been our best help in learning to avoid being poisoned.

Flavor Descriptions ~ Click for PDF
As engaging as the biology may be, it is the pleasure (or disgust) of the experience that first comes to mind when we talk of tasting. Fortunately, the ability to appreciate flavors, textures, and aromas is not limited by economic status. There no reason for anyone to be intimidated by the idea of slowly considering what they've placed in their mouths.

Everything we eat presents an opportunity to develop an educated palate to impress the only audience that matters - our own selves. In this respect, taste is a personal revelation that the tongue evaluates and then describes through language, the foundation of all cultural heritage. A kiss, a flavor, a word spoken in love, the tongue is a gateway to the essence of being alive.

In the video below, Julia Powers, an ACS Certified Cheese Professional and graduate of the Academie Opus Caseus Affinage Program, takes us through the few simple steps that begin a lifelong journey of the senses.  By all means, Enjoy!