“Pinch your nose and let the jelly bean sit on your tongue. What do you taste?”
We kicked off our week with the physiology and psychology of taste. We talked about why and how we taste things and how to communicate flavor.
Like jellybeans. You wouldn’t believe how bland those hard little candies taste when you can’t smell them.
“Open your nose. What do you taste?”
Waves and waves, colors, shapes, chemicals.
And that is no surprise — we humans are made for flavor.
Consider our biology: We have first-wave smell receptors, taste buds on our tongues that sense multiple flavors at the same time, and an entire back-of-mouth olfactory sense that rounds out what our brain registers as “taste.”
We are wired from birth to perceive and catalog tastes — bitter: beware, poison. Sweet: desire, energy.
Some of the things we taste are genetic. Some of them have to do with the cultures we are raised in, or the physical places we live. Some of our tastes are just things we decided to like. (DId any of you experience this? I used to hate avocados!)
We had something like eight tastings this week – from jellybeans, to chocolates, sheep milk gelato to wine. Each time, our leaders ask us what we think, to dissect the hints and aromas that contribute to flavor.
When you pay attention to what you’re tasting and try food with other people, well, that’s when magic happens.
That’s because the universality of flavor comes from the subjective experience of taste. Your concept of “apple flavor” reflects that one amazing apple-picking trip as much as the density of taste receptors on your tongue. Smell, taste, memory, perception are all part of flavor.
Tasting with other people highlights that universal and subjective distinction. Natalie and I blind-smelled cinnamon. She picked up on Christmas, on the woody aromas. I picked up citrus. We totally understood the other person’s tastes, but might not have picked up on them alone.
More than anything else, tasting food this week has demonstrated the humanity of flavor. It’s been a wonderful reminder that, of course, there are as many humans as the tastes and smells that make up flavor.
To communicate taste, you have to understand where someone else is coming from and how your own palate contributes to your experience. It’s much less about being right and much more about exploration. And a genuine curiosity about other people’s observations and discoveries.
So this week we’ve tasted dark chocolate and blood oranges, sula honey and hazelnut gelato, with a relish for our own sampling, and an ear for our neighbors’ thoughts and observations.
Bon Appetit and Ciao, tutti!