Updated: Apr 21, 2022
This blog and the next couple will be about taste and flavour.
‘Why taste and flavour…? I hear you say.
Two reasons really.
Firstly because I feel it’s worth the time investment as a knowledge of flavour and taste can only help us appreciate some of the finer things in life. Time is our most expensive commodity and during my medical career, I quickly developed an awareness that I had to spend my time efficiently. (Have you noticed that people are good at spending two things - they’re good at spending other people’s money and spending other people’s time!) That means I’ve become a time snob, only reading about things that are either important or interesting (or occasionally, but only occasionally - both).
In truth, this is why the blog has pretty much fallen into abeyance recently - finding something fun to write about that translates into something that doesn’t waste your time or my time! The last thing I want to do is to write a regular blog just because it’s just being written to fill pages (and from a business point increase SEO because of regular website contribution etc). However the subject is increasingly fascinating to me, the more I read. So it seemed to be time worth spending.
Secondly, because despite 30+ years of medical practice it soon became obvious to me that I know little about taste and flavour. Running a distillery and making new flavours is one thing but to be able to describe / feel / appreciate / anticipate taste is another. The more I read, the more the subject blows me away! Indeed prior to my recent reading, I was completely oblivious to most of the information that I am putting on paper today.
The vocabulary of music and the vocabulary of taste
Put simply, our taste and flavour vocabulary is pretty basic
So here goes…..(stick with me on this one!)
Imagine you are asked to describe the great music you’ve just experienced with a concert / band / festival / vinyl etc etc….
Most people will make different comments but they will likely make in depth observations about the vocals, the awe-inspiring guitar solo, the rhythmic baseline and the brilliant drums…
Then, imagine a situation when you are asking somebody to describe a fabulous meal they have just enjoyed. People will come out with compliments, but they will be most likely far less developed. For instance, “I really liked the steak”. “The sweet was lovely”. “The fish was great” etc etc. Essentially verbal descriptions that are complimentary but less complex and detailed than we would use for auditory and visual experiences.
The point I’m trying to get across is that our vocabulary of taste and flavour is not usually as well developed as our vocabulary of visual or auditory matters. We’re not used to talking about taste and flavour. Our words express our appreciation but on a very superficial level compared to the descriptions of other situations.
It doesn’t mean that we can’t appreciate the tremendous dish of food we’ve just polished off, it’s just that it’s far more difficult to describe it in accurate detail.
There’s a great book written about Flavour (by Bob Holmes) and in the early stages he
describes flavour as being relegated to “…elevator music for the palate…”. Seems a strange comment but how often do we push eating and drinking into the background whilst we’re doing something else.
For example, consider the situation of going out for a meal with friends. We’re going out ‘for a meal’ but the food (ie the meal) is simply fitted into the background.
Don't believe me....? Just take time to watch others in the restaurant. Most people are talking whilst eating and the food is not the main focus. There’ll even be some (rude) people at tables who will fail to recognise that food is being placed in front of them by the waiting staff. Even the polite majority who show appreciation for being served will soon become reimmersed in conversation. Taste and flavour is appreciated but it is fighting an uphill battle to be centre stage against a social situation.
Compare this to that same group of people who choose to go to the cinema. Not a word spoken for the duration - usually the same length of time as the meal. All attention on an experience that will be IMAX / 3D you name it - projected to give you the impression that you are in the scene. Then, when it finishes, animated and detailed discussion ensues about the film en route to the pub for a further social chat, where discussion continues, yet the taste and flavour of the drinks that accompany the talking are - again - likely demoted to the equivalent of elevator music...!
Sabre toothed tigers
Let’s change tack and look at an evolutionary approach to taste.
Our prehistoric brain had some important decisions to