Improving Your Taste Discernment
How really discerning is your sense of taste? Are your food and beverage prefer-
ences based upon real or imagined flavor distinctions? Are you greatly influenced by
advertising about a product's quality?
Your taste buds are grouped in tiny bumps called papillae which make your tongue
feel rough. There are about 245 taste buds to each bump in a young person.
Gradually with age, this number drops to below 100. Some taste buds are scattered
on the inside surface of the cheeks and on the epiglottis and on the soft palate. There
are actually only 4 basic tastes: sweet, sour, bitter and salty.
Salt buds are along the sides of the tongue and toward the front (as are the sweet
buds), while sour ones are toward the back. Bitter taste buds are at the back of the
mouth itself. Heated food stimulates your taste buds, whereas cold desensitizes
them. For example, before taking a bitter medicine, use a small piece of ice to chill
the back of your tongue and you'll hardly taste the medicine. Also, hot, sweetened
coffee tastes sweeter before it cools.
Since you taste and smell food at the same time, a blending of the two senses (see
"Exercise -- Developing Synesthesia") takes place. For example, when you say an
apple "tastes good," you refer largely to its odor. If you were blindfolded and had
your nose stopped up, you'd have trouble identifying raw mashed apples from raw
mashed potatoes. People also eat with their eyes a lot! Purple mashed potatoes tasted
terrible to most people even though the purple food coloring had no taste at all! At a
scientific conference concerning the sense of taste, 100 attendants were given cherry-
red, but lemon flavored lollipops, and almost all of them noticed no flavor difference
from its color.
Do you think you can discern the difference between brewed and instant coffee? or
the difference between name brands of coffee? or between the same instant coffee
with or without dissolved oxygen? Tea tasters that submit quality reports to the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration test about 500 teas a week. After swooshing a sample
around in their mouth, a tea taster spits it out and compares its taste with other teas of
the same type.
As an exercise, take a measuring spoon and dissolve a quarter teaspoon of salt in
one glass of water and a half teaspoon in a similar glass of water. Sample each by
sipping, swooshing in the mouth and spitting it out. Notice the difference? Do the
same with lemon juice and water; then sugar and water; then instant coffee and water.
Vary the percentages and work blindfolded with friend to see if you can distinguish slightly higher and lower levels when given them. Then combine the tastes and
distinguish the same higher or lower levels when in combination with each other.
The next time you eat a meal, take the time to savor the flavor combinations in
your mouth. Sample new food dishes, fruits and vegetables to enhance your taste
experience. Imagine yourself in the country of each food's origin. Involve yourself
in each new sensory experiment and consciously BE with the experience.
While holding your nose and closing your eyes, have an assistant put diced up
carrots, apple, potato, turnip and onion in your mouth for identification. Next, taste
creamy things -- yogurt, ice cream, peanut butter, creamy potatoes, sour cream and
pudding. Then try a teaspoon of milk, orange juice, coffee, wine and water. How
acute is your taste without your eyes and nose? Could you discern a mashed apple
taste while smelling a fragrant pear?