Tastes, Flavours and ‘instant food-bling’

In the afore-mentioned, excellent book, How to Cook Without Recipes, by Glynn Christian, is the following explanation about taste and flavour:


Taste means each of the five primary one-dimensional characteristics of what happens on the tongue and in the mouth. These are:

* Acid
* Salt
* Sweet
* Bitter
* Umami

The tongue has areas especially sensitive to each of these tastes and the sensitivity of each dictates quite what sort of palate you have. Knowing the different sensitivities of your tongue will go some way to explaining those times your experiences of food and drink have been different from others.

Although every taste bud has dedicated receptors for each of the five primary tastes, some seem to be more focused on one or [-p.19] the other, and are found around the outer fringes of the tongue. They all then segue into the centre, creating a bigger ‘sweet spot’ able to identify and deliver millions of complex tastes and flavours. Humans have up to 10,000 taste buds, which also register taste and flavour on the inside of your cheeks, the roof of your mouth and in your throat; even the lips have a few, especially sensitive to salt. But only if you are breathing, as you will learn.” (pp.18-19)


Flavour means the multidimensional combinations of tastes and aromas that give each food or drink its ultimate individuality, thus enabling us to know the difference between lemons and limes; the taste of both is acidic but their aromas are what give them distinguishing flavour.

Although tastes and flavours appear largely to be identified by the tongue alone, the nose is an important partner in tasting full-flavour spectra. Both taste and flavour are delivered fully only by a combination of your tongue and your sense of smell, something else that maddeningly varies from person to person.

Note: although taste as a noun is used to mean only the perception of salt, sweet, acid, bitter or umami tastes, the verb ‘to taste’ is used properly to identify perceptions of flavour, to describe what is happening when you are eating and drinking.” (p.19)

“Because the nose is so important to our perception of taste and flavour, food eaten outdoors needs to be tastier than food eaten indoors. Wind makes it harder for the nose to get to grips with what is going down – the virtues are whisked away before it has time to get into gear. If it’s a woodland or seaside picnic, or a filled roll on a park bench, air that is scented with pine or with salt-foam or exhaust fumes will make everything taste subtly different.” (p.153)

The Hot, Peppery Sensations

“…commonly used by underpowered chefs as instant food-bling, and just as cheap and vulgar

Somewhere between tastes and flavours there is another world, a world of mouth sensation. Sometimes this brings elements of taste, sometimes there is distinct flavour. Often it is just sensation, like stringency or the heat of very hot food served directly from the pot or pan, or the dramatic coldness of frozen food. A great cook will utilise both temperature sensations, knowing that as heat dissipates and frozen foods thaw, the flavours and tastes of the foods involved will also be changing.

And then there is the sensation of fizzing, or of foaming, a sensation for the eyes as well as for the palate.” (p.42)

… “But neither taste nor flavour is the objective of the most common use of sensation on the palate: that is to sting the tongue, in fact to damage it until there is discernible pain. Why do we do this? Because when the body is hurt our brain compensates by releasing serotonins, the natural feel-good opiates that are the real pursuit of all those who can’t eat food without covering it with pepper or chilli, wasabi, mustard or horseradish, rocket, watercress or mizuna or whatever.

A small degree of hot pepperiness is a good thing, and is often the final anchoring or weaving together of separate flavours and tastes. This is what we do when black pepper is ground over a plate, and suddenly disparate tastes and flavours seem to belong to one another.” (p.43)

Chillies are not so much a flavour or taste as they are mouth trauma. Some deliver flavour, of course, yet it is not taste buds that most potently register chillies on our palate, but pain receptors, which ultimately reward us with doses of the inner pleasures of opiates. …Any feeling of pleasure after eating chilli-hot food is that of the brain compensating for the pain on your palate by releasing endorphins, the natural feel-good equivalent of morphine and opiates. As with any drug, well-fed, affluent Westerners become [-p.47] addicted too. In fact, there is no dietary need for Westerners to eat more than a pleasurable suggestion of chilli, but a physiological one can be found. For those with tongues that taste little of what passes their way, even with lashings of salt, the powerful physical high felt after eating chillies is the closest they get to the satisfaction others enjoy just by eating well.” (pp.46-47)

Ref: Glynn Christian (2008) How to Cook Without Recipes. Portico Books: London


About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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