Whether it experiences savory, sweet, or bitter flavors, our sense of taste plays games with the four others, but also with our memories. From the very first months of our existence, it opens our eyes to emotions that intertwine with the joy of life itself.
Taste, an appeal to all the senses
First of all, a harmony of color catches our eye. The fresh green of a mint leaf delicately placed on a slice of chocolate cake served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Next, the fragrance of coconut gently reaches our nostrils, followed by creamy texture and mouthfeel, rounded off by a blend of sweet and bitter flavors in an irresistible combination of hot and cold.
Needless to say, chocolate cake offers a dizzying range of delicious sensations!
Taste has the special power to inspire and combine all our senses. There are rays of sunlight in a flavor, streaming in from August to apples their sweet taste and satisfying crunch, oysters their salty tang, and gewürztraminer wine its earthy depth.
Taste: a construction of emotions and memories.
Scientists agree taste and memory are connected, to the extent that reactivation of certain flavors is used as a therapeutic method in treating pathologies linked to aging.
From piquant, suave, lively, and strong to heady, lingering, velvety, and subtle, the vocabulary used to describe flavor is just as wide-ranging as the feelings procured by our sense of taste. This palette is far richer and deeper than the sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami (a recent addition from Japan) that make up the five base tastes. And don’t forget that Aristotle also added creamy, pungent, bitter, and astringent back in Ancient Greece!
It goes without saying that taste is a strange and complex mechanism. For example, did you know that its primary organ, the tongue, is the first to move in the womb? According to Annick Faurion, head of research at the French National Center for Scientific Research, our taste mechanism is far more than the five sensations mentioned above. What’s more, we all have our own perceptions of saltness, bitterness, and sweetness.
Whether we are sampling, tasting, indulging, or devouring, this multi-faceted sense linked to food is also rooted in our concept of transmission and sharing. It helps us discover a taste for different things, and the tastes of others. And above all it allows us to experience the taste of pleasure itself. It’s no surprise we now have common expressions such as “a taste for life.”
From the dawn of taste to its evolution
Some of our taste preferences are handed down to us, as a fetus discerns flavors and smells through the placenta. When children are born, they already have experience as little gourmets! As they grow older, awakening and developing their sense of taste means helping them to discover the world.
Some tastes are innate while others are learned, and our sense of taste matures and develops with age. Many of us seek out new or forgotten flavors, daring to try new tastes from far-flung lands and experience the unusual delight of certain blends. This adventure of taste is a way of opening ourselves up to the world, and therefore to others.
“He can lose his edge when satiated,” observed the Marquise de Châtelet, the first “woman of knowledge” and Voltaire’s muse. And it seems that taste is now more than ever a standard-bearer for elegance and purity.
Cultivating our sense of (good) taste also means cultivating a certain art de vivre, so let’s make sure our taste buds never lose their edge!
Continue this sensory journey by reading our interview with Alain Ducasse about taste.