Chinese Spice Market - © notjustanotherblondeinbeijing.blogspot

The Science of Flavour

There’s a great article in this month’s National Geographic Magazine which no serious cook, let alone Foodie, should miss. It’s all about how the brain perceives the flavour of the foods you eat. But I also want to take the opportunity to clear up a rampant misuse of the English Language…

Raw Spices - Chinese Market - © notjustanotherblondeinbeijing.blogspot.caAn Asian spice market: Perhaps one of the most challenging environments
your flavour sense will ever navigate!

That misuse – or abuse, depending on how strongly you feel about it – is the ongoing confusion over the meaning of the words ‘flavour’ and ‘taste’ No! They do not mean the same thing!

‘Flavour’ is the combined sensation you experience from the visual, oral and olfactory inputs produced when you put food in your mouth and chew. ‘Taste’ is, first and foremost, a verb describing the act of putting food in your mouth and getting the flavour inputs. Okay. ‘Taste’ also comes off as a noun, as in ‘you’ve got good taste’. But that meaning, too, is derived from the act of tasting. In this form, ‘taste’ means you have a discerning palate. Or, by extension, wise and becoming preferences in fashion, decor or other areas where value is often more subjective then objective. In short, you taste flavours.

I just had to get that linguistic monkey off my back!

So, what about the National Geographic article?

It’s a real eye-opener about the whole concept of flavour and how we form a sensory image of different foods in our mind.

  • Did you know that ‘flavour’ is the most complex of all the senses and uses a greater variety of inputs than the rest of them put together?
  • Did you know that the old notion that we taste different flavours on different parts of our tongue is totally bogus?
  • Did you know that the lion’s share of the input your brain gets about the food you eat comes not from your mouth but from your nose?
  • Did you know that ‘umami’ has officially been adopted as a fifth basic flavour?

Visit the article online for lots more on the science of flavour. It might just change the way you think about cooking, and the way you choose and use ingredients!

~ Maggie J.