Friday, May 31, 2019

BRAMBLES: Amazing Taste!

One of many papillae types on the tongue

 Mostly, I sit back with amazement when in the company of more perceptive tasters.  The insights that their palates share with their brains just blows my mind, and humbles me in that I did not share in the same immediate recognition.  I feel better when I remember that a minority of the population may have inherited the abilities of 'super-tasters', the benefit/curse when many chemical compounds are perceived more strongly.  As it turns out in this inexact science, it may effect s much as a quarter of the population.  It was helpful then to re-examine how it is that we recognize 'taste'.

 Our taste receptors are not universal. These individual sensors ignite a chemical reaction to a smell, then compounded with those recognized by the tongue and throat receptors, all sending sensory information to the singular brain.  Additionally, our brains also help when we anticipate how something familiar will taste once we see it.  That perceived smell too becomes an integral part of what we savor and connects to our taste histories that are as individual as we are.  Common basic tastes of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami(savory), can be found in just about everything we put in our mouths, with some strong compounds easier to detect than others. Add pungent, and astringent tastes, and you've got a real mental exercise for the brain to decipher with each anticipated gulp or bite.  Simply, the ability to taste uniquely for our species is just amazing.

Anticipation of taste sets a response.
 Even as a scent can be strongly impressionable, its the blanket in our mouth holding numerous receptor cells, each papillae with thousands of tiny taste buds that is tasked with sending a stream of recognition impulses to our brains.  As it turns out, it is in our individual brains where we actually  'taste'.  This relationship between our sight, our nose, our tongue, our throat and our brain means that 'taste' is unique to each individual taster.  An individuals taste history aside, strong 'flavours', like strawberry, lime or tar(can't forget that smell) are more commonly recognized, while many others require individual repetition and memory.  The exercise of taste, of recognition and repeat helps us to catalog and then anticipate what things actually taste like.  If we had never tasted a kiwi it would have very little flavor anticipation for most of us.

It happens in an instant.  We make connections that spark a memory, impulses that run non-stop from our brains to our olfactory perception and back again.  If it smells bad, we may decide not to drink it.  With nose-blindness or odor fatigue our brains can eventually create an inability to recognize certain odor compounds(consider folks who work at the city dump).  Plus, our sense of taste changes as we age, even as its taste memories remain.  Plus, a loss of recognition is generally accepted as we evolve into mature consumers of food and beverage, so much so that a fabulous sampling years ago of a acclaimed '69 Bordeaux may never be repeated.   

A beverage temperature(cold mutes aromas), the tasting environment(two vodkas and a heavy perfume), and certainly our health(stuffy nose?) also will effect how we are able to perceive taste. Tasting then is always trying to catch those past memories that may never come again. No two experiences are never exactly alike, and for each taster it becomes uniquely sensual.  It is this human ability to taste recognize so much, to experience wide variation, that keeps us in pursuit of the savor moment.  Tasting for us is the here and now of recognizing pleasing aromatic and flavor compounds, and the new memories they may create.  So, if I continue to enjoy drinking what I like, and focus on what is physically happening in that moment, it will happen again. Now I don't feel so out-witted when raising a celebrated glass, because I too am blessed with amazing taste!