- 1 Bitter
- 2 Sour
- 3 Salty
- 4 Sweet
Lets take a moment to discover the tongue and taste buds. After all the tongue is how we distinguish what makes anything we place in our mouths either enjoyable or unpleasant. What are the basic sensations of taste? Why do some items taste better to different people? How can I really educate myself to understand how to taste anything? The answers to these questions are simple. During my education at the Culinary Institute of America we spent some time learning not only how to taste but what taste really is and is not. Hopefully by the end of the blog you will understand some of the most basic techniques used to taste anything including cigars.
Notice the picture at the top of the page, also notice what is missing. That’s right I am not talking about the nose or soft palate at all in this blog. These also help us determine what we all think of as “taste” but technically we only taste four things with the tongue. Again notice the picture and see the areas highlighted in pink. These areas contain taste buds that do basically one thing. They only taste one of the four basic taste sensations which are bitter, sour, salty, and sweet.
Educating yourself about your tongue is important when trying to educate your palate. Here is a simple thing anyone can do to learn which areas of their own tongue tastes each of the four. Everyone is different and therefore you may taste sweet more to the middle of your tongue and that is okay. First take a solution of water and sugar (1:1) plug your nose and take a tooth pick and place a drop of this solution on the tip of your tongue. You should taste the sugar instantly. Now do the same thing around your tongue to determine what part of the tongue tastes the most sweet. From now on you will know what part of the tongue you taste sweet and if someone tells you this cigar, wine, scotch, or whatever is sweet you can focus more on that area of the tongue to determine if you agree or not. Second mix up another simple solution of salt water (1:1) plug your nose and repeat the same process until you can determine where you taste salt. Follow this process with lemon juice or vinegar for sour and strong cold black coffee for bitter. During this mapping process of your tongue you should also notice the area you least taste each of the four basic tastes.
So lets tackle the last topic of taste. Why does Joe like that cigar and I hate it? The answer to this question is simple his tongue is different. Joe may have more of one taste bud than you do in certain areas of his tongue therefore making different combinations of tastes more appealing to him than you.
Now that you understand what taste is and how to determine where you taste each of the four tastes on your tongue. Lets discuss some interesting trivia about the tongue. Why are certain areas of the tongue laid out to taste different things and why are they in such specific locations on the tongue? It is believed that we taste bitter at the back of the tongue and in the back of the throat because throughout evolution we learned that poisonous things taste bitter. So this is the body’s last defense against toxic ingestion. Bitter has the least taste appeal to most people and is the acquired taste. Hench we tend to teach ourselves to like the taste of coffee or beer. Notice a child’s reaction to the taste of coffee for instance. Sweet is located at the tip of the tongue again because of evolution. Most mammals produce milk and not surprising milk contains lactose (sugar) to stimulate the nursing instinct. Again notice a child’s response to candy, milk, or even a baby’s reaction to butter.
So what is taste? Taste is not flavor and flavor is not taste. Taste is only one of the following things. Sweet, Sour, Salty, or Bitter. Flavor is these combined with the nose which mixes air borne compounds making things have a flavor all to themselves unique. Next time you eat anything plug your nose you will know exactly what I mean and will forever understand the difference of taste v. flavor/aroma. I also hope you will now begin to start tasting things with just a bit more confidence. Start exploring and have fun.