Discovering Your Senses – Taste

The word alone conjures up so many different ideas for me. As I delved deeper into the topic, thanks to this month’s articles and calls, a whole new world of possibilities reveals itself. Through sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste, we have access to so much information, it is really quite astounding. Let’s explore this topic of Taste today, and see what more deliciousness we can invite through our senses.

What is Taste?
Taste is a means of perception brought to us through different areas of our tongue. It helps us to differentiate spice from salt, sweet from bitter and allows us to enjoy the richness of different foods.

Initially food was considered one of the basic human needs: food, shelter and clothing. But over the years, food has gone from a necessity to a lively market which includes financial, social, and luxury arenas. Today, in fact, the food industry is a major employer and income-generator for a large sector of the population. It also gifts us the pleasure of a beloved and globally shared passion: eating!
And all this centers around the celebration of this wonderful sense that is – taste!

How does this sense of taste work?
There are five different tastes that are perceptible through our tongue’s receptors. Each one of them reflects the presence of a different element: sweet taste in food signals the presence of sugar; salty taste indicates the presence of minerals; an excessively sour or bitter taste may alert us to the presence of potentially poisonous elements; umami confirms the presence of proteins. And how much more information do these receptors give us? We may be relatively familiar with salty, sweet, sour and bitter, but what do we know about the latest discovery, umami?

What is this umami?
Umami has recently been unveiled as the fifth taste. Recognized as a savoury and delicious taste present in rich foods, it is also said that umami contains glutamate, an element found in breast milk. Say what?!?!

That’s right, this newly discovered taste of umami gives us a full-packaged, nurturing and wholesome sensation that stimulates sensations in us that go beyond our palette – it reaches and settles into our very being. Why is that? Well, perhaps because the presence of glutamate in the umami taste triggers memories of the first identifiable food for the human race –  breast milk. Wow! So, whether or not you were breastfed as a baby, the presence of umami on your palette can activate a feeling of home, safety and belonging.

It is interesting how food and tastes alone can connect us to the roots, history and memory of things that we may or may not even be cognitively aware of.

The five different tastes – sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami – and the ways they are used, usually distinguish different groups, cultures, and geographical areas, often providing nationalities with a large part of their identity: the pizzas and pastas of Italy, the hot dogs and cheeseburgers of the USA, sushi and sashimi from Japan, chicken tikka masala from India, borscht from Russia.

What else is truly possible through this basic yet profound sense of taste?

Bridging the gap through Flavor
“There is so much more that unites us than separates us” is the tagline to my book 7steps to Flawless Communication.

I love hosting international dinners and events and including a variety of these tastes in the menu. It always peeks a sense of curiosity and delight in my guests as they get a chance to explore a taste of different cultures.

Taste is a way to celebrate different flavors and discover new sensations. In addition to the deliciousness of the food, there is also the richness of histories embedded into the flavors of the food we eat. Discussions and sharing different tastes and flavors can unite people, bridge cultural gaps and lower barriers of communication. It might be the smell emanating from the kitchen of a stranger that reminds you of the love your mother poured into your favorite dish, or the memory of the best pasta you ever had that ignites your passion to finally learn Italian.

Food is also a major influencer for travellers who trot across the globe to visit a small town or major city known for a particular dish. The origins of certain tastes – and how they combined with other tastes to create celebrated dishes – is a topic of many television shows lately. It is also a great incentive for food lovers, like me. I personally love experiencing the local flavor of a place through the people, food, wine, smells, sights and sounds. In my trips around the globe, the magic of taste creates rich memories of my visits and actually influences my choice of where to go next.

Taste is definitely a super-sense – it brings with it the joy of eating along with memories of our past, a sense of comfort in the present and inspires possibilities for a future that we have yet to explore.

I look forward to exploring even more about the five senses and beyond but in the meantime, remember to savour the richness of this sense of TASTE, today.

Kass Thomas

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