Our sense of taste is soaked in memories. One whiff of Pot-pie or a taste of salty, crumbly, biscuit is all that is needed to transport us back to grandma’s kitchen. Time, place, and our approximate age all come flooding back to us as our brains interpret the signatures of just a few wandering molecules. If all of our mouths are this sensitive to taste, then why do Chef’s palates seem so capable of identifying particular flavors than that of the average cook? How do they use this measuring device to its full potential?
Humans tongues all taste the same things the same 5 ways. Every delicious morsel of food and drink is a combination of Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter, and Umami (we’ll get to umami in another blog). Through constantly thinking about what you taste and the different layers of flavors you experience in each mouthful, evaluation becomes easier. Try to break down what you taste in the chronological order that it hits your taste buds. What flavors came first middle and last? What seemed to be the dominant flavor? Is there something that seems out of place? You may not be able to identify what something is “missing” but realizing that things are out of balance is a huge step in the right direction to proper adjustment.
The reason that a Chef’s palate is so finely tuned is because of the sheer volume and variety of foodstuffs that pass through his mouth each day. Being able to taste so many different items and analyzing them each time is what builds up our “taste bank”. Right now you can think about what garlic tastes like, you can almost feel it on your palate and you definitely know when something has too much of it. Every flavor has its own signature; some subtle and some obvious. With careful, analytical focus on each mouthful of food that you eat—taking into account sweet, sour, bitter, and salty—you’ll begin to see how flavors build and complement each other.