The subjectivity of taste makes it an interesting topic to examine. In an earlier post, I brought up a statement I had once heard , throwing open the idea that what I taste cannot be proven to be the same as what another person does. What tastes like an apple to me is not guaranteed to taste the same for you.
I was confronted with an interesting question today – I was asked what my tastes were when it came to food. While i spit out a rote answer – “simple, flavourful, fresh, well-balanced food”, it lead me to thinking, what were really my tastes? Simple isnt really a taste – it’s a subjective opinion. Flavourful and fresh – well, one is self-evident, and fresh is almost impossible to describe. At the root of it, I know i prefer salty over sweet, and sour over bitter, but what is it about each of these elements that is appealing, or not appealing to me? Is it a balance of tastes I prefer that make up my preferences? Or is there more to it than just what my tastebuds register?
As a child, my tastes were defined by what was cooked for me. Familiar food was good food. Somewhere along the way, it stopped being about what was familiar, and more about what I truly enjoyed. Sometimes. I remember “liking” some foods because it grossed other people out. I remember liking some foods because i was supposed to like them. I remember liking some foods because my brother liked it, and gosh be damned that he would like something that I would not! So in being honest with myself, I know that a lot of my tastes come from a variety of influences – not just what is on my palette.
My theory? I think the reason food connects with people on such a deep level is because it is one part emotional, one part taste, one part chemisty, and one part familiarity. Emotional are the strong experiences, both positive and negative, that we associated with certain foods. Taste is the reaction of my tastebuds to what I am tasting. Chemistry has to do with the interaction of the food with your mouth chemistry (part saliva, part pH), and familiarity is how familiar the experience is to you, people being creatures of familiarity.
Watching Top Chef tonight, I heard an interesting statement. Tom Colicchio called one contestant’s food “uni-taste”. Is this such a bad thing? Is it layers of taste that make up balance, interest, and complexity? Or can a single flavour, one pure taste, not be equally enjoyable? Is this just something personal to him, or something commonly found across most people?
I find this to be personally confusing, as I really have no idea on how to answer the question “what are your tastes”? I throw it out to you readers – what are the key elements that make up your taste? And how would you define them?