Our sense of taste keeps us safe and makes eating enjoyable. Learning to take advantage of how the tastes of different ingredients and seasonings contribute to the overall flavor of a dish can make your meals more delicious.
And that will make you really appreciate your sense of taste!
What is taste?
Taste is the sensation we perceive when a food comes into contact with the taste cells on our tongues. Our brain uses this info on taste, texture, temperature, and odor to synthesize flavor.
Our ability to taste gradually declines as we age. Our taste buds get replaced about every two weeks. As we get older, some of the taste buds die off without new ones taking their place. This diminishes our sense of taste over time. Thus, some foods, especially those with bitter flavors, like vegetables, taste stronger to kids because they have more taste buds.
How taste serves us
We likely evolved to like the flavors of sweet, savory (also called umami) and salty because they are indications that nutrients are present in that food. We’re not as crazy about bitter flavors because they could indicate toxins. And aside from keeping us from eating things that might kill us or encouraging us to eat more of the things that will sustain us, taste helps make food enjoyable.
How different tastes within the same food affect the overall flavor
The presence of one taste can enhance, balance or diminish the taste of another. For example, sweetness can offset sour and bitter tastes. And salt and umami can enhance all of the other flavors in a dish.
MSG boosts the umami flavor of a dish. Interestingly, when used instead of salt, MSG can lower the amount of sodium in a food without the food tasting any less salty. And when MSG is added to foods with inosinate and guanylate, the umami flavor is sensed more strongly than if each of the ingredients were used individually. (Inosinate and guanylate are ribonucleotides that impart an umami flavor. Inosinate is naturally found in meat and fish, and guanylate is found in mushrooms.)
How to use taste to your advantage
Watch any of the popular cooking shows on TV now, and you’ll see that the key to an amazing dish is layering flavors and seasoning correctly. Ingredients like cheese, mushrooms, and miso paste will make a dish more savory. Tomatoes will add both acid and umami. Soy sauce, fish sauce, and prosciutto will add saltiness and umami.
Proper seasoning and layering flavors will not only elevate your cooking, but it can make less popular dishes like vegetables downright delicious. This may mean less fighting with your kids over eating their vegetables!
For more on how to use taste to your advantage, check out Chef Chris’s tips on The Art of Building Flavor in Recipes.