How often do you eat your food consciously, paying close attention to every bite? Most of us tend to eat quickly. That’s a shame, especially when we’re having food we actually love, like chocolate. But mindful eating, how does that work?
It’s weird: if you listen to music, you hear all kinds of instruments, some of them loud, others more gentle, you hear the various melodies – but when it comes to flavors and scents, we tend to summarize them as ‘good!’. However, if you want to enjoy your food attentively, it’s quite hard to describe all the things you taste. It seems like you have to be an expert to, for instance, taste wine the right way, but that’s not the case.
Science journalist Bob Holmes recently published an entire book on taste, called ‘Flavor’. If there’s one thing he’d like his readers to know, it’s that everyone can improve their skills in appointing and recognizing flavors. If you can taste the difference between wines or apples, and you can tell a strawberry apart from a raspberry, you’ll be fine. The rest is a matter of practice and attention.
A few fun, playful exercises to start with:
1. Have some chocolate, and enjoy it attentively
The next time you’re having chocolate, eat it attentively and try to appoint what you smell and taste. Start with the looks of the bar. What does the chocolate look like, how does it smell? Then have a bite. What does it taste like? How creamy is the chocolate?
Once you’ve finished the bar: have an apple each day, buy several kinds of apples. What does it look like, what does it smell like? How crisp is the apple? Would you call the taste sweet, or rather sour? Does the peel have a bitter taste? You can rate the apple too. Rating it helps you to pay attention more and it enables you to compare the next apple to this one.
2. A fun taste experiment with jelly beans
An experiment that’s a lot of fun to do with kids: buy a packet of jelly beans (yes, they are very sugary, but we’re not making a fuss about it this time). Pinch your nose, close your eyes, and put a jelly bean in your mouth (let someone else check the color). What do you taste? A little sweet, perhaps some salt or sour, but that’s about it. After about five seconds, let go of your nose, so you can smell again. You’ll experience a taste explosion. And immediately, you will know how much the scent of your food influences the taste.
3. Throw wine in the food processor (for science!)
It’s a common thing to do before having a sip of wine: turning your glass around. This adds oxygen to the wine, which gives more expression to the aroma. But there’s a more stringent way: throw a glass of wine in the food processor and let it turn around on the highest volume. A mediocre wine will produce an extremely intense scent. (The taste evaporates quickly, though. If you want to enjoy your wine slowly, this is not the right experiment for you.)
Starting to enjoy it? Try the more serious approach. Oftentimes, it’s quite difficult to really grasp a scent or flavor. That’s why for several products, a ‘flavor wheel’ was developed. In the wheel, you can see the several tastes you might come across. Flavor wheels for wine are quite well known, but there are also wheels for beer, coffee, honey, chocolate and apples. Simply reading a taste wheel raises your awareness of the big variety of tastes.
Another bit of trivia: salt neutralizes the dominant bitter taste of, for instance, beer. That’s why the combination ‘beer and crisps’ is so common: with a bowl of crisps or peanuts, the different flavors in the beer are more expressive. But it also works for bitter vegetables and fruit. Is your grapefruit very bitter? Put some salt on it, and suddenly, you’ll taste a lot more.
Want to know more about tasting?
Bob Holmes, ‘Flavor, the science of our most neglected sense’ (W.W. Norton & Company, 2017).
Text: Anne Wesseling