Friday, August 19, 2011

Personal differences

I actually think several people have taken my pleasure or displeasure in a food to heart.  Liking or disliking a food is not a personal judgment of whoever suggested it. If someone happens to like Butterfingers, so be it.  I don’t.  So I won’t eat them and I also won’t condemn anyone who does.  I also don’t like water chestnuts or ricotta cheese, but no one is saddened when I don’t eat their manicotti—only when I don’t like the chocolate.

Someone recently told me that taste is flavor plus texture.  I had never thought of it that way.  In college I took a physical anthropology lab where we talked a lot about DNA and biology.  One of our experiments involved testing how sensitive we each were to bitterness.  I won’t go into the details of the actual experiment, but I was extremely sensitive to bitter.  I was the most sensitive in the class, actually.  Apparently it is a genetic trait and the rest of my family would be very sensitive too.  The theory is that way-back-when on the savannah, the ability to taste bitterness would have been advantageous because poisonous plants often have a very bitter flavor and, therefore, my ancestors were less likely to die from eating a poisonous tubers.  Today, it just means I don’t like a variety of vegetables.  I don’t eat foods beets or radishes, turnips—all things that have a tendency to taste bitter. 

Citrus is interesting, too.  I am very sensitive to citrus flavors as well.  I can taste little traces of it in cookies or ice cream—all that lemon zest!  But the ability to taste citrus is due more to the fact that I haven’t had a lot of it in my life.  It’s a foreign flavor to my tongue.  I’m not suggesting that I have one of those palates like a sommelier or food critic.  Far from it.  I can’t differentiate a lot of flavors like coffee and chocolate; they both taste the same to me.  Similarly, dark chocolate and dirt taste a lot alike to me as well.

But texture is an interesting idea.  I remember hearing once that diets based on pureed beverages are likely to fail because people will quickly begin to crave crunchy and chewy foods.   Our bodies are programmed to want a variety of textures, most likely in an effort to maintain a balanced diet.  Sometimes evolution is so amazing!  I’m very curious about how one’s personal eating habits shape one’s taste buds and preferences.  It also just makes me want to keep tasting new things!

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