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Jan 22, 2007 11:42 PM

Celebrating the tart taste sensation - not salty, sweet, bitter, hot, even...

...savory. I have my doubts about the "6th taste" umami. Another topic, another time.

Tart taste seems relatively overlooked.

Salt - we know exactly how much we want. It could be a little less, a little more, but too much less or too much more and the food tastes awful.

Sweet - it depends on the context. Are we talking wine or Turkish delights? Again, not too little or not too much.

Hot - now, it's a challenge. How much chili pepper can you REALLY take, huh, showoff? It seems there's no limit for some people. Some people could do without it altogether.

Bitter is pretty much unexplored. Again, another time.

Now, sour. Have you ever had something so deliciously tart you wanted more even though it made your mouth pucker? How much more tart (tarter?) can you take?

I am trying my hardest to remember the name of an LA restaurant (a 2-syllable name - on La Cienega?) where I once had a whole platter of the tartest berry desserts I've ever had. It was pleasurable in a painful sort of way.

Severely tart things you've tasted? Liked, even?

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  1. i used to peel and eat whole lemons as a kid. i love tart foods. sour tangerines, mangoes, kumquats, etc. i agree that tartness isn't discussed as much. but the balance of acidity is really important for good salad dressings, for example. people go on about the sweetness of fresh fresh in sushi, but i hardly hear anybody talk about the vinegared rice that sushi gets its name from.

    1. I love sour!

      Currently I am addicted to citron presse -- which, in Paris, is brought to you as a glass of straight lemon juice (generally around 6oz), with a small side pitcher of water and the sugar dispenser. You add as much water to your lemon as you wish (or none at all) with as much or as little sugar.

      Cape gooseberries are some of the sourest things I've had -- though I found out the hard way that eating a quart can cause tummy trouble.

      I have been known to eat a lick of "sour salt" (citric acid) and occasionally add it to my guacamole to pump up the sour. I also add it to my lemon tart filling for the same reason.

      1. I like tart but not necessarily sour. The tartness of really good lemon curd for instance. But it is tempered with sugar but hopefully not too much. But flat out sour all on it's own I'm not crazy about

        1. I like "tart" as well -- it's probably my favorite single "flavor" although I usually think of it as "bright." It's as intrinsic to the enjoyment food as any other "taste" -- when you hear people talk about something needing acid or having a good acid balance, that's what they mean.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            Perfection for anybody lies somewhere in the middle.


            We individually adjust it just like the way we adjust the brightness and contrast bar (it came in handy today).

            It may verge on too technical, but sometimes I think it would be neat to have a common understanding of tastes we can fine-tune and compare for the foods we love, like preferences for "sleep number" beds (whatever that is), or Pantone designer color number, you know?

            1. re: grocerytrekker

              Yeah, that would be way cool. It would also help you decide where and what to eat. For example, there's a chef I love, and I think it's because his palate is very similar to mine. So using your "sleep number" analogy, if my "taste number" was 85, I could look for chefs whose number is close to that, and have a pretty good idea I'd like the way their food tastes. On the other hand, if a chef was a 40, I might decide to go elsewhere. Actually, I like the idea of a color spectrum: it's much less judgmental; and I've always thought of some flavors being "red" flavors (roasted, toasted, "rich")and some being "green" flavors (bright, fresh, acidic).

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                This makes you think... it really doesn't work until we arbitrarily assign something to the shades of the color spectrum.

                Red - hot chilies, cinnamon "hot"
                Orange - curry flavors, nutty flavors, savory seafood flavors
                Yellow - buttery, cheesy, sweet
                Green - crisply tart
                Blue - salt
                Indigo - bitter
                Violet - perfume, menthol, wasabi, the olfactory influence

                This can be fun!

          2. Several years ago, eGullet ran a wonderful series on the Science of the Kitchen that included a 2-part course on Taste and Texture by Janet Zimmerman. This is a highly informative document that goes over the 4 tastes plus 1 (Sweet, Salty, Sour, Bitter plus Umami). She documents the physiology of the tongue, the effects of the olfactory sense, and many other factors. Part two delves into textures. In fact "Hot" is a chemosensory perception, which she goes into in the texture discussion, not as a taste. These documents (part 1 and 2) are still there and definitely worth the reading, especially when we think about having a common set of analysis tools to talk to. Otherwise we'll all start discussing the 13th taste...

            Here's part 1 - dig around for part 2: