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Ranking the importance of the five human senses for cooking

My order would be the following:

1. Touch
2. Smell
3. Taste
4. Sight
5. Hearing

But here's my question. You could probably rearrange Nos. 1-4 in almost any order and not get much of any argument from most people, but would it be appropriate to rank Hearing anything higher than No. 5?

I'm not saying that the sense of Hearing is never used in cooking, it's just that in comparison to the other senses, it seems to me that Hearing is the least important.

If you do think Hearing should be higher than last, I'd be curious to hear (pun intended) about how or why Hearing is important or critical to your cooking.

In other words, how do you use your sense of Hearing in your cooking?

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  1. I'd probably rank it:
    1. Sight
    2. Smell
    3. Taste
    4. Touch
    5. Hearing

    Hearing, that's a good question. I know that when my sauce has been going for a few hours, it should make a gentle "glurp" sound occasionally. And when my egg hits the fry pan, there is a certain timbre of "szszszszsz" that tells me the pan is the correct temperature. Or the rapid-fire "swwapswwapswwap" that my chef's knife makes when it hits the cutting board tells me when I'm in my groove. Of all of those, the fry pan sound is the most important to me, but none of them is really as necessary as something like sight or smell to my cooking.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Cachetes

      I think sight for me is always first, smell and taste second and third could easily be switched. Touch, only if the food is one you would touch and hearing only if it is a food that you hear cooking, like a seared steak, fried egg as cachetes said.

      Hearing and touch wouldn't be the top 3 for the most part.

    2. I'm not ranking right now, just commenting.

      When we were cooking from the Fish Without a Doubt COTM the instructions for sauteeing a fillet of fish was to place it in a hot, oiled pan, press down with a spatular, and Listen For The Sizzle. That's how we would know the fish was searing or the skin was crisping.

      1. Are you talking about purely the cooking experience, or also the purchasing of ingredients? While I use touch for meat etc. to feel if I think it is done, I don't think I use touch in any other aspects of cooking that I can think of.

        4 Replies
        1. re: MMRuth

          I would include the purchasing process as well.

          1. re: MMRuth

            There are just a few aspects of cooking that require touch - such as feeling the consistancy of dough, or as Ruth mentioned to feel if meat is done.
            I love the feel of food in my hands as I'm mixing something like meatballs, or certain salads.
            I will mix a salad by hand to get a feel that everything has been properly mixed, melded, and coated with the right amount of oil/dressing/whatever.

            But for me it's -

            1. re: NellyNel

              I agree with NellyNel completely

            2. re: MMRuth

              possibly touch would matter as relates to kneading bread. I am only know learning to determine meats doneness by presses it with my fingers. Mostly I have burned fingertips (g)

            3. I'd probably put smell first...chicken can LOOK okay but if it smells off, forget it--fish fillets too--I smell things constantly before cooking or eating.
              1. Smell
              2. Taste
              3. Sight
              4. Touch
              5. Hearing

              1. Generally speaking, I'm with Val and NellyNel on the order - arguing with myself over the equality of 1 and 2. But there are certainly foods that I'd much rather associate a related sound as opposed to a sight.

                I certainly have some food items I enjoy eating but certainly don't want to linger over a visual dissection. I'd think we all have foods that we wonder "Who was the first person to decide THAT disgusting looking thing lying there on the beach (substitute your venue) may taste good".

                1. Hearing is important. I have to hear my smoke alarm go off to know my food is done don't I?

                  My rankings are the same as Val, CocoaNut and NellyNel's:

                  1. Smell (is fruit ripe? is fish fresh? does a dish smell done / good / well seasoned?)
                  2. Taste (is my dish salted / seasoned properly? does it have too much heat?... or maybe heat is a touch issue?)
                  3. Sight (is the skin on the chicken browned / the inside no longer pink? has the candy syrup boiled to the proper stage / consistency? is the oven warmed to the right temp? is the gas range on the right setting? am i chopping vegetables in the right sized dice?)
                  4. Touch (am i burning my hand on the stove? does my stew feel too thick as I'm stirring it? are there lumps in X? is my crepe sticking to the pan? dammit, did i cut my finger again?)
                  5. Hearing (is my soup bubbling too hard in the pot as i sit at the kitchen table, working? is the popcorn / black mustard seed done popping?)

                  1. I think hearing plays a big role in the "instinct" developed with a lot of cooking. I think a large part of just *knowing* when something's done is registering changes in cooking noises, consciously or not.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Aromatherapy

                      i very much rely on hearing. as food cooks, the sound changes and progresses. i also do ALOT of stovetop cooking. smell is next, since i can smell how something tastes and also follow its move from raw to cooked.

                      and yeah, hearing the smoke detector and /or smelling smoke: you guys are my cooking soulmates. :)

                    2. Important sounds related to cooking for us include: smoke detector, the sound of the pressure cooker being up to pressure or pressure having gone down, and "Dinner's ready!" when the other one is cooking! I can also hear the chocolate chip bag being opened downstairs when I'm upstairs...

                      There's the melon thumping to test for ripeness but I go more by smell. Interestingly neither my husband nor I has good directional hearing...

                        1. re: lgss

                          I enjoyed reading this thread. I love cooking, food, wine and the people that share that with me.

                        2. I'd agree with others that smell is #1 for cooking. The only times I use hearing for "cooking" is when I'm foaming milk for cappuccino. There's a very distinct sound when the steamer arm is in the right part of the milk to maximize the foam.

                          Of course hearing is also super important when you need to hear the timer go off, I use one a lot so things don't get burnt, when the smoke detector goes off it's too late :-)

                          1. Smell- I was just thinking the other day that I don't eat with my eyes first- I smell it, then taste it as I'm looking at it (kinda), then touching... Cooking would be the same.
                            Went shopping with a coworker and we are in Produce with me cracking open blister packs of tomatoes and smelling them, then re-arranging them while the guy is watching and listening, saying 'oh just put 'em in a paper bag for a few days' -
                            I was making her nervous smelling and groping everything...

                            1. Justin Wilson once enumerated how the first four senses were involved. Then, he said, "One day, you gonna catch youself listening to hear if the rice is done."

                              1. Am I the only one? When I first thought of the 5 senses and came to "feel", my mind went directly to the texture of the food and how it plays on the tongue. Like when eating an oyster; no matter how well it strikes the other senses, if it has grit in it, it doesn't work for me. Slimy okra, same thing, etc.

                                Not till reading some of the responses did "hand" feel occur to me. Not really sure I care about that much except maybe squeezing certain produce to check for ripeness.

                                1. 1. Taste/smell
                                  2. Sight
                                  3. Touch
                                  4. Hearing

                                  Lobsters look like giant bugs. Southeast Asians love their duck fetuses and he heart grey-colored glop of the 50s qualifies as comfort food for millions of Americans. A beautiful meal can heighten the experience of eating and our natural proclivity towards a colorful banquet (indicating nutritional range) might involve sight, but they only serve to acentuate the deliciousness of the food, which is foremost (and given that the sense of smell is so entwined with taste, I don't think they can be separated). In ordering sight vs. touch, I think you could encounter some cultural divisions here. Asian cuisines place a very high emphasis on texture and I hate to have meals that lack it, whereas it seems Westerners on this thread associate touch with the act of preparing food and not its ingestion.

                                  Few foods are an auditory experience. I love the sizzle and crackle of something served a la plancha or bibimbap, but mostly I use hearing to tell when fried foods need to be turned. I await the day we breed oysters intelligent enough to talk to me about the morality of carnivorism before I slurp them down.

                                  1. Hearing is quite important to me in cooking. Hearing tells me that the oil was hot enough when I added the onions, or that the skillet was hot enough when I put in the steak. It also tells me when my pot of rice is about to boil over. I can also tell when my bread is done by the sound of the tap on the bottom of the loaf. I wait for the butter to stop crackling before adding whatever it is I'm going to saute in it. Also, the snap of green beans tells me they're fresh.

                                    Smell: I know when the sauteed garlic is done by the way it smells. I also know by smell when it's time to take whatever I'm baking out of the oven. I don't think taste has much meaning without smell, so I'd have to rank them together.

                                    I think touch is the least important to me in cooking. Of course, it tells me when the potatoes are done. Texture is so important in eating, but in cooking I'm not sure I use it so much.

                                    I'm not sure where to put sight. Really important in eating, but I'm not sure how important in cooking. Sure, the color of food can be a good indicator of doneness or freshness, but I can get that from other senses too.

                                    1. When I read the title of your post, I immediately thought of hearing as highly important to me. Not sure how I would rank it, but here's my take on it. When I am cooking one item, hearing is probably less important, but when I am cooking several different things at the same time, hearing is absolutely vital, because I can only stir, chop, look at, taste one thing at a time. You can smell several things at once. But you can also listen to several things at once, so that you know, is the pot boiling? Is the bacon sizzling? Is there too much heat under the pork chops? You can determine all of these things and more with your back turned away or when you leave the room. I use hearing a LOT to determine if it's time to take the next step with meal preparation. I actually thought I had reached a new level in my intuitive cooking skills when I found myself relying more on hearing as part of the process.

                                      1. If we're talking about cooking I would rank:
                                        1. Smell
                                        2. Sight
                                        3. Hearing
                                        4. Taste
                                        5. Touch
                                        Mostly because I cook a lot of the same things or same styles multiple times and only taste later in the process. Touch? I never touch anything except meat.

                                        But shopping!
                                        1. Touch
                                        2. Smell
                                        3. Sight
                                        and taste if I can get it...

                                        Hearing is an important sense for me to use because I am not always looking at what's cooking. I may be chopping something else; I may be in another part of the room. I'm a multi-tasker. :) Is something sauteing at the right temp? Is it boiling/simmering at the right rate? Is that rice about to boil over?

                                        1. I can appreciate all of the answers here. In our case, it depends a little on what is being cooked. For example, if we are boiling pasta (or hard-boiling an egg), sound might actually be the most important. (First, we usually know the water is boiling by the sound it makes, and our first guess at when it is done is the sound of the timer going off. Of course, this is confirmed with a taste.) Smell might be last in this case, as in, "OMG the pasta's burning" which conveys the correct information, but too late to help. Sight would work for this purpose also, but you know the old saying about "watched" pots.

                                          I am sure I could think of other examples where the ranking would differ, but in 80% to 90% of cases my rankings would be: In buying food, probably smell, touch and sight as the normal 1,2,3. Most times in cooking, probably sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing.