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Improving the Palate

Dear Hounds,

I've been slowly noticing over the past few years that my husband, who could subsist on nothing but macaroni and cheese alone, actually has a very good palate. He can pick out different flavors within dishes, or taste my cooking and tell me exactly what it needs.

Naturally this is a source of consternation for me, since I'm the one who's actually interested in food. I'd like to improve my palate, pick out the flavors for myself, maybe even show him up a time or two.

Hounds, are there any exercises you know of that help improve the palate? Become more sensitive to individual tastes within a dish? Learn how to adjust seasoning when you cook? Anything? Anything? Bueller?

(Note that I'm not talking about learning to like different foods; I am a very adventurous eater who will try almost anything.)

Cristin
www.thefourseasonings.com

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  1. There are people who cannot taste as well as super tasters and everything in between. I know this may sound obvious but just take the time to think about what you are eating as you are eating it. I think it helps to pay attention to what you ate just before you are tasting or what you are eating/drinking in combination. If you ate something sweet, it will affect the way you taste. Pay attention to the way food smells. If you close your eyes, it may allow you to taste the food in a different way. Also be aware of how medications, age, illness and deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals can also affect taste. I think if you have been cooking something, it is harder to taste it for you than for someone who just walked in the room. I sometimes use my husband just for this reason.

    1. I'm in agreement that some people are just naturally more sensitive to taste than others. But I think there are things you can do to to educate your knowledge of what you are tasting.

      Taste each part of a dish by itself. If you make sauce taste each ingredient separately and note how they mingle together.

      The describe the flavor and texture without using the word of what it is. Cucumber is fresh, crispy, cool, refreshing.

      Get into a ll your spices and taste them. try things you've never tried before.

      1. Thanks, guys. I suppose I should specify that I'm supposed to be a supertaster, which I discovered during a technical experiment in grad school designed to ferret out those of us who supposedly have "the gift." Needless to say, I was surprised, because due to my palate I had assumed I would be a non-taster.

        www.thefourseasonings.com

        4 Replies
        1. re: cristinh

          Do you like food with what others might think is a low level of seasoning?

          I used to work in a food lab and we taste tested raw ingredients that the company wanted to purchase against a control. I am not a supertaster but had the highest accuracy to pick the odd sample out of three samples. I think there is more to tasting than strictly physiology.
          I would also take a specific ingredient and taste different brands or types. I think different people taste one thing or another better. I can pick out some specific brands of chocolate but my husband is very sensitive to cheeses and more pungent things.

          1. re: cristinh

            If you are a super taster this could mean your husband is a medium taster. Super tasters are extremely sensitive to certain taste and can be overwhelmed very easily.

            While your husband maybe able to drink a chocolate stout and identify the ingredients, a super taster such as yourself may be overwhelmed by the bitterness.

            1. re: cristinh

              Cristin being a supertaster has very little to do with your "palate" - as a matter of fact being a supertaster can be a detriment to having a good palate as it can throw your tasting out of whack. As a matter of fact, I would say that you'd want your tastebuds to be as average as possible if you're seeking the ideal palate.

              For me the trick is to smell and analyze the contents of a food every time I eat and ask questions about what ingredient is contributing what to the food. And when cooking, taste your food at frequent intervals and ask what each additional ingredient does to the flavor of your dish. I also taste frequently when making things like stew to see how the flavor changes with time.

              In other words...just keep trying! :)

            2. Smell your food and incorporate that into your "tasting."

              1 Reply
              1. I've noticed that I can taste foods better (cleaner and brighter) when other people cook.
                My theory is that when I cook, my nose and taste buds become saturated with what I'm cooking via the aromas coming off the cooking food and the tasting/sampling.

                Also, I believe that tasting the different ingredients come from experimenting around with recipes so you can taste the difference.

                1 Reply
                1. re: dave_c

                  And a great excuse to get my husband cooking! Ha!

                2. you know, i find the same with my BF - he has an uncanny knack for tasting things i cannot identify, and it pisses me off because i care much more about food than he does -he's more discerning, which actually means he ends up raving about less meals/tastes than i do. but i do think it's a fairly innate gift. i spend a lot time trying to be more sensitive to tastes, in wine, in food, etc. and i'm better than i used to be, just by dint of paying more attention, but it does not come as naturally to me as it does to him.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: mariacarmen

                    I'm kind of relieved to hear it, mariacarmen. Nice to know I'm not alone here. We've just begun some experiments in "mindful eating," meaning we look at a recipe's ingredient list and try to pick out a particular flavor within the dish. It works with wine, too, when you get a bottle that lists the flavors very specifically.

                    www.thefourseasonings.com

                  2. I think if you categorize different types of "eaters," I tend to think more serious wine drinkers have (or at least claim to have or try to have) some of the most discerning palates/noses. They can discern slight differences between the same types of wines, and also pick up on nuances of different flavor profiles and bouquets. One will often read comments like, " tobacco, passion fruit, melons, barnyard," etc. Some are gifted with this nose, others train their noses to pick up on and differentiate.

                    Gary Vaynerchuck is a somewhat controversial subject amongst wine wonks, as his style is very "different" from the establishment. What I like about him is that he doesn't take himself so seriously, yet has the nose for wine. And he attributes much of this to his curiosity and fascination with flavors, tastes, and eventually those of wines well before he was of legal age. Here's a segment he did a while back on training one's wine palate, which I think is a great way to develop your palate in general. Be warned that he can seem like an adolescent at times, but get past that (or just take it tongue-in-cheek) and you'll get the message... :)

                    http://tv.winelibrary.com/2006/12/15/...