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Can You Recall A Taste?

Had an interesting conversation with my SO the other day and I've been pondering something ever since. He basically said that he doesn't have a memory for "taste". He can remember what something looked like, what it felt like in his mouth, and whether or not he enjoyed it, but he cannot recall the actual taste.

I am at the other end of the spectrum: I can recall flavors from childhood - from individual dishes - and I can also recall when and where and who cooked the food and the event and so forth. I actually salivate and can almost "feel" the food in my mouth.

I had never really thought, though, about whether or not this was normal.

After giving it some thought, I can definitely see why he and I approach food so differently. He tends to ask me to look at a menu item and tell him how it might taste - I can usually, based on the description, get a strong sensation of the flavors (though not the textures) and how they might meld. He also asks me to choose for him when we go to an "assemble your food to order" type place - he has no idea what tastes might go with others. I can usually make a very fast order in such a place because I can just "taste" what the flavors will become together and this has to be because I can recall prior tastes and combinations and then can imagine how they'd come together in a different concoction.

I'm also wondering if this ability to taste from memory is why I like food so much? It is because food is tangible to me that I tend to obsess over the next meal? Because I can - almost literally - "taste" it?

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  1. Yes, absolutely. I can remember the taste of foods I haven't eaten in decades, like lamb chops. However, if we were introduced last night at a cocktail party, I have probably already forgotten your name or your face or both. The mind works in mysterious ways.

    5 Replies
      1. re: Dee S

        Maybe instead of shaking hands, I should just lick people. That might help my recall. It would certainly help theirs.

        1. re: small h

          Nice idea! I like how you think but I believe that might get you some trouble. No too many people like that.....well, not at first meeting! ;)

          1. re: small h

            ROTFLOL! Thanks for starting my Friday off with a genuine laugh!

            1. re: small h

              ha, yes!! I can (sort of) remember faces, but I can't remember names for the life of me!! Tastes... well I could tell you how the bluefish at my youngest sisters' first birthday party tasted, but my doctor that I'd seen a year? nope, not a chance i'd remember his name. You're licking idea has merit... but might lead to some awkward second meetings.... haha

        2. I can definitely remember tastes and imagine them. Sometimes makes it hard to read about food, because I can imagine how it tastes and want to eat it NOW lol.

          I'm pretty good at being able to 'blend' flavours in my head when planning dishes. If we are planning a new meal, Mr S just leaves it with me for a while to bounce it around in the brain. And aha! we should make a sauce flavoured like this, or serve this combo, etc.

          Makes for interesting questions...is this genetic or learned? how about 'eat to live' people?

          3 Replies
          1. re: Sooeygun

            Of course! That's why I try not to think about what I'm going to eat if we haven't decided where to go for dinner yet -- if I start thinking about Indian food, then Italian food will just taste wrong, and vice versa. Sooeygun, this post made me think the same thing. My guess is that every CH has a taste memory, and maybe people who don't care about food don't.

            1. re: Pia

              "if I start thinking about Indian food, then Italian food will just taste wrong, and vice versa "

              So true. Sometimes Mr S and I have planned for X meal/ style of food and he'll say why don't we have Y. No, my brain's been preparing for X all day!

              1. re: Sooeygun

                Same! Once my brain has decided on something to eat, anything else ends up being a disappointment.

          2. Definitely, and I think that ability is essential for a good cook . You have to be able to "taste" in your mind what effect adding a particular ingredient (and how much of it) will have on a dish.

            1. There is also the taste or aroma of something bringing me to a specific time and place. There was a bite of cinnamon toast that took me to a tea room outside of London a decade before, the smell of diesel fueled bus that always takes me to Paris and a certain burger that puts me right back at a field trip in the 4th grade.

              1. This is an interesting question. I'm not sure if I was born with the taste recall or if I learned it, though. But I defintely remember tastes and know what that taste will be like the next time. Not sure if it just experience in cooking or if it is a physical knowledge. Great question!