Engaging the Senses: The Sense of Taste

Child-Tasting-Food

Part 4 of 5

The Sense of Taste

Food can be used to express our deepest emotions. Foods lovingly prepared by your child and presented on Mother or Father’s Day morning in bed are cherished and steeped in sentiment; regardless of burnt toast and underdone eggs. Chocolates given can express deep love or be the prelude to a sensual evening with your lover.

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A basket of fruit of fresh fruit can be just what the doctor ordered to brighten up (and support the healing process) for someone who has been sick. And a tray of aromatic spices can take you to cities exotic and mysterious without having to leave the confines of your kitchen in New Jersey.

We use food, and subsequently the sensation of taste to win, woo and wow those we love or wish to impress. And, ultimately, we engage the sense of taste as a way of bringing those things that surround us into our being. The very act of tasting something brings it’s energies into intimate communion with our bodies. It is this sense that keeps us alive and healthy. It is the sense that provides pleasure both at the level of physical sensation and at the more subtle levels within the physiology of our bodies. Just as with the sensation of touch, when we taste something we are making physical connection to whatever is being tasted.

The Key Ingredients

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Most things we taste can be broken down into four basic sensations that occur as a result of what our taste receptors (buds) come into contact with. These will repel some, entice others and go completely unnoticed without maximum enhancement (the natural occurrence as we age and our sensation of taste decreases).  In fact, the premise of Ayurvedic Medicine is based upon the naturally occurring predominance of these subcategories as the fuel for the 4 specific doshas (or body temperaments) and achieving a state of balance through a variety of protocols, including diet:

“Overall health and disease are believed to be directly related to the balance of these life forces in relation with each other. When the body fails to adapt well to changing conditions, it will display abnormal patterns of activity in the forms of excesses or deficiencies, which can manifest as illness. “excerpted from Ayurvedic Medicine by Dr. Weil.

Read more here: Ayurvedic Medicine

I wholeheartedly believe in the natural intuition of the body to heal and regulate itself. Long before I had known about the system of Ayurvedic and predisposition towards certain foods as balancers of too much Fire, Water or Air in the body, I would at certain times have specific cravings for foods that I did not normally eat and a distinct dis-taste for some I was overindulging in. If I listened to these cravings, I would generally feel better. If not, eventually I would feel out of sorts. When I came across Ayurveda, it was interesting to me that based upon my body’s dosha, the foods I was craving were those that were needed to offset and return to balance the primary energy my body naturally thrived on.

The Anatomy of Taste

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The tongue is a muscular organ in the mouth. The tongue is covered with moist, pink tissue called mucosa. Tiny bumps called papillae give the tongue its rough texture. Thousands of taste buds cover the surfaces of the papillae. Taste buds are collections of nerve-like cells that connect to nerves running into the brain.

The tongue is anchored to the mouth by webs of tough tissue and mucosa. The tether holding down the front of the tongue is called the frenum. In the back of the mouth, the tongue is anchored into the hyoid bone. The tongue is vital for chewing and swallowing food, as well as for speech.

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image: webMD

The four common tastes are sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. A fifth taste, called umami, results from tasting glutamate (present in MSG). The tongue has many nerves that help detect and transmit taste signals to the brain. Because of this, all parts of the tongue can detect these four common tastes; the commonly described “taste map” of the tongue doesn’t really exist.

 Color:

A Rainbow of Visual Temptation

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We are naturally attracted to specific colors of food.  The Green Eggs and Ham of Dr. Seuss fame would be great scrutiny as eggs are generally yellow with green possibly being an indicator of spoiled food. Fruits and vegetables that are vibrant in color are most attractive and appealing. While dull grey colored fruit would be discarded. Before we arrive at the sense of taste, our sight factors and weighs what foods are edible and which are suitable for the trash. Current thought among dietitians is that to remain our healthiest we should eat a rainbow of foods. The color of the food, giving clue to some of the nutritive values and if included in the diet, providing the necessary diversity to receive those nutrients. These of course would be foods in their natural state and devoid of dyes and color enhancement that normally permeate many processed foods to make them more appealing.

Texture:

Neural sensitivity

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The Texture of the foods we eat and things we taste stimulates the neural system in a sensory game of receptor and distributor. Variety of texture as we experience the pleasure of tasting gives a tactile sensation that engages the physical act of tasting something in a broader spectrum of experience. Texture, coupled with color engages kinesthetic and visual qualities.

Aroma:

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 What’s the connection between smell and taste?

Most of your sense of taste is really about your sense of smell. Do you think that the spaghetti and meatballs you’re eating taste delicious? Much of the reason is because you like their smell. In fact, you’re doing a lot of sniffing. Not only are you smelling before you take a bite, but while you are chewing, odor molecules from the ground-up food inside your mouth float upwards taking that remarkable smell journey.

And, finally, we arrive at the place where the “nose knows”.  Wine, cheese and coffee tasters as know of the pleasure and benefits of having an accurately and healthily working sense of smell. The first line of test before something enters your mouth for tasting is how it smells. You can often discern whether what is cooking will be bursting with flavor and taste just as good as it smells as you are walking through the door at dinner time.

Excite the Palate Practice:

Taste Testing – A Tasty Experiential

A simple exercise to use to heighten your awareness and sensitivity to taste is to select a variety of food items.  Choose some that are different in texture, spiciness, smell, color , etc…

In a relaxed setting, lay out the foods you want to sample.

For the first round:

With your eyes open select a food, place it in your mouth and slowly savor its taste and texture.  Spend several minutes with each piece of food.

For the second round:

Now, beginning with the first food sample you took, take another piece and after you place it in your mouth, close your eyes as you savor the morsel.  Again, spend several minutes with the food.

Do you notice any difference in the sensations?

Was there stronger flavor when you had your eyes open?

Or, did the sensations intensify without the visual distraction?

For the last round:

Select another piece of the food. As you taste it open yourself to connect to the process that went into its making. If it is a fruit product, imagine the process of planting the seed for tree, bush or vine. Try to taste the sunlight and rain that helped it to mature and ripen. Imagine its journey from picking to the place in which you purchased the product. Now, give thanks to nature and all who helped to bring this bounty to your table.

Be sure to record any impressions.  This is a good way to begin a gustatory journal, exploring taste and broadening your palate to be inclusive of a variety of foods. Enjoy!

Companion Post: Next Week

The Sacred Vessel
The Subtleties of the Senses: Taste (Gustatory)

 

Resources:

Any good cook book, market and your sense of adventure and gratitude.

Taste What You’re Missing: The Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good by Barb Stuckey

Taste Buds and Molecules: The Art and Science of Food, Wine, and Flavor by Francois Chartier

 

Next Post: “Engaging the Senses”
Part 5: The Sense of Hearing

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About This Series: 

This five-part posting will take a closer look at each of the senses that are part of our greater learning and growing experience. Each of the five senses plays a significant role in how we process the information of our human experience and these lessons serve as the foundations of our use of sensation in ephemeral and spiritual experience. Each contributes a specific energy and working collaboratively they offer the keys to memory, expansion of consciousness, engagement in the physical world and doorways to the inner planes of wisdom.

There are collaborative posts speaking to the Spiritual overlays of each of the senses in the Sacred Vessel Blog that may be accessed the week after this posting.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Sensing the Subtleties: Part Four | The Sacred Vessel Mysteries

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