Good Taste

September 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

In fifth grade we went around the science classroom and chose, out loud and on the spot, topics for our report about some part of the body.  I’d been gunning for the nose – largely because it seemed fairly contained as a subject (read: easy) – but someone ahead of me beat me to it.  So I did my report on the tongue.

That was a long time ago, but here’s what I remember:

1. I built a balsa wood model (after my stunning success with my fourth grade balsa wood Kachina doll) of a tongue which I chose to paint Pepto-Bismol pink.  The tongue was cut in half  from tip to root and then hinged so that you could swing it open and see a cross section of tongue anatomy.  This consisted of maker drawings of tongue cells but also, much more excitingly, with my dad’s help (everything was with my dad’s help by the way, Kachina doll, tongue . . . if wood was involved, Dad had a hand in it) I had hollowed out a sphere the size of a pink rubber ball which represented a giant version of a taste bud.  Somehow my Dad had even managed to stick thick, waxy brown string into the “taste bud” to represent the nerves.  Awesome.

2. Using a pad of transparencies my Dad had secured (I think just by taking it from the advertising agency where he worked . . . but maybe he bought it, I don’t know . . .) I created a map of the areas of taste on the tongue: salt, sweet, bitter, sour.  You could see them all at once or just one at a time.

3. Most importantly: taste is smell!  The vast majority of what you “taste” comes from your ability to smell it.

I was super proud.  And then, I remember, the kids in my class took the “nerves” of the giant “taste bud” and used them to swing the “taste bud” around over their heads and then throw it across the room.  Repeatedly.

Ahhhhhhhh, fifth grade . . .

Last week I was on vacation in California and one of the activities in which I was fortunate enough to participate was a food and wine pairing class at the West Coast branch of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA).  The course was taught by John Ash.  He immediately debunked the tongue map (although that was old news to me), he agreed that smell and taste are essentially one and the same, and then he introduced me – all of us – to the Aroma Wheel.  And, friends, this is actually why I’m blogging about this.  Here is the Aroma Wheel.  It’s a way to help you name what you’re smelling (and tasting) in wine (or, I suppose, in other things) as a helpful step in knowing what flavors either go with or contrast the wine in order to create a successful pairing. GENIUS!  John Ash also pointed us towards the Monell Center which studies taste and smell and which is VERY interesting.

My sense of smell is the pits, but the Aroma Wheel holds lasting allure for me . . . check it out.

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