Taste Buds – A Gift from Heaven

Isn’t it a miracle that we, humans, possess the senses of taste and smell that enable us to perceive, identify and enjoy (or reject) the foods that we eat? Actually, we could have survived with only senses of hunger and satiety which we lack. The senses of taste and smell have been given to us as a luxury, a gift from heaven that we take for granted. These two senses while they are separate, each with their own receptors, they are nonetheless intimately entwined and work in concert together. What is also surprising that our tongue, which is our tasting organ, has only 5 kinds of receptors with the ability of tasting basic tastes – sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami (Japanese for savory).

Imagine biting into a tomato or juicy orange or tasting wine. In either case you expect to taste more than just sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. And chances are you will, unless you have a bad case of a cold and your nose is completely plugged. The reason you taste tomato, orange and wine is because your sense of smell is participating in the tasting process. Actually while the sense of taste has only 5 receptors the sense of smell has 388 receptors and 80-90% of the taste that you perceive comes from your sense of smell. Here is a perfect case of a synergistic cooperation between two senses that outweighs by far what each sense could contribute by itself. Think about it. Whether some of us have a gift for a more refined sense of taste and smell is a matter of debate. Maybe we have amongst us some olfaction prodigies that have an exceptional talent to smell and taste. If we only had a way of identifying these olfaction prodigies we could delegate to them the task of choosing for us all the foods that we consume and especially the wines that we drink. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to identify an olfaction prodigy as it might be the case for a musical prodigy.

While there are many self-proclaimed olfaction prodigies running around I predict that very soon, as we are getting close to deciphering the entire DNA code, there will be organizations licensed to grant certifications for different levels of mastery in olfaction based on the DNA. This will take away the burden of making choices as what foods we should eat or what wines we should drink. But until this happens, as I have always said don’t be a wine spectator, be an activist. Trust your own senses when judging a wine and don’t allow anyone to obstruct the uncovering of your own taste.

Socrates once said: “The expression of taste is an expression of freedom; the moment You abdicate responsibility for your own taste, you voluntarily abdicate your freedom”.

Chaim Gur-Arieh
January 2014