Friday, March 14, 2008

Taste Buds

Now I know why I crave gravelly salt and blackstrap molasses and gnarly zinfandel and the most csípős of paprika. And why Mama doesn't.

My taste buds are underpopulated. They're scattered about in farflung outposts, pioneers who must be subjected to the most cataclysmic of flavor disasters before they can look up from their stony furrows to take note. Mama's taste buds, on the other hand, live in dense, tightly-knit communities among alabaster aqueducts and operas. They soliloquize on the flavors of 4 p.m. westerlies and the delights of bare, sunwarmed silverware. She is -- I'm sure of it -- what wine expert Tim Hanni calls a "supertaster": someone with more than her fair share of the tastebuds. His theory: the more taste buds you have, the more sensitive your palate, and the subtler the flavors you will like (be they tannins in wine or cacao in a chocolate bar).

Let me feign outrage. Doesn't this smack of that well-debunked tongue-phrenology that assigns various regions of the tongue to corresponding flavor-receptors? (In fact, we can taste all flavors anywhere on the tongue). And isn't it a simplistic model -- a neat linear correlation between taste-bud count and preferences? Perception is such a tangle of sensory devices and memories and expectation! Perhaps Hanni's theory would work if we also counted dollars spent on packaging, to accomodate for wine experts who get all befuddled when faced with white wine dyed red and cheap wine in fancy bottles. But first, let's wheel in the budometer, a contraption that analyzed my food preferences and correlated them with taste-bud count, which it correlated with my food preferences. It called me a "tolerant" taster. A possessor of sparse & plebian tastebuds.

Actually, I love multiple-choice contraptions that tell me who I am. Really. And Hanni's theories were mostly confirmed at a recent wine-tasting, and I'm all in favor of anything that finishes by saying, "Drink the wine you like, because even the experts don't have equal numbers of tastebuds."

Which means, of course, that Mama and I can both be taste experts -- though I think smell is the critical difference between my mother's taste and mine. Her nose can detect vices up to 24 hours after their execution -- 96 hours in the case of my suitors' sins. Little wonder she likes her stews less salty.

1 comment:

Toby said...

I measured the density of my taste buds last year, by dying them blue and counting them like they explain on the second page of Taste Intensity & Fungiform Papillae (snappy title, isn't it?). I turned out to be right around average. Giovanna was a supertaster, which maybe explains why she hates things like mineral water.