Thursday, October 21, 2010

I learned that the taste map is a LIE!

(illustration by everevese - whoever it is)

Yesterday we got back from an impulsive, weeklong stay at the in-luvs (in-laws) in Paso Robles. Again! It was a great week of industry for both Matt and I: he went to APE in San Francisco with Malachi to exhibit their new comic, EXPANSION [buy it here!], while I stayed in Paso and was waited on, hand and foot, by his mommy. I dunno what he was doing up there but I was cooking pies, crocheting & knitting, quilting, birthday-ing, and I even got to meet my sister-in-law-in-law's mother (who is an amazing artist) and learn a bit about wet- & needle-felting! I left with my head so full of ideas (not to mention a car full of vegetables from the Sheean garden), I could help but come home with the domestic-midas touch.

Last night, I made dinner with the produce we came home with. I didn't really have a plan, but all the pie making has given me the chance to work with all kinds of whole foods, see how they cook, and understand their complimentary tastes. The last two pies where apple and squash based. Seeing as how I had both at my disposal, I decided to make a soup.

There doesn't seem to be a huge difference between soup and pie fillings...

Pie fillingSoup base
  • bake/puree ingredients
  • add some cream if desired
  • add flour & sugar
  • spice
  • bake/puree ingredients
  • add some butter if desired
  • add chicken broth & milk
  • spice

I could be totally wrong, but all-in-all, it seems that soups are just liquid-y-ier pie fillings!

In any event, I cut up a butternut squash and some apples, baked the butternut squash in butter and the apples in brown sugar, boiled the almost-soft butternut squash in some chicken broth and half-&-half while the hot apples sat in a couple cups of orange juice, and finally pureed the whole dang thang. It was already tasty, but the seasoning had yet to be added!

And this is where I learned of the LIES!!!! As I taste tested, adding a bit of salt and some left over butter from the butternut squash pan, I pulled out my brain (iPhone) to see what parts of my tongue were wanting for stimulation. I definitely nailed the sweet/sour balance by adding more broth and butter to tone down the sweetness - but I wasn't quite sure what my tongue (between the edges and the center) wanted. SO I looked up a taste map!

Much to my dismay, the image I chose came with the following article from LiveScience explaining the myth of the taste map. Christopher Wanjek, the columnist and author of Bad Medicine, explains that basically the taste map has persisted because no one has taken the time to really refute it. The map was developed based on some loose and subjective data (D.P. Hanig, 1901) and then arranged into graphs (Edwin Boring, 2942) that translated to the map (Virginia Collings, 1974) decades after the initial study. But apparently (and, I must admit, somewhat obviously), the whole tongue and other parts of the mouth can taste every flavor.

The article didn't really give much information concerning how taste actually works or present any alternative maps or interpretations of how taste is process, but I suppose that isn't really the its point... if you want real information on the debunking and exploration of tastes, check out this article by Cathy Pelletier.

So how did that effect my soup?
I basically decided I didn't care and tried to forget the information I read. I knew that even though the map is outdated and inaccurate, I was still trying to stimulate that certain part of my mouth, right around the salty/sour area. I pulled out all the complimentary spices I could think of and added them in different quantities to test bowls of the soup base I set aside. Like a good scientist (maybe), I repeated my taste testing until finally I had my solution: a dash more of salt and a buncha ginger. YUM! The completion of my make-shift recipe left my whole mouth tingling with delight.

Still, my mind is reeling a bit from the news of this faulty map. Would you judge me harshly for saying it feels a little like when they said "Pluto's not a planet"?

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