As Afermentioned: How Previous Experiences with Tastes Condition Perception of Flavor
The human tongue is covered in taste buds, or papillae, equipped with 50- 100 receptors that distinguish the five tastes: sweet (sugars), bitter (alkaloids), sour (acids), salty and umami (proteinaceious or savory). As soon as aroma, vision, texture, association (based on previous experience), trigeminal sensations, etc. are involved we’re talkin’ flavor.
The human flavor system deals with the full experience and interaction with one’s food, each factor playing a crucial role in the final judgment.
I think I’ve figured out the flavor experience produced by the lactic acid bacteria in vegetable ferments. The Lactobacilli in the sauerkraut pump out carbon dioxide- creating that cool boil associated with fermentation- and when the carbon dioxide in fermented, unpasteurized sauerkraut hits your tongue it reacts to make carbonic acid which, like hot pepper, is considered an irritant stimuli; one person’s irritant is another’s mouthwatering experience. The presence of carbon dioxide in sauerkraut seems to amplify the sour and salty tastes that are so dominant in the sauerkraut flavor profile. The predominant volatile compound in the cabbage family, Brasicaceae, is a sulfur compound that is responsible for the “subtle depth” (McGee, 273) in Olykraut’s ‘Original’ flavor (simply green cabbage and salt) that is so valuable to the sauerkraut experience.
Previous familiarity with such trigeminal sensations is fundamental in one’s perception of flavor, especially with fermented foods. Sandor Katz’s fond memories of the carbonic acid stimuli found in the classic sour dill pickles of N.Y.C delis shows a keen connection to the enjoyment of a flavor that is associated with one’s home. I have even heard of a chocolate (a fermented food) connoisseur describe the wonders of artisanal chocolates and go on to admit that Hersey’s chocolate trumps all others due to his pleasurable childhood associations with the iconic chocolate. With that, flavor seems to be a psychology complex quality omnivores have evolved that involves countless factors. Giving new flavors a chance before deeming them unsatisfactory is perhaps the key to enjoying a food filled journey of life.
Explanation of terminology:
Trigeminal sensation: the trigeminal nerve is responsible for sensing touch-position (immediate) and pain-temperature (lag time) rather than special senses (smell, sight, taste, hearing and balance).
Aroma: “distinctive aromas of particular foods are created by specific volatile chemicals that are characteristic of those foods…. Nearly all food aromas are composites of many different volatile molecules.” (McGee, pg 272)
Stevenson, Richard J. The Psychology of Flavour. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.
McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. New York: Scribner, 2004. Print.
"Trigeminal Nerve." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. Apr. 2015.