Friday, June 22, 2012

...Tastes Like Chicken, Part II

In the previous post, I talked a bit about the thoughts and experiences that led me to want to be able to study, analyze, and, ultimately, talk about the flavors I am tasting in a dish.  I did a bit of research and reading as well.  A great book that I strongly recommend to anyone that wants to truly explore cooking is “Culinary Artistry” by  Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page.  This book has described a lot about creativity in the world of food, on lots of levels.  Great book!

It turns out that scientists say that the human tongue can taste four things: Sweet, bitter, sour, and salty.  There is some debate over a fifth flavor, vaguely named “Umammi”.  It’s supposed to be a sort of savory flavor.

As I was reading, researching, and tasting, I thought I would add a few.  Not scientifically, so much, as practically. These are things that I sense are elements of dishes I eat.  I’m not sure why, but drawing on the analogies I made in the last post, I think I’d like to call these “Tones”.

Here they are, with some descriptions:

Mark’s Flavor Tones


This is the obvious first thing to me, since I tend to eat a lot of sweets.  I probably shouldn’t, or at least, I should make the sweets I eat more healthy, but that’s a discussion for another day.  This one is at the top of my list because it’s one everyone will recognize.  Here are some examples of sweet things:

  • Sugar
  • Honey
  • Fruits
  • Chocolate
  • Spices that go with sweet, like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger (These might not be sweet themselves, but they tend to bring out the sweet tones in a dish).


As I was starting to learn to cook, the term “savory” often confused me.  I learned to describe it as “things that were not bitter, sour, or sweet”!  In most cases, this flavor comes from meats, although many meats also bring some sweet or other tones to the song as well.  As I’ve been formulating this system, I’m learning that the tones work together, and are not always in isolation.

  • Meats
  • Salts
  • Spices that go with meats, like paprika, pepper, garlic


Things that are “tangy” or “sour” usually contain acids.  These tones can really liven up a dish!  Some ingredients that carry these tones could be:

  • Tomatoes
  • Citrus, especially lemons, though oranges have sweet tones, and grapefruit have bitter tones as well.
  • Vinegar


The funny thing about bitter tones is that we don’t like them.  In theory, we developed the ability to taste bitter as a defence mechanism to steer us away from eating poisons and other harmful things.  So, why would we intentionally cook with these tones?  When you combine them with other tones, they add depth and the whole becomes delicious!

  • Some herbs, like parsley
  • Some spices, like nutmeg, or cardamom
  • medicines

Spicy (hot) piquance, picante

There are some foods that, evolutionarily speaking, surprise me.  Take, for example, an habanero chili pepper.  At some point, some prehistoric ancestor of ours took a bite of it.  Heat like that would have lit his tongue on fire.  It would have felt like it was biting back!  So, what thought went through that neanderthal brain that made him want to take a second bite?  Or a third?  At what point in the epochs did we decide that this was a good thing?

I don’t know, but I’m glad we did!

  • Black pepper
  • Chili peppers
  • Cinnamon
  • Ginger


There are very few foods that create the sensation of cool in your mouth, but it is such a distinct sensation that I think it deserves to be labeled as its own tone.  Plus, I love it!

  • Mint
  • Mentol
  • Wintergreen


This is one that I added to the list on my own, not at the suggestion of a book or science.  The undertone is like the canvas the painting is painted on, or the quiet background noise that the music plays over.  It’s the bread of a great sandwich.  It’s not a strong flavor, and it can be difficult to identify, but you would miss it if it wasn’t there.

  • Bread
  • Rice
  • Potatoes
  • Cooked beans

As I’ve started to think of the dishes I taste in terms of these flavor tones, I’ve found that even mundane eating sometimes becomes an exploration. When I’m paying attention, I start to notice things that were always there, but not identified, not in my awareness.  Food tastes more interesting!

My Dr Pepper, for example, has a strong sour tone, with just enough sweet to make it palatable.  There’s a hint of bitter there as well, and it fades off into a lingering salty/sour.

I don’t know if me blathering on about this is helping, but it has been fascinating to me, and thanks for letting me share it.  Now back to the recipes!

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

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