Food for Thought

Helles In A HandbasketFlavor. We experience flavor every day of our lives. When we wake up many of us put on a pot of coffee and start the day off with breakfast. Maybe you drink coffee because you remember your parents brewing it when you were a child and the aroma is comforting. Maybe you enjoy it because your roommate in college finally turned you onto espresso at a coffee house. Maybe you work a night job and rely on the caffeine to stay awake through your shift. What I’m getting at is we all have come to know food and drink differently and this may, in my opinion, have an effect on how we perceive their flavors.

We all know flavor as sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. A lot of people aren’t familiar with or have a hard time describing umami. Umami is a Japanese loanword for “good taste” or “good flavor”. Often described as savory or meaty and can be found in cheese, tomatoes, grains, beans and soy sauce. All of these flavors add to the experience of “taste”. Many of the things we enjoy have other built-in “flavors” that we may be unaware of. If warm fuzzy feelings were a flavor, saffron buns would be loaded with them. My grandmother used to have them at her house all the time. I remember warming them and spreading some butter on them and to this day I think that is one of the best flavors I’ve ever experienced. I can’t recall a time where I’ve eaten one and not thought of my Grandma. Thus, I enjoy saffron buns more than I would have had my Grandmother not always treated me to them.

I think there is an appreciation that we develop for flavors over time as we learn more about how food/drinks are actually made. Is it possible that we can taste how hard someone has slaved over a pie or is it only the actual ingredients in the pie we taste? I’m a firm believer that if you taste something that you know someone put a lot of thought and effort into and took pride in doing it without cutting corners, there is a bonus flavor there waiting to be realized by the consumer. Do vegetables pulled right out of your own garden taste better than those bought from the grocery store? I think so. It probably has to do with knowing exactly where they came from and how hard you worked that garden to get them to grow. Knowing how our food/drink are produced can certainly add to the enjoyment of the consumption of those products.

Learning how to describe the flavors you are tasting can be a fun way to start enjoying more. Not just enjoying your food/beverage more but also enjoying the people you share them with more. Not everyone can sit down and start picking apart a pint of IPA and describing whether the flavors they are tasting are floral rather than earthy or piney rather than fruity. It takes practice learning how to identify these flavors so we can describe them. I can’t even imagine how many hours I’ve sat at my kitchen table with my friend Kevin sharing new beers and talking about the aroma, appearance, flavor, feel and overall impressions of beer. This has really helped me to really be able to enjoy beer to the fullest. I guess it has helped me to enjoy all food and drink more because once you start to train your pallet to understand flavor, you start to do it all the time. It becomes a habit and one that will just add more enjoyment to your life.


Brian Richards
Head Brewer
Cognition Brewing Company

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