Expanding the Vocabulary of My Taste Buds

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To follow up Tuesday’s post on the fickleness of the words I let roll off my tongue, I’ve been thinking about the other vocabulary my tongue’s acquired: the distinctions of new tastes.

Whether or not you believe in the tongue map, or that sugar is toxic, or that healthy food should taste good (I believe in butter!!), I wonder if we can agree that too many of us are far more acquainted with the sensations of sweet and salty than we are with bitter and sour (and others, if you believe there are more than four tastes).

For me, I was eating a fairly “normal” American diet, not high in junk food but definitely dependent on condensed soups and canned broth and white flour and refined sugar and so on. Salty and sugar sweet.

I’d have a salad now and then, but I couldn’t handle the bitterness of the lettuce at all without sweet dressing on it. My veggies had to have salt. And plain yogurt? Gross! Bitter and sour were not on my radar unless I could cover them up.

In much the same way I used to force myself to acquire vocab words for the GRE, I started forcing myself to acquire new tastes over the past few months. My main goal was to cut out refined sugar, but what I didn’t realize is what a new world would open up once I got the craving for sugar out of my body.

Last night, I threw a bunch of stuff in a skillet for a Spanish omelet: butter, sliced potatoes, garlic, diced onion, peas, chopped spinach, eggs, and cheese. It was one of those hectic weeknights, trying to get out the door for tee ball, and I forgot to add any seasonings, even salt. Peas are new around here, and I’d never tried this combo, so I was just crossing my fingers that it would be edible and filling.

Um, who knew that peas were so sweet? I ended up eating three servings and could have gone on for more.

And the six-year-old, by far the pickiest eater in my house, kept talking about it long after he finished eating it: “Mom, I think I liked that. I think I might have it again for lunch tomorrow. I don’t know why I keep thinking about it. I think that was good.”

Then later, at bedtime, Hubby complained of a slightly sore throat (unrelated to the omelet, which he hadn’t eaten because of said soreness) and asked for yogurt (we learned back when he got thrush after an antibiotic that yogurt is the best cure for mouth and throat stuff like that). I offered plain yogurt, which I’m now quite fond of, but he’s not quite at that point yet, so I went to the store and grabbed vanilla yogurt for him. In opening it at home, I got a drop of it on my finger and licked it off instinctively.

Whoa. Taste shock. It was way too sweet for me.

Whereas before I would have wanted more after having one taste (I used to love vanilla yogurt), this time I rejected the taste of sugar altogether. I didn’t even want it after trying it. I happily dove my spoon into my plain yogurt and homemade granola, savoring the tang of it.

What else?

  • Raisins are my candy now, where I never liked them before.
  • I adore unsweetened applesauce.
  • I’ve acquired a taste for sourdough bread and for cultured butter, both of which have a strong tang to them.
  • When our raw milk ages a little (it’s good for 10–14 days, but the flavor starts to change after about 7 days), the sourness of it tastes pleasant to me while it used to be repugnant.
  • Last week I made a red potato and asparagus salad, flavored with lemon juice and Dijon mustard, and I kept snacking on it until it was gone the next day, along with brown rice that tasted amazing to me.
  • On pancakes and waffles, my favorite topping right now is sliced bananas, plain yogurt, and just the slightest drizzle of maple syrup or honey on top.
  • I just discovered that cauliflower adds amazing flavor to homemade mac and cheese.

And best of all, there’s still so much more to explore! I’m excited for new vegetable experiences, for experiments with gourmet cheese making (for example, cranberry cheddar in that mac and cheese recipe sounds awesome!), for the exhibition of more salads around our house (exalted with excellent homemade dressings), for all kinds of flavors except sugar.

So yeah, this blog is about words, and a vocabulary of taste is a stretch, but I just wanted to share. It’s a whole new world once you ex out the sugary sweet.

Anyone else have vocabulary acquisition to share, whether with words or foods or something else? What do you think makes the difference in learning to like new things?

Leave a comment!

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10 responses »

  1. Hi,

    I really enjoyed your post. I was similar a few years back – before I met my now husband who wouldn’t take ‘I don’t like it’ for an answer! He believes that if you try a food ten times you will grow to like it. It seems to work as I now eat (and enjoy!) almost anything, and my taste buds certainly seem to have developed!

    Well done, and keep us posted!

    wil x

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    • Someone should have told me! It would have been a great sell: you’re not really giving up sweet, you’re gaining more of it—more flavor, more variety, more nuance, more enjoyment of food. Glad to hear it’s universal! 😀

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  2. How wonderful that you can experience new flavors now! Your story reminds me of how turning off the lights before bed reveals different, fainter lights. Charging batteries, street lights shining in, glow-in-the-dark stickers…

    I used to not understand the appeal of mochi and manju, two extremely sweet snacks common in Japan. They have some mild flavor but are simply too sweet to eat plain. Turns out they’re meant to be eaten with bitter green tea, which counteracts and compliments the sweetness. Delicious! Context is (still) everything! 😄

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    • Ha ha, that’s awesome! Thanks for the added perspectives. I love the analogy about turning off lights, and the bitter with the sweet is such a great example. Love that your context statement holds true! 😀

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  3. I am just jealous that you eat so well and like vegetables. 😦 I’ll get there eventually. Peas taste like dirt to me though. They are so nasty. I really hope someday that I feel the same way as you do.

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