What Makes Food Taste So Good? is the topic of today’s show. The truth is, it is much more than taste. I’ll provide some details as to what taste is as it relates to our bodies. The sense of smell and touch also are needed to understand flavor.
- Homestead Life Updates
- What Makes Food Taste So Good?
- Cheesy Garlic Roasted Asparagus
Homestead Life Updates
First, I’ll talk about all the stuff I planted in the garden this week. Two days in a row, four hours each day, sunburned arms and hands and I got about half of my spring garden in the ground. I planted lots of cabbage. Some red, some green and four kinds of Chinese cabbage. What else? Collards, Swiss chard, escarole, mustard greens and kale. And let’s not forget those peas. Lots of green shelling peas and also some snow peas.
Next week it will be strawberries and onions and I think that will finish off the spring planting. Summer planting of beans, tomatoes, eggplant, carrots, and celery will begin in May.
Oh, I almost forgot, I planted Red Norland and Yukon Gold potatoes.
Lots of visitors are coming to the farm this coming week. Some family and some that found us on the internet. They are interested in the Normande breed of cows and will be taking a look at what we have to get a better idea of what to expect.
Speaking of cows, it looks like we won’t have our first calf for another couple of weeks. We will definitely making changes to the breeding schedule for next year. We should be making cheese by now.
The creamery updates are really exciting. Scott dry stacked a whole bunch of blocks a few days ago. It was so amazing to walk around inside the space he created. While only four blocks high, they clearly defined the utility room and parlor. As usual he is out there right now working on those walls. This morning while we were out with the cows going through the morning routine, I could see the definition of about a quarter of the window in the utility room wall. I don’t know how high that is and there is a long way to go, but it is still so exciting.
Another thing that is exciting is cooking good tasting food for our families. I thought today I would talk about how we humans determine our preferences.
What Makes Food Taste So Good?
It’s a lot more than taste. We choose our food as much for its pleasing sensory qualities as for health and nutrition. Sometimes that’s all we focus on, to the detriment of our waistlines.
From the earliest days we used our sensory organs to assist in survival. We have olfactory receptors in the nose. These were used to sniff out appealing smells and also to warn of rotten or contaminated food. Taste buds helped distinguish between safe foods and foods that were poisonous. Today, eating food is also a pleasurable experience where even the texture is important. Let’s get into the sensory experience of food to get a better idea of where we need to grow our understanding around cooking for our families.
The sensory properties of food
Sensory perception is the ability of the sensory organs to detect and evaluate sensory stimuli such as odors, tastes, textures, sights, and sounds, all of which are active during eating. It’s all about the smell, the taste, how it looks, is it crunchy and how does it feel in my mouth. Each sense organs have special receptors that detect stimuli. When a receptor attuned to taste on your taste bud is stimulated, it produces an electrical signal. Nerve impulses carry many the signals to the brain, where the information is processed. The brain then determines whether the taste is sweet or salty, or whether it is pleasant or unpleasant. Food presents a lot of sensory stimuli, therefore a basic understanding of sensory perception is invaluable to the Homestead chef. We don’t just throw something on the table. Instead we take great care in deciding on menus, blends of tastes and textures and so on. You may not think of it that way but nonetheless it is what you are doing.
I’ll start with the sense of sight, then taste and smell. All of these and more are working in your mind every time you plan a meal for your family. After listening to this podcast, I hope you have a greater appreciation for all you do to make the best meals for your family. Not just nutritious meals, but beautiful, fragrant, tasty and lovely luscious meals.
Color and appearance of food
A foods appearance is usually the first indicator of how it will taste so we’ll start there. The brighter and more colorful the food, the more visual its appeal. Your brain processes information about flavor and texture on the basis of appearance and makes decisions about your particular likes and dislikes. This evaluation happens because of our highly developed sense of sight. I’ll bet those Facebook pictures of food that everyone is always posting already makes more sense.
Human eyesight is so perceptive that the brain sometimes even ignores competing messages from other senses. For example, you expect lemon candy to be yellow. If it were colorless, you might have difficulty identifying the flavor as lemon. If it were purple, some might mistakenly identify it as grape. That’s little extreme but you get the point.
Color and appearance are important to food evaluation. That is why we take care in how we present the food. I’ll do a whole other podcast on presentation so let’s skip on to the basics of the food itself. Factors that affect the perception of a food’s color and appearance include its chemical and physical properties, the quality of light that is illuminating it, and the other surroundings. Let’s take these one at a time.
Food is made up of chemicals. Chlorophyll, for example, is the chemical that gives green vegetables their color. Varying the amount of chemicals and produce different effects. Cake made from egg whites will be whiter than cake made from whole eggs because egg whites do not contain yellow carotenoids. That’s how you get that whiter than white cake for your child’s birthday cake. Fresh spinach looks greener than old spinach because it contains more chlorophyll. The older it gets, the more of those yellow leaves you will see.
Cooking with heat also affects the chemical properties of food. The longer green vegetables are cooked, the duller and more olive green they become. The heat chemically alters the chlorophyll in the vegetables. Another example is, the longer a biscuit is baked in the oven, the darker it becomes. That change in color is the visible proof that the chemical changes have occurred when you baked the biscuit, cake or mac and cheese.
The physical process of food preparation also influences appearance. Take hollandaise sauce or even mayo. The more mayonnaise or hollandaise is whisked, the lighter in color it becomes. Whisking breaks the liquid oil or butter into smaller and smaller droplets and whips air into the sauce. How does that work? Small oil droplets and air bubbles scatter light more completely than large droplets do, so the sauce has a whiter appearance.
I mentioned the chemicals in greens. What happens when you apply heat? Raw spinach and other greens are composed of plant cells that contain a large amount of liquid surrounded by air pockets. When these greens are cooked, the surrounding air escapes, and the air pockets filled with liquid. Now the light is reflecting off the liquid differently than when it was air. They develop a translucent quality. Greens served a short time after air leaves the cells but before they fill with water are the brightest and most attractive to our sense of sight.
Quality of light
I want to briefly mention how the quality of light affects your perception of a dish of food. Different types of lighting can affect the perception of color. Greens viewed under candle light in your dining room can appear more yellow than when you looked at them under your bright kitchen lights. There are ways to make that work for you.
The interaction of the plate as a background with the surrounding food and garnishes can sometimes cause optical illusions. An example would be white cake served on a dark plate or vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce appearing whiter than if served on a white plate. This is because the dark plate or sauce provides a contrast that tricks the brain into thinking the cake or ice cream is whiter than it is. Contrast is a great way to make something stand out from the crowd.
Flavor of food
Why do you like or dislike a particular food. Most likely you will say the flavor, or the way the food tastes. Appearance may provide the first impression of a food, but flavor provides a lasting impression.
More so than sight, we are very familiar with the taste of food. But what are we tasting and how are we tasting? For that we use our mouth and nose.
Flavor is the blend of taste, aroma, and feeling factor sensations. These three sensations occur when food stimulates receptors in our mouth and nose. Let’s go back to the chemicals. It is because of the chemical nature of food that the senses are considered chemical sensors. Although together they constitute flavor, each sense system is distinctly different in that each one is stimulated by different chemicals and detected by different receptors. That all sounds complex and it is, but the perception of the sensations happens at once. While the food is enjoyed, the appearance, texture, and temperature are evaluated.
The three components of flavor are perceived by three separate sensory systems. Each system functions independently and each continues to function even when one or more of the other systems no longer work well or at all. For example, persons who have lost their sense of smell can still perceive the taste and feeling factors of foods.
The term taste is often used interchangeably with flavor, but taste refers specifically to only one component of flavor – the perception of dissolved substances by the taste buds.
There are four basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Sugars are the most well-known stimuli that produce sweetness, but certain other chemicals do as well. For example, artificial sweeteners, like saccharin and aspartame, taste sweet although they are not sugars. The sweet taste of shrimp and other seafood is from a naturally occurring amino acid called glycine. Acids in foods, such as citric acid in lemons and acetic acid in vinegar, produce a sour taste. Salt, such as sodium chloride or table salt, produces a salty taste. A variety of other chemicals, including caffeine, quinine, and many poisonous substances, create the taste of bitter.
Taste buds are located primarily on the tongue, but there are others scattered about throughout the mouth. These clusters of taste cells have receptors for the basic tastes – sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Taste chemicals in the food – the acids, sweetness, salts, and bitter components – alter the chemistry of taste cells. That triggers a signal that travels through nerve fibers to the brain, where the information is processed. Yum yum.
Saliva plays an important role in taste perception. Saliva, which is composed mostly of water, transports the taste chemicals to the taste cells on the taste buds. Without saliva, we would not be able to experience the basic taste.
Aroma, the sense of smell
The perception of aroma—smell—is much more complex than the perception of the basic tastes and is not as well understood. We can identify four basic tastes, but we can sense many hundreds, even thousands, of distinct aromas.
Each aroma is highly complex. For example, there more than 800 separate chemicals that make up the aroma of fresh coffee. Exactly how do we smell? Evaporation. The chemicals in food evaporate and they bombard the aroma receptors, called olfactory cells, at the top of the nasal cavity. Smells are perceived as they evaporate to the nose or up the back of the throat as food is chewed and swallowed. From there, nerve fibers transport signals from the olfactory cells to the brain, where the information is processed. Aroma is often thought of as the most important component of flavor. Without aroma, it would be difficult to distinguish between certain foods. You are left with sight, taste and texture to determine the identity of the food.
Aroma is a large component of flavor. You’ve probably experienced your nasal passages blocked from a cold. It would not be uncommon for you to say that you can’t taste anything. In fact, you can perceive the basic tastes but you cannot smell. So you are only getting part of the sensory experience. Here’s another interesting factoid. The part of the brain in which information about aroma is received and processed is wired to the part of the brain responsible for memories and emotions. Not surprisingly, aromas often trigger memories or strong emotions. Hence, today we have aromatherapy as a treatment for various physical and emotional ailments.
Now that you know many more details about the amount of creativity you are putting into your cooking and how you might look at it differently, let’s get to today’s recipe.
Cheesy Garlic Roasted Asparagus
Around here we are just waiting for the asparagus to peak its head up from the ground. Yes, it’s that time of year. From about April through June an abundance of fresh asparagus is available. Check out your local farmer’s market.
Speaking of the Farmer’s market, we will be at the Wytheville Farmer’s Market on April 13th from 10am to 12noon. No asparagus, but we would love to compliment your fresh asparagus with our ground beef, lamb and/or goat.
I urge you to take advantage of your seasonal asparagus. This dish is easy to make and low carb and keto-friendly. Use a cast iron skillet or perhaps a baking dish handed down from your grandmother. It should be large enough for the asparagus trimmed of the woody stem to lay flat.
What You Need
- 1 pound (500 g) asparagus spears, woody ends removed
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic (or 4 cloves garlic, minced)
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
What To Do
- Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C). Lightly grease your baking dish.
- Arrange asparagus on baking sheet. Set aside.
- In a small bowl mix together the olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Drizzle the oil mixture over the asparagus and toss to evenly coat.
- Bake for 10-15 minutes until vibrant and just beginning to get tender.
- Remove from oven and top with the mozzarella cheese. Return to oven and broil (or grill) until the cheese melts and becomes golden (about 4-5 minutes).
- Adjust salt and pepper, if needed. Serve immediately.
Life is speeding up. We have lots and lots of stuff going on. I’ll bet you do too. There is just something about spring that brings out that “gotta get stuff done” attitude. Have you been lounging around the house sipping cocoa in front of the fire for far too long? It’s time to get out there and experience the fullness of life’s pleasures.
Perhaps one of your first activities might be a spring dinner party. It’s the perfect opportunity to try something new in the kitchen. You can use traditional methods of food prep to make it a special evening. Put into practice some new ideas about the importance of everything you do in the kitchen.
In the 70’s it became fashionable to think that women were so much better than being a simple housekeeper and mother. The women that led the charge had no real experience in what it takes to be a fantastic homemaker and mother. They had no idea the complexity of creating a well-run household with fantastically creative meals for the family and close friends.
So many young women have been taken down this primrose path of chasing a career and keeping the house up as well. It’s not like that crappy homemaker stuff went away because mom is now working. Nope. It all still needs to be done. Only it’s not getting done nearly as well as it could. Cooking for family and friends became eating out at fancy restaurants. Raising your children has become a couple of hours in the evening and weekends—unless you’re divorced and you may not have most weekends.
Giving 100% of your time to your family is a full time job that doesn’t require you to get the kids up early in the morning, rush them around the house getting dressed, fed, and into the car so you can ship them off to someone else’s care while you struggle through traffic to sit in a cube somewhere or to maybe rush around even more, serving food someone else cooked to those who are not your family. It’s absolutely crazy how we’ve demeaned the most important job in the world and substituted it with boring cubicles or serving others instead of serving our family.
I’m going on and on here. I’ll just end it for now and regain my peace. I hope you’ll try that simple cheese with roasted asparagus. Remember to stop by the website. Sign up for our newsletter so you can get links to the latest recipes I’ve published.
As always, I’m here to help you “taste the traditional touch.”
Thank you so much for listening and until next time, may God fill your life with grace and peace.
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