What do professional food critics have that you don't? Besides great jobs, they've developed a knowledge base, refined their mouth mechanics and expanded their vocabulary of food experiences. You can't match them overnight, but you can get started by simply breathing in.
Photo by xmatt.
You've probably heard some loose, semi-science talk about how 90 per cent of taste is smell, or something similar. It's not all that far from the truth, according to Andrew P. Lane, an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor) at Johns Hopkins University Sinus Centre. Interviewed for a great Salon piece on how to develop one's palate, he suggests making like a wine snob with good food.
Flavor - the citrusy essence of lemongrass, that lusty smokiness of chipotle peppers - comes mainly via our nose, he says, and largely through what's known as retronasal or orthonasal smelling.
In other words, when you take a bite of food and chew, some aromatic compounds go into your mouth and back up into your nasal passages: "You may not even think you're smelling," says Lane, "but you are."
Ever seen a wine taster - olive oil, beer and cheese geeks do it too - swish their wine around in their mouths and suck in air over their tongues? It's all about getting those aromatics back up into their noses.
Other try-this-at-home suggestions in the piece, helpfully summed up in a slideshow, include learning the specific flavours of regional cuisines, keeping a journal of your food experiences instead of just taste adjectives, and pinning down what tongue flavours really mean — finding something widely described as bitter, for instance, and tasting for its bitterness.
Have you learned to wake up and really taste your food? Found a way to get nearly scientific about your likes and dislikes? Offer up your weird, funny and helpful stories in the comments.