We now turn our sensory experiment to TASTE.
What is deliciousness and how does subtraction come into play?
Our taste system is programmed so we can detect what’s needed and what has to be avoided to increase the odds of survival.
Sugar, carbohydrates, and sodium are essential nutrients. They are “take,” hence delicious. Sourness or bitterness is the pain to “avoid” because it signals a potential detriment to your body.
If we assume that our body is programmed to maximize the odds of survival, it would make sense to assume that our taste buds’ optimal arousal level is tied to the optimal level of nutrients needed for our body.
Conceptual relationship of deliciousness and right amount of nutrients
Where has our historical deliciousness level traditionally been? In a natural state, food is not abundant. Probably the majority of people didn’t have access to abundant food until pretty recently in our long history. We take a look at Sushi, a Japanese traditional cuisine, to remind us how people would enjoy food when an excessive amount is not promised.
Sushi boasts simplicity: a small amount of high quality ingredients, processed and seasoned as minimally as possible. You are supposed to appreciate the delicate and subtle combination of raw (natural) flavor of fresh seafood, and finely treated rice. A great Sushi chef can tell exactly how many grains he needs to make the best balance of rice and seafood. You will be surprised how small the portion is in authentic Sushi. And by the way, it’s never good manners to use too much soy sauce: it WILL spoil the delicate balance!
Eating Sushi is like tasting wine: you are supposed to have your taste buds keenly aroused to detect/savor all kinds of delicate flavors.
There is one more taste in the Table, in the previous page, that we haven’t talked about yet: Umami. Umami is rich in seafood. It’s not a coincidence that Umami was discovered by the Japanese.
Since Japan is a chain of resource-constrained islands surrounded by the sea, seafood has been a precious, and often a primary source of protein for many Japanese.
Just as the Nagata tomatoes adapted to a harsh environment to capture every drop of water, the Japanese keenly trained their taste buds to refine the art of maximizing the enjoyment from a resource barely enough to support the population.
Japanese cuisine still inherits the achievement of thousands of years’ of taste buds’ “peak performance” training.
Who said Tofu has no taste? Finely made Tofu is rich in flavor: you can detect it if your taste buds are in good shape. Tofu is delicious with minimal seasoning, when boiled just right.
We all know that fresh vegetables, in season are tasty. If you boil them to concentrate their flavors, you won’t need to add much to enjoy them.