All in Good Taste

Recently, I overheard someone turning down a gooey, brownie-like concoction, saying, “No thanks, it’s too sweet for my taste.” Wait a minute, was that me uttering those words? Too sweet? That’s up there with too rich and too thin, isn’t it? 

But as I consider this, I realize my palate is indeed changing. Those foods I loved as a kid—candy, especially—would now make me gag, and the herbs and spices that left me crying at my childhood dinner table are now the ones I crave. I love a nice, grainy mustard and I’m quite liberal with the hot sauce. What’s up with that? And is it a good thing?

I used to believe we all had the same taste sensors and they stayed constant throughout our lives. I also thought there were quadrants on the tongue that signaled sweet, sour, bitter or salty. But I learned that all parts of the tongue can detect the four common tastes. More research revealed that it is normal for our sense of taste to diminish with age. We start out as children with taste buds all over our mouths and lose some of them over time. Our sense of smell also contributes to the sensations we experience when we eat, and that too is affected by age or even menopause.

Of course, there could be medical reasons that tastes change. Some prescription drugs can interfere with the senses, as can smoking or an issue with oral hygiene. If your sense of taste has changed abruptly, you should talk to your doctor.

So I like different foods now. No harm done? Probably. I’ll want to be on guard against food spoilage, as I may not notice at first bite if something is past its prime. My credo of “when in doubt, throw it out” is even more sensible now. And I need to be careful about boosting flavor. I don’t want to oversalt. I seem to be less inclined to choose sweets now, but some folks crave more as time goes by and they should be leery of too much sugar.

Here are my thoughts on keeping mealtime a full, sensory experience: seek out good company, turn on some background music and perhaps set a nicer table. And pass the mustard, please!