In Good Taste

This is the third in a series of posts exploring the connection between creativity and our senses.

Compared to hearing and sight, the science of taste is fairly simple. No rods or cones required, no delicate bones and membranes. Just a tongue loaded with receptor cells that make up our taste buds.

For many years, scientists assumed we had four basic tastes: sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. Each taste triggers a particular receptor in our tongues. In the 20th century, a Japanese scientist isolated a fifth taste that we now call umami, the Japanese word for delicious. We most commonly taste umami in meats and tomatoes.

It’s about Flavor

Most of the time when we talk about taste, we really mean flavor. And flavor is not perceived solely by the tongue. It draws upon our senses of smell, sight, touch (texture and temperature, for example), and even hearing. If you get a bit of habañero pepper on your tongue, you’ll experience another sensation: pain. This collaboration of all the senses to create the phenomenon we call flavor is unique to our sense of taste.

Culinary Collaborators

Our creative team gathered in a roomy country kitchen to indulge in some taste-driven experimentation. That is, we cooked and ate dinner together. As the science predicted, collaboration between the senses imparted fuller flavor to our creative expression. We smelled the onions caramelizing and heard the bacon sizzling. Our eyes told us the tomatoes would be sweet. The grillmaster’s sense of touch told him when the meat was done to perfection. All this pre-tasting by the senses fed our imaginations long before any food fed our bellies.

Risky Business

Even more, collaboration held the key to fuller nourishment. The six cooks drew on one another’s energy and sense of adventure. What we might never have tried on our own, we attempted with our creative partners. We put ourselves out there with our food, much as we do with our other creative expressions, and waited a bit nervously. Would it taste good? Would anyone eat it? Would the care and creativity come out in the flavor?

Creativity, like cooking, is messy. So is collaboration. Both require surrender: of our skill, of our rules, of our best-laid plans. All that tasting and smelling and touching and…messy. Yet long after the food was gone and the kitchen cleaned, the learning remained: When the senses in your creativity tool box collaborate, something nourishing happens.


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