At Jessup Cellars Tastemaker Series, I am pointing to expressions of wine
When molecules and libations are photographed through a microscope,
their expressions reveal startling beauty, personality, temperatment and…
IDEAS TO CONSIDER
Surprising correspondences exist between what we taste and the words we use for taste.
For instance, what would you expect something sour to look like?
What about sweet stuff?
If each had a geometric shape, what could it be, would the microscope reveal something useful?
If a picture is worth 1000 words, what can pictures of the 5 tastes tell you?
I have been obsessed to photograph the stuff of life with a microscope – I started with looking at human cells, then dug deeper into the molecules essential for life and pleasure. The taste, smell and sound of things leave their patterns of information in the environment… and we can detect all sorts of sensory cues if we become sensitive to them.
We have two chemical senses – taste and smell and are able to experience 5 different tastes
In the wisdom of nature, these 5 tastes tell us about the essence of the molecule – they SHAPE OUR TASTE
- Sweet, for the most part, tells us something is an energy source and ready to eat.
- Sour, tells us that the fruit is not ripe yet or that the beverage has spoiled.
- Savory tells us this is a nitrogen source, something our cells need to survive.
- Bitter – a warning of potential toxicity
- Salty tells us this is a mineral source
When I first photographed the chemicals that trigger our five different taste sensations – sweet and sour, savory and salty, bitter – what I saw simple geometric forms… nothing too complex.
Which of these do you think would taste sweet, sour, or bitter?
What about the most recent added taste – savory also called Umami?
At the Saturday evening dinner at Earthrise Retreat Center with my workshop group -“Cells and the Sacred” Group. Here’s a peek at our unusual WINE TASTING EXPERIENCE with Jeff Dawson and AUM CELLARS winemaker Pete Hoffman
SHAPING TASTE: Our Five Physical Senses
Our senses communicate information through different energetic channels that obviously evolved to support our survival. The smell of something burning in the kitchen gets us there quickly to deal with the potential danger. The sound from down the block from an oncoming ambulance tells us to move our car out of the way and the taste of something bitter tells us to proceed with caution.
Taste and smell are the close chemical senses meaning that the molecules of taste or smell must actually touch our tongue or nose to communicate information. Touch, another close sense, requires direct physical mechanical connection to our skin. Ourdistant senses – sight and hearing – depend on electromagnetic vibrations of light and sound to communicate information.
Our Five Chemical Tastes
Our tongues can only detect specific molecules that offer up the five tastes of sweet, sour, salty, savory, and bitter. We taste only these five sensations though some scientists are saying that we have a 6th taste for fat. What we usually call ‘taste’ is flavor, which combines taste with smell, more on that later.
When we enjoy a steaming bowl of chicken soup or a fresh ripe peach, we are taking in the flavors that include what we smell as well as the chemicals of taste. Though we can only detect 5 kinds of chemical tastes, our mouth and nose can detect thousands of smells. Hence, the myriad of flavors we can enjoy.
Getting Inside Taste
When I started photographing molecules through the microscope decades ago I thought they were just pretty pictures that I could use to help people learn about how their bodies and cells worked. Seeing photographs of molecules like vitamin B12 or adrenalin, they become real and tangible — they are no longer simply abstract concepts.
When I began my excursions into wine, I was often asked – what are these photographs – are they pictures of yeast, tartrates, sugars, ‘stuff’ known to be part of the winemaking process? I didn’t know. And so as a curious biochemist and someone who looks for patterns and relationships I began photographing the pure chemicals related to wine and taste to see what I could learn and how that might help other people learn. What an interesting surprise!
looks like what it does. Sour doesn’t surprise anyone either. Sour detects acid and tells us that either what we’re tasting is acidic, isn’t ripe yet or that it’s spoiled. This photo is of rice vinegar, primarily acetic acid.
The other pleasurable taste is umami that at a cellular level communicates that this is a source for nitrogen. Notice the shapes of the two pleasurable tastes.
Savory foods include meat, fish seaweed, mushrooms, soy sauce, parmesan cheese and ripe tomatoes.
Salty gives us the message that we are ingesting minerals, mainly sodium. Some researchers claim that when we crave salt we are seeking sodium or calcium molecules.
If you read my earlier blog on wine you may remember that I suggested that the microscopic shape of the molecules in wine may impact our taste experience and how we describe it.
We use different parts of our brain for language and for our sensory bodily experience. Seeing the photographs of the chemicals of taste, I thought – wow, they look like what they do and the words we give for those tastes. HUH?
Food for Thought
Most, if not all, sour molecules are angular and sharp; sweet is more rounded or sticky looking. And I would soon discover that many of us “know” intuitively or instinctually which is which.
When I do a tasting event or art-science presentation, I usually start with showing 3 photographs and ask people to guess which is sour, sweet and a wine. At first I was very surprised that most people “guessed right.” Now after many presentations, in general about 65% of folks “know” the right answer. A Danish wine blogger also did some research with his readers; 1500 people responded with 70% knowing which was sour vinegar and 60% being able to guess/know sweet from a wine just from the photos. How was this possible- How did they know which shape matched which taste experience? Just a good guess?
Carol Kaesuk Yoon in her book Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and Science provides a provocative explanation. She cites an interesting experiment that illustrates our instinctual intuitive intelligence for language. You can try this too.
Give people these two abstract shapes A and B and ask which made-up name they would choose for the shape.The names were takete and maluma. Most people answered immediately, this wasn’t something they had to think about. Which shape would you name Takete?
Regardless of the language spoken or the age of the participant, almost universally, the sharp pointy picture (A) was most often picked out as takete; the rounded blobby shape as maluma. In another study, Canary Islands natives called shape A “kiki” and shape B “bouba”.
So leaping to the idea where our words come from, I propose that in the case of taste, our words are related to the shape of the molecules responsible for our chemical taste. What do you think? Please give us your thoughts below. and remember to taste with all of your senses.
I also have a Children’s version in development – no wine of course.
The Kiddy version – no wine or whine – just adventures in tastes with food and molecules for kids of all ages.
I love to eat and cook. When I was young I loved reading cook books. Once I began studying chemistry I realized that cooking was actually chemistry in action. And I have always been obsessed by our senses and all the doorways they can open into pleasure, our mind, consciousness, and imagination. I’ve even developed weekends devoted to Coming to Your Senses and how they can be used in healing. This page is devoted however to the pleasures of taste.
ENJOY A TASTEMAKER EXPERIENCE AT your winery, club, special event