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In the best possible taste

Taste.  Now that’s a word with many meanings. Whether it’s the sensation of flavour perceived in the mouth, a small portion, a person’s liking for something, or the ability to discern good quality or high aesthetic standard, the concept of ‘taste’ is something that permeates modern life.

The most obvious association is food, but it extends to many areas of a Rumblechatter’s life.  You can have good taste or bad taste. But I’m assuming that, by virtue of you reading this, you fall firmly into the former camp.

Food-wise, there is a scientific explanation as to our preferences. When food and drink are placed in the mouth, taste cells are activated and we perceive one of five flavours: sweet, salty, savoury, sour, and bitter.

Sweet and salty foods were originally nature’s way of rewarding us for eating something nourishing.  There are natural sugars and salts in fruits and vegetables and all carbohydrates are broken down by our bodies to produce sugars that provide the main fuel for bodily function. Natural salts play a necessary role in regulating the pressure of all bodily fluids. Obviously in this day and age, a packet of Walkers Salt and Vinegar followed by a slab of Dairy Milk don’t really offer the same nutritional value, but still, it’s good to understand the origin of our (my?) comfort food cravings.

The taste of savouriness is derived from the natural protein component of foods like meat, cheese and mushrooms.  The main function of protein in the body is to build and repair cells and tissues – pretty essential, in anyone’s book.

Sour and bitter flavours work in the opposite way. Originally they alerted us to foods that might be toxic or harmful to us. Sour foods tend to only be good for us in small amounts. Take for example, the humble lemon. Whilst it has many beneficial attributes, such as antibacterial, antiseptic and supporting liver function, you couldn’t eat a whole one now could you? Bitter foods are ones that may be toxic, and so our taste buds (and dour, lemon-sucking faces) warn us immediately.

Vegetables, although very healthy, do have a component of bitterness to them. This is thought to be from a cunning kind of bitterness camouflage to delude predators into thinking said plant is toxic . Also, some of these bitter ‘toxins’ may actually be deadly to one animal species but another may have adapted to be able to digest these same ones.

Human beings developed innate taste preferences in prehistoric times.  In constant danger of starving, humans developed instincts to shun the plentiful but bland vegetables in favour of the extremely rare, overly sweet, high-fat treats such as honey, grubs, or bone marrow fat, which would sustain them in a famine. Our love of The Great British Bake Off shows that we really haven’t evolved that much

When it comes to aesthetic taste, well that’s a whole different ball game, and one grounded in sociology, not science. Sociologically speaking, taste is an individual’s personal and cultural patterns of choice and preference. Taste is about drawing distinctions between things such as styles, manners, consumer goods, works of art etc. and relating to these.

Aesthetic preferences are predominantly influenced by education and social origin. Different socioeconomic groups are likely to have different tastes. Social class is one of the prominent factors structuring taste. This theory suggests our parents and childhood experiences have a profound influence over our mature aesthetic taste.

I can confess I’ve just bought a green Egg chair that has definite echoes of an orange one my parents had in the seventies. But that’s as far as the shared taste goes.  For me the influence seems to have been more about driving me to create something different.  I’m pretty sure my abhorrence of all things matchy-matchy (in fashion, soft furnishings, décor…in fact, in anything) stem from my mum’s obsessive love of the very same thing?

The other pertinent thing about taste is that everyone thinks they’ve got it.  Just as no-one holds their hands up to being a bad driver, so no-one confesses to having appalling taste.  Which is probably a good time for a confession…I’m actually a terrible driver.

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