Anatomy of Taste

chocolate

“Everyone eats and drinks, but few appreciate taste.”
Confucius (551-479 BC)

The sense of taste is one of the most pleasurable of the five senses.  Taste (the scientific term is gustatory perception) is the sensation that occurs when the mouth reacts chemically with the receptors located in our taste buds.  We have approximately 10,000 taste buds ― on the tongue, on the sides and the roof of the mouth.  Traditionally, our taste buds recognize four basic tastes: sweet, salty, bitter and sour.  According to the conventional (now, much disputed) “tongue map,” different regions of the tongue are sensitive to each of these tastes.  The sour taste buds line the sides of the tongue and the bitter taste buds can be found at the back of the tongue. The salty/sweet taste buds are located at the front of the tongue (sweet at the tip and salty on each side of the tip).  I call them the Yin and Yang tastes because so often we crave both, one after the other ― like the overwhelming desire to have a scoop of ice cream right after eating a meal of seasoned burgers and fries.

As a child, I was a chocoholic.  I had to have a chocolate fix each day and my mother indulged me, with the caveat that one day, I would probably not eat as much of the stuff. I remember looking at her incredulously, because it was beyond the scope of my childish comprehension that there would ever be a life without chocolate. If that same little girl could have looked through a crystal ball and see herself as the grown woman she is today, that little girl would be shocked, disbelieving and horrified. I rarely eat chocolate any more. I still enjoy it, but I don’t crave it as much.  So, a nibble − every so often − is enough to satisfy me. 

My mother was right.

I now prefer savory foods. 

In the beginning of the twentieth century, Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda determined that there was a fifth taste, Umami (Japanese for a delicious, savory taste).  According to Professor Ikeda, savory taste was very distinct from salty taste.

Umami reigns supreme in my gustatory system, which is why I love savory Mediterranean, Middle-eastern and Indian foods. They are spicy, savory and quite simply a gustatory delight.

9c2fafc4-cb24-423c-acfc-50c42623584d_chicken_souvlaki

My favorite Greek food − Chicken Souvlaki with rice, potatoes, and horiatiki salad

Our sense of taste evolves as we grow older. What often repelled us as children, delight us as adults. Take wine, for example. As a little girl, I sniffed my mother’s glass of wine and recoiled in disgust.  I declared that there was no way that I would ever – ever – drink that horrible libation.  My mother just threw her head back and laughed. Her sisters (my aunts), who were visiting at the time, also laughed – tears streaming down their faces.  My mother said, “My little darling, you will love wine one day. All the women in our family do, and have done so …  for generations. It’s simply in our genes.”  At the time, I  was unconvinced.

My mother was right.

I am now somewhat of an oenologist, a serious wine aficionado. I suppose I couldn’t escape my fate.  It’s in my genes. And I am happy that I have many memories of my mother and I (as an adult) spending many evenings together, sipping wine and sharing stories.

I raise a glass of crisp Chablis (her favorite), in memory of my mother.  She was quite a dame.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Images via livescience.com, phenu.com and yourwineiq.com.

Keep That Lens Focused

Following from my May 16th blog, Maximize Your Five Senses, I will be writing (all week) about each of the five senses (and the sixth sense) and sharing with you some of the wisdom that my mother imparted to me.

This series of blogs is dedicated to her.

Hlens (3)

“The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way.  Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see.  To see clearly is poetry, prophecy, and religion – all in one.”
―  John Ruskin,  Modern Painters

My mother always spoke to me with her eyes.  She was most definitely not mute, but she nevertheless  preferred to communicate via her eyes.  Oh, the conversations we used to have!  Just a glance ― grey-green eyes meeting grey-green eyes ― message sent and received.  I knew exactly what she was thinking.

She taught me how to be quiet, stay still and watch.  Observe.  Focus. Notice every detail.  See beyond the obvious. 

She taught me that a person’s eyes tell a story.  In a flash, she could tell when someone was lying or when someone was trying to hide some emotional scar.  She was able to see beneath the surface. Her eyes missed nothing. 

She taught me well.

What I know now, that I didn’t know then, is that my mother was training me to be a writer. 

With this heightened sense of sight  (a great feat for me, since I’ve been wearing  very thick eyeglasses,  since the age of two!), I observe everything keenly and then, I write.

Our sense of sight is one of the most  – if not the most – precious of the five senses.  It is so important to take care of it.  I nearly caused some serious damage to my eyes when I went through a phase where I would sleep with my contact lenses in, for days on end.   Foolish vanity.  I now wear  my eyeglasses 99% of the time.  And my lenses are perfectly focused.

When my mother was in hospice care, she – along with many of the other patients – would be wheeled into  a lounging area.  She was often confused as to where she was (and why).  Her confusion, however, did not extend to me.  She knew exactly who I was. One of my last memories of her was when I was walking down the corridor towards the lounge and, from about a hundred feet away, she spotted me instantly. Her eyes danced, as she clapped her hands with joy.  Her eyes followed me as I came closer – grey-green eyes locked onto  grey-green eyes.   We embraced and I held her small, frail body as tightly as I could, without hurting her.

That was eight years ago this week.  Not a day goes by without me remembering her expressive, mischievous eyes.  And when I look into the mirror, there they are.

Her Eyes

by VALARIE M. SHEA

Gone are the eyes that watched me grow
The eyes that were able to see into my soul
Together we climbed mountains and made it through the pain
Only to find out that someday it would be forever changed

As you’ve gotten weaker, I’ve gotten stronger
Able to take care of myself even though I didn’t want to

You’d be proud of my wit, my confidence and my charm
People say I’m just like you and I know all about your charms
The eyes are in my heart, the eyes that saw my soul
But gone are the beautiful eyes, the eyes that watched me grow

Maximize Your Five Senses

FiveSenses

“Our senses are indeed our doors and windows on this world, in a very real sense the key to the unlocking of meaning and the wellspring of creativity.”

Jean Houston  

There is one thing I know for sure:  we should never take anything or anyone for granted.  The saying “Here today, gone tomorrow” rings true for many of us, unfortunately.  Such is the reality of life.  That is why we must savor every moment and appreciate those around us – open our eyes, ears  and minds to all the wonderful experiences that are ours to earn and to claim.

What connects us – to ourselves, to each other, and to everything we do – is very basic… so basic, in fact, that not only do many of us take it for granted, we also fail to maximize its potential.  What does “it” refer to? 

Sense.

We have five basic senses:  sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.  When we utilize these senses to their fullest extent and in every aspect of our lives, we achieve success and fulfillment… and, most of all, balance.  Those who are missing one or more senses (due to blindness, deafness, a physical inability to smell, impaired taste buds, or paralysis) often find that their remaining senses are heightened.

In the following weeks, I will be writing about each of the five senses – exploring their impact and potential, and sharing a few pertinent anecdotes along the way.  Storytelling is, after all, the most powerful way to connect  people with ideas and thoughts. And finally, I will dedicate a blog to what is commonly referred to as the “sixth sense.”   More on that later.

Upcoming heatherfromthegrove blog:  “Keep That Lens Focused.”   

Until then… enjoy the journey.

Image via coolhunting.com

To Listen (and really Hear)

A few days ago, I spoke about how (as we age) we become more appreciative of our five senses.   Although the senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch are — in each their own way — unique and valuable, one stands out above the rest :  Hearing.  

Now, I am not speaking literally (i.e. hearing a sound). If I were being literal, I would give first priority to the physical ability to see.

But, I am speaking metaphysically.  

I am keenly fascinated by Taoist philosophy. Taoism (modernly referred to as Daoism, which is a more accurate English pronunciation of the Chinese word) is an ancient Chinese philosophy and religion whose core belief centers upon the Tao (also referred to as Dao).  Tao means the Way (or Path) … the underlying law of the universe.  Tao is not God, nor is it worshipped.  It is a religious philosophy of  unity and opposites:  Yin and Yang — where the universe is composed of complementary opposites like  dark and light, hot and cold, action and inaction, feminine and masculine.  Harmony or unity with nature, self-development,  the pursuit of spiritual immortality, and living a virtuous (humbly so) life — these are  the basic tenets of Taoism.

The theory of Yin and Yang is also central to all Oriental health practices. And, the root of all health is Ch’i.  In his book “The Book of Ch’i: Harnessing the Healing Force of Energy,” author Paul Wildish writes:

“Ch’i is “breath,” it is the air that we breathe and at the same moment the energy and vitality that sustain us.  Everything we see, or touch, or experience is composed of ch’i and is merely an arrangement of this energy into recognizable form.  It is a concept comparable to the explanation of quantum physics for the structure of atoms and molecules as accumulations of energy organized into distinct patterns.  Our whole existence is determined by this energy.  All facets of human life, our physical health, mental alertness, and emotional stability are conditioned by the levels and the relative flow of ch’i in and around our bodies.  Summoning, conserving, and using ch’i therefore is vital to maintaining a happy and healthy life  …. Ch’i operates through the bipolar dynamic of yin and yang, in a constant process of transmutation.  When we breathe in it is yin and when we breathe out it is yang … Good health is founded on establishing a natural cyclic equilibrium of these two forces.”

So, now you understand where I’m coming from when I say that “I am speaking metaphysically.”  I view the importance of the senses (notably the sense of “hearing”) as harmonizing with nature and thus contributing to our quest for self-development.

The 6th century Chinese philosopher (also known as the Father of Taoism) Lao Tzu (“Old Sage”) best articulates what I am trying to say about the importance of listening (and really hearing):

“It is hard to hear anything when you are doing the talking. Appreciate the value of silence, listen to the world around you and gain understanding from the insights it offers. “

In my reality, as perhaps in yours as well, this may mean listening to someone (be it friend, family or even a stranger) who needs a sounding board, a compassionate ear.  Or, it may be someone who wants you to go beyond listening, to really hear what he is trying to say (although he is not speaking).  In this case, you have to hear what his silence is telling you.  And then, understand.

Aye, there’s the rub.

Images via sheknows.com  and fertility-health.com.

Summer reveries …

As a child, I used  to love those quiet summer days when I’d lie down on the grass and gaze up at the sky, marvelling at its perfection.  I’d close my eyes and feel the sun’s warmth on my skin, and listen to the gentle rustling of leaves from the large oak tree nearby.  I would lie there for hours, as midday became late afternoon.  Sometimes the weather would shift, surprising me, bringing with it a new set of  sensory delights. Mesmerized by the different cotton ball shapes, I’d track the movement of the clouds as the warm summer breeze caressed my face and I waited in anticipation for what was sure to come next:  the sun shower.  I’d laugh out loud as the raindrops tickled my skin, and stick my tongue out to taste the drops.  Before I could count the minutes, the shower stopped, leaving behind the fresh smell of rain. Then it was time for me to go inside for tea time with my mother. I’d jump up, shake the grass off, and — with the hint of a smile on my lips — I’d leave my peaceful afternoon reverie behind. There would be more summer days like that.  Plenty more.

Although those sweet childhood days have long since gone, I still enjoy summer days like that.  In youth, we take much for granted — not at all concerned about the passage of Time.  As we age, we become acutely aware of how precious each and every moment is.  We are grateful for each and every sense that we are blessed with. It becomes more important for us to look (and really see)  the beauty all around us, to listen to (and truly hear) the sounds that make us smile,  to breathe in and smell that first summer rain, to taste and savour a freshly picked apple, and to touch  the hand of a loved one (like it was the first and may possibly be the last time)

To live life as if Today is all we have, is to savour and love each and every minute.

Don’t put it off until tomorrow. 

 

Photo Credit Anita Patterson-Peppers via iStockPhoto.