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How To Truly Taste Food

Scientist Andrea Liceaga explains how to refine your palate and better appreciate food.

Thomas S. Campbell/Perdue University
Thomas S. Campbell/Perdue University

Andrea Liceaga grew up in Mexico City. Her father was Mexican and her mother was Italian. As a child, she developed a love for those cuisines and a curiosity about the foods she consumed. Today, Liceaga is a food scientist at Purdue University, researching protein sources and conducting tests to analyze the products that end up on our grocery store shelves.

How can people refine their palate and better appreciate food?

Every time you open something when you’re cooking, like a seasoning or spice, close your eyes and smell it. Use your hand to delicately waft the scent into your nose and try to remember that smell. The portion of our brain with receptors for aromas, like our olfactory bulb and tract, are located right next to long-term memory. That’s why you might go somewhere new and suddenly get a whiff of something that reminds you of your childhood—like, “My grandma used to make this type of pie!”

When you have the combination of taste and aroma, you have the full flavor of the food. When I’m teaching my students, I bring a bag of jellybeans to class. I ask them to take one, plug their nose, and chew. When they’re chewing, I tell them to stop plugging their nose, and they all gasp! The moment you release your nose and the air comes in, the aroma and taste combine. That gives you the flavor of food.

We’re so rushed now when we eat. As you’re chewing, ask yourself what you’re experiencing. Take time to let your senses assimilate everything you’re exposing them to—the aroma, appearance, flavors, taste. The whole picture.

In my own life, I don’t tend to stop and eat slowly. I eat as fast as I can because I’m a horrible cook! But when I’m traveling, or I’m in a restaurant trying something new, I look at my food and savor it slowly so I can really experience it and remember it.