How Do We Taste?

Molecular Matchmaking from Jigger Beaker Glass looks in micro detail at the rational methods of mixing drinks to get you the most accurate results alongside the macro concept of matchmaking. The complements, contrasts or juxtaposes that makes a drink elicit emotions. From pairing food and drinks, blending flavours in a cocktail, matching mood to the atmosphere, turning expectations into effects, myth-busting misconceptions, social bonding, team building, or combining creative flair and critical thinking: the list is endless.

Flavour is both a science and a way to build a unique customer experience. Ultimately, all hospitality venues serving food or drinks are attempting to build a business on the foundations of flavour. Chasing that perfect moment of lip-smacking savouring from our guest makes us strive for advancement, creates friendly competition that motivates us, and ultimately pays our bills.


Why Do We Want Delicious Drinks?

Inherent flavours are not only useful for food identification. They provide hedonic value to our senses.

Flavours are units of pleasure that influence our motivation to consume, elevate our mood, evoke spontaneous emotions like surprise, nostalgia or joy, and when served in the right environment, are fodder for mentally stimulating conversation.


Why Are Some Drinks Tastier Than Others?

Taste helps us both decide what to eat and influences how we digest.

Loosely, bitter helps us avoid toxins, sweet allows us to consume high-energy calories, umami helps us get energy from minerals and proteins, sours help us avoid decomposing foods, and salt affects the balance of osmosis. A new body of scientists is pushing to include fat as a flavour as it elicits a response in the brain seeking fatty acid-based nutrients. Fat also affects texture, flavour release and thermal properties.

Therefore, generally, people who’s brains are geared towards an appetite response — the desire for nourishment — will prefer sweet, fatty, umami and salty cocktails. Those who’s brains like to live on the edge of danger will get a thrill from sour or bitter flavours. That’s one reason why fatty, salty, savoury or sweet drinks make us feel comfort, whereas sour or bitter flavours make us feel alert. But that’s a simplistic overview.

Both genetics and evolutionary factors affect our preferred flavour profiles too. Our DNA profile will determine how to turn the taste and smell messages sent to your brain into a decision on what we think is delicious or disgusting. Whereas familiarity can cause an emotional response ranging from contempt to contentment.

Our age affects how we taste too. We both lose nerve sensitivity in our taste receptors because they shrink, and fewer of them regenerate the older we get.


What Journey Does Flavour Take To Our Brains?


Our sense of taste is initially stimulated when nutrients or other chemical compounds activate receptor cells in our nose, mouth and throats. We can detect up to 1-trillion airborne olfactory odours. These cues allow our subconscious to glean hazards, pheromones, and the emotional states of others. Our conscious mind will notice appetite cues, memories and the emotional responses we have. Smell is not our most dominant sense, but it is usually the first point of perception. That’s why coffee roasters and bread makers waft cooking smells onto bustling pavements. It’s the first hook in a sale.


When you combine scent and visual cues, your body starts preparing for digestion. You might begin to salivate or have a gag-reflex ready before a drink even touches your mouth. Vision is our primary sense. Extrinsic factors like colour and intrinsic factors like viscosity will drive acceptance or rejection. With just these initial two senses, we have built up an expectation of flavour that will make us either refuse or order a cocktail.


Naturally, you’d think taste comes next, but we actually perceive texture first. Grainy, slimy, sticky or thin, a drink’s mouthfeel is the next to flag up a refusal reflex. Even if something tastes palatable, a gross texture or offbeat temperature will immediately make us question the admittance of a gulp into our sacred bodies.


According to a growing body of research, acoustic atmosphere can affect the way we taste. For example, noise over 100 decibels can affect the intensity of sweet or salt perception. A study on an aeroplane — where ambient sound is around 85 decibels — intensified passenger’s umami response. Another study showed that moods of music affected wine drinkers description of the flavour profile. So when the music was mellow and soft, so was the wine.


Our tongues help us to identify toxins, maintain nutrition, regulate appetite, create immune responses, and metabolise what we ingest via a sense of taste. A cocktail is essentially a toolbox of ingredients that, when balanced together, can affect any one of these responses in numerous different ways.


What Happens When We Remove A Sense from This Journey?

What happens when we handicap just one of the senses? Does it affect our perception, enjoyment and capacity to identify flavours within a drink? Let’s see what happens to the Bacardi Ambassador team’s tastebuds when they are blindfolded…

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