Saturday, February 9, 2013

Smell Without Taste

There seems to be a debate on how many senses the human body has; however, two senses are readily agreed upon and strictly connected: Smell and Taste.

For a long time, humans have known that these two senses are intricately intertwined. It’s why, grossly, after getting sick, to eliminate the wretched smell from your nostrils, you have to brush your teeth. It’s why some people say that they can taste snow before a single flake ever falls. Also, for the reverse of my first example, it’s what makes food so much more than just fueling ourselves to keep us alive, but an entire experience able to be enjoyed.

Or to be avoided. One unfortunate family dinner at my Grandparent’s went from a homemade Shepherd’s Pie to a quick run down to the local pizza place. As the food was served, before anyone even tasted the meal, the odor emanating from our plates removed any volition to actually eat what sat in front of us. Some ingredient (still debated till this day) had obviously soured without my grandmother’s knowledge. Most of my family never ventured to try the pie, I did (it was hypoglycemic act of desperation, I needed food). It tasted wonderful; I experienced no adverse side effects from whatever had gone rotten, but once everyone else’s reactions were made public (and loudly) I immediately stopped my consumption.

Smell and taste can hardly be separated.

This connection baffles me. I understand it. It makes perfect sense. Yet it still confounds me.

I often hear, “Wow Hannah, that smells amazing!” Or “Hannah, that smell is making me want to cook something.” When my parents order pizza (which I cannot eat) or go out for dinner, I experiment with my mine, having the kitchen to myself. My mom tells me all the time during these situations that the smell is almost making her feel guilty for not cooking something of her own.

This is where my confusion comes from. I hear comments like these, I say thank you, then politely offer them a bite. Their reaction every time “Oh no. But thanks.” Their response is either coupled with a laugh or stated quite matter-of-factly like they would never eat something like that and why was I even asking? If smell and taste are so mingled within our functioning, how can they be so willing to smell my food, but not taste it? Isn’t smelling half of tasting?

Maybe there’s a block in most people’s brains. And maybe my wacko-ness somehow broke down that blockage. Maybe that’s an indicator I’m meant to be in the food world. Most foodie people seem to have broken through that block.

Three specific instances of this (even though this happens just about every time I cook) are when I cook my Veggie and Quinoa Stir-Fry, when I cooked my first ever portabella mushroom burger, and my recently created black bean soup.

My Veggie stir-fry doesn’t have much to create a smell other than the sautéing vegetables themselves. I only put a little black pepper in the quinoa and nothing else really. The sauce is what creates the aroma: peanut butter and horseradish mustard. The sauce sounds strange, but it’s a simple way to add tons of flavor to a stir fry. My mother always tells me “Wow, that smells great! I wish I was cooking something that smelled and looked as good as that!”

Will she taste it?

Of course not.

A few weeks ago I tried my first “burger” made from a portabella mushroom cap. I slathered some peanut butter and horseradish mustard (hadn’t had this combo in a while) on the bread. On top of the mushroom, I lavishly layered some onions and pineapple, sautéed in worcestershire sauce. While I was cooking the onions, pineapple, and mushroom, my dad walked over and exclaimed, “I have got to tell you, Hannah, that really does smell amazing!” Accompanied by his classic laugh and facial expression that goes along with statements he’s surprised to be making.

Would he try it?

Of course not.

Okay, I’ll admit, the latest dish I’ve concocted looked nasty. Like not terribly nasty, but it sure wasn’t the prettiest dish I’ve ever made. Black bean soup. With peanut butter. Separately, they both look appetizing and taste good. Together, they’re still tasty, absolutely creamy. However, when they get together any chance of physical attraction disappears.

The soup was spiced well though; it had cumin, curry, cinnamon, and red pepper (my favorite mix). I added diced peaches, onions, celery, and peanut butter. It was a result of another late night need to cook. I actually made it a second time and kept it in the fridge for dinners. I have yet to eat this warm, but I did do quite a bit of “taste-testing.”

When I give the ingredient list people admit that it’s got good stuff in it, they’re attracted to the spices, the peanut butter throws them a little bit, they admit (while I’m cooking it) that obviously it smells good, but will they taste it?

Of course not.

Smell without taste.

Maybe it’s our sight that messes things up, or just stepping out of ones comfort zone. Either way, smelling without actually tasting…Just doesn’t seem fun to me.

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