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The Fickle Minded Subject of Taste

An acquaintance of mine recently debated with me that taste can be objective. I have always believed that taste is both subjective and psychological.

When I say that taste is subjective, it has nothing to do about being an adventurous eater or a picky eater. It's about willingness to taste something for the first time, not the perception of the actual taste. This means when I give a few people the same type of food, and one will say " I don't like it because it's too tart," and the other will say , " it's ok, but I would like it if it's more tart," and a third would say, " it's way too sweet for my liking,". A fourth one would ignore the whole tart or sweet issue and talk about how crisp it is.

Since you can’t climb into someone else’s taste buds, there’s no way to know if these people are actually perceiving the same thing in different ways, or whether the desire for more sweet or tart is a personal preference. But either way, two people can eat the same food and one will love it and the other will say, “nah, I could take it or leave it.” Neither one is wrong.

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I have eaten food with people and while I’m thinking that this food is usually more crunchy and I like it better that way, and the person I’m eating with will say, “Hmm, this stuff is usually a lot harder, I like this softer version better.” So am I less adventurous because I like it the “traditional” way, or do they have a less-trained palate because they like this “incorrect” version better?

If you have eaten something one way for your whole life, you tend to form a strong opinion about it. Either you like it because you’re used to it that way, or you think you hate it until you taste it made a different way. Similarly, a lot of people get hung up on what’s authentic. So they convince themselves that they only like the original or authentic version, because its supposed to be that way. That has absolutely nothing to do with taste. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with traditional versions of dishes. And a person can like both a traditional version and a modern one. But if you get too stuck on how something is supposed to taste, how it was made originally, what the advertising people say is good, or what the latest restaurant reviewer thinks is great, then you’re no longer talking about what tastes good to you, you’re talking about what other people have convinced you is good.

I’m sure that we all have psychological reasons for certain likes and dislikes. There are some food that I enjoy eating just because they bring back past memories. Objectively, they may not be the tastiest versions of those food, but I like them because they make me feel warm and fuzzy. And just as emotionally, if someone told me I was wrong for liking those food, I would probably spend hours debating with them until they agree with me it's delicious.

I agree, at least in part. Taste is highly subjective, but physiology also plays a part. It has been shown that our taste buds differ, and some people experience certain taste (bitter, for example) more or less acutely than others. You can also train yourself to discern subtle flavors. For example I can discern the intensity of Matcha and whether they're of authentic quality from a certain region in Japan based on the delicate earthy buttery notes while there are others who just find all Matcha taste bitter. Smell also plays a big part in tasting food, and if your sense of smell is diminished, whether temporarily by a cold, or permanently, with age, your sense of taste will also be diminished.

Taste is a very complicated sense and it can be easily disrupted. There are lots of variables involved in individual taste and no amount of "If you had cooked it right" is going to make certain food palatable to certain people.

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