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The Refined Palate

I’m at the bar drinking straight whiskey and as I drain the glass begin thinking to myself, “Why am I drinking this?” Four years ago, pouring straight whiskey down my throat was not the ideal scenario, let alone, slowly savoring its flavor. Would I do this if it didn’t get me high? The pretentious gremlin in me wants to say that I have a refined palate and that I’m better than the guy at the other end of the bar cradling his Cosmopolitan, but that would be wrong and mean because Cosmopolitans are delicious. But it got me thinking: Is having a refined palate simply being used to flavors, even if those flavors aren’t particularly good? Is it that as we get older, we are better able to tolerate previously undesirable flavors?

That’s only half the answer. Children, being generally picky eaters, have more taste buds than adults and those taste buds have a greater sensitivity. So veggies your children don’t like eating, may genuinely taste bad to them, while as adults you like them just fine. With age, our taste buds become fewer and lessen in sensitivity, which accounts for why foods that bothered us in our youth we may find perfectly delectable today. That being said, adults can be irritably picky eaters as well. So how does one develop a refined palate?

The key is repetition and variety. To use wine as an example, if you drink the single variety and brand repeatedly, you’ll be accustomed to a certain taste. If say, you maintain the variety but change the brand, you will likely taste a variation in the flavor and this compounds with the more wine you drink and the greater varieties that you expose yourself to. With most foods, we can acquire a taste for them by just eating them more than once. Like the great eater Andrew Zimmern says, you have to try something at least twice, and sometimes more than that, so you get over the initial shock of a new and bizarre flavor and to taste what else the food has to offer your taste buds. It’s a matter of training one’s taste buds to differentiate among different, nuanced flavors, instead of just being overwhelmed by one.

All too often though, people hold themselves back. If someone eats the same old thing over and over, new cuisine will taste unusual and possibly bad, but if they keep challenging themselves, they will come to realize that there are so many delicious options out there. That being said though, if you dislike something, that is no reason to be ashamed. Even a man like Andrew Zimmern, who has been documented consuming a variety of animal genetalia with great pleasure, has a list of foods he hates, foods that to most are delicious, like walnuts and oatmeal. Guy Fieri has an annoying disdain for eggs. Sometimes things like that just can’t be helped, but to give them credit, they will try the food they hate again and again, just in case they find something about it to like.