Five Ways to Train Your Palate

Spice. Various Spices over Wooden Background. Saffron, turmeric,Are you ready to take the taste?

Take a bite. What flavors can you detect? Do you sense the nuance of white wine and shallots? Or does every bite taste pretty much the same? Of course, it helps if you’re familiar with the recipe for the dish you’re tasting.

Science tells us that about half the world’s population have the ability to detect specific flavors in a dish. About 25 percent are what’s called super-tasters. And the rest? They have difficulty picking up and differentiating flavors. No matter what category you put yourself into, use these five ways to train your palate for a more pleasurable dining experience.

  1. Start with the basics. Professional chefs are trained to first discern between sweet, salty, bitter, and sour. These are general categories. Most people can pick these out fairly easily.
  2. Use other senses than taste. Seeing, smelling, and yes, sometimes touching, can help detect specific flavors. Seeing helps you notice color and fat content. Smelling helps you notice spices at the very least. Touching may give you hints about texture.
  3. Understand how flavors combine. Knowing how lime juice affects the taste of a scallop or how bacon fat revs up the flavor of a potato can create a kind of mental checklist as you taste.
  4. Break down the taste in your memory. As you taste a food, try to recall the last time you had that particular taste on your palate. Maybe a certain spice reminds you of a dish your grandmother made and you recall she used a lot of fresh basil.
  5. Know that your palate is trainable. The ability to have a sophisticated palate is not restricted to professional chefs. Yes, they are trained and may also have an innate talent. But they all had to start somewhere. With practice and experimentation, you can train your palate. 

Factors that may limit your ability to detect different flavors

There are, however, some conditions that may make it more difficult for you to effectively train that palate. These include:

  • Sickness and allergies—may temporarily desensitize the taste buds
  • Smoking and drinking— may deaden the taste buds
  • Age—the older we get, the more desensitized our taste buds become
  • Familiarity with certain foods—for example, if you are not familiar with Indian cuisine, you may find it harder to pick up the essence of cardamom, cumin, coriander, and garam masala

The next time you pick up a spoon or fork, try to make a list of the ingredients you taste!