Typhoon and taste buds

The year’s first arriving typhoon always seems to carry some significance. It will make it to the headlines, and the news anchor or meteorologist/ weather forecaster would give the topic a longer segment, explaining its formation, behavior, predicted movements, comparison to yearly norms, etc.

I have always enjoyed typhoon days since I was a kid. Not the physical storm system per se, but the experience and the sentiment arisen from it: In the midst of the pouring rain and the recklessly gusting wind, everything is quieted and has become irrelevant to time. Everyone is forced to put down what s/he has been doing and takes the rest that they don’t know they need, timely or otherwise.

The meaning of typhoon varies by age, too. Typhoons and snow storms are probably most welcome by students, especially on assignment and exam days. The bonus day-off, which happens only a handful of times a year and is even more precious than official holidays, means one day of obligation-free morning TV, large breakfast/ lunch/ brunch and all-you-can-eat munchies. Sitting by the TV/ radio, they secretly urge the storm to stay a little longer and not spoil the fun.

But the story is whole lot different when we have considerably serious jobs. A forced day-off is the least thing we want when there are deadlines and scheduled items to happen. Delayed hours mean longer conference calls, extra emails, and the worst of all, restless off-work hours at home and the day(s) after. We pray for the typhoon to leave asap, so no more damage can be done to our agendas.

This changed perspective might have resulted from the growing maturity and obligations that tag along, which is quite logical. Sipping from a cup of black coffee, I started to ponder what causes the changes with our palates. Coffee, beer, wine and whiskey were some of the things that I couldn’t gastronomically understand as a kid. How did they magically become palatable or even desirable, and why?

I can recall my love for the Devil’s food cake, with extra chocolate icing on top and a chunk of vanilla ice cream on the side. Today, I would definitely choose a glass of digestif or dessert wine over a plateful of heavy sugar. I still love desserts; but instead of the punching sugariness and filling quality, the composition of refined tastes and textures would be the top, if not only, item on my list.

As you might have guessed, science in our bodies predetermines how much sugar (among many other things) that we want at different stages. In fact, our sweet teeth from youth are purposed to get the calories to consume and to develop physiologically.

Children tend to dislike greens or anything that has a bitter tone because babies are wired to distinguish anything non-sweet, such as bitterness, as potential poison (i.e. milk, their major source of nutrients, is sweet). This tendency for sweetness over non-sweetness would carry well into adolescence. Thus kids are supposed to like sweets and us adults normally don’t because we don’t have the same physiological needs as kids.

The changing number of taste buds influences children’s food preferences as well. Every baby is born with over 30,000 taste buds; but as we age, the regeneration of taste buds slows down and eventually we are left with around 5,000 of them at old age. This makes kids “supertasters” as tastes are de facto intensive for them, and elderlies demanding users of seasonings in contrast.

(Imagine: Only if we could have the amplified sense of taste as we were kids, wine tasting would be so much more fun!)

Of course, the deterioration of taste buds would be quickened if you smoke or drink, or are involved in activities that constantly wear down your tongue. That tells why heavy smokers and drinkers prefer bolder tastes comparatively.

OK, science explains my newfound tolerance of celery and bitter melon, but how about the recent fondness of drier wines? If nutrients are not the major concern here, the preference in sweetness in wine should have no reason to alter, should it?

What introduced me into the world of wine – that chilled glass of Gewürztraminer Spätlese on an early summer evening – which seemed so out of this world at that moment has never been preferable ever since. Female hormones might have something to do with the tolerance in sweetness; but even more so, I reflect it is the ordinary learning behavior of wine beginners that contributed to my change in taste.

According to experience of many, including myself, wine learners tend to start off with easily identifiable wines with pronounced aromas and palates (e.g. Gewürztraminer and Cabernet Sauvignon), and would slowly learn to prefer and pursuit finer tastes as their experience grow.

Also, I believe that knowledge will expand our appreciation and might even change one’s view about a subject. For instance, I wasn’t such a great fan of sparkling wine until my first visit to a Sekt winery. Needless to mention it was a quality winery to begin with; but it’s not untrue that getting to learn about the hard work behind each bubble has contributed to my enjoyment of sparkling wine until present days.

So when it is not science, personal complex and experience might be the answers to our taste preferences. Certainly there are cultural background, external factors e.g. environment, etc. But tastes are curious things, and you won’t know if you like something or not until you try it. So be unbiased and adventurous – because you never know when your taste buds will start to die on you! 

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