When It’s Sticky, Does It Taste Icky?

When it’s sticky, does it taste icky? Your first response is probably, NO! Who doesn’t love a sticky bun or maple syrup or a toasted marshmallow? But I don’t really mean the food itself. I mean the weather. Due to high humidity and hot temperatures, we have lots of sticky days here in the summer. And humidity, whether low or high, affects both the making and perception of food.

If you’ve always lived in a humid region, there’s no reason to notice this. The same is true if you’ve always lived in a dry climate. But those of you who have moved around may have seen the results of your baking change.

You can use the very same ingredients and technique but find it impossible to exactly duplicate the results you got in your previous home. When the humidity is high, you may notice that it’s easier to prepare soft breads than crusty breads or that baking takes longer.

Humidity level also affects our perception of taste. The ideal humidity in a house is around 50%. In my house, it ranges from 50 – 60 percent in warm weather. It can even climb higher if I don’t use the dehumidifying feature on my air conditioner. At this level, food tastes good.

When you fly in an airplane, the humidity drops under 30%. At that level, your perception of taste will not be as acute. Airline food vendors may attempt to compensate for blandness, but few of us have every had a satisfying meal on board. Fighting both low humidity and high altitude makes it difficult to create the ideal culinary experience.

Commercial bakeries often employ humidity control devices to improve the consistency of their product. At home, there are a few things you can do to prevent icky food:

  1. When it’s too humid, turn the air conditioner to a lower temperature before you begin to bake. You can also use a fan to dry the air.
  2. Make sure to use your exhaust fans.
  3. Store ingredients in moisture proof containers with a good seal. For more extreme conditions, place the containers in the refrigerator or freezer.
  4. Reduce the moisture in your recipe slightly.
  5. Use the convection feature if your oven has one.
  6. Make sure there’s a vapor barrier over dirt basement floors.
  7. If conditions are often extreme, purchase and use a dehumidifier or humidifier or explore alternate heating and cooling systems.
  8. Don’t use the drying feature on your dishwasher. If you need more humidity, open the dryer door while it’s hot and the dishes are wet.
  9. You can also increase humidity by simmering pots of water on the stove or making soup.
  10. An indoor dryer vent will pump moisture (and heat) into your home.

If conditions are not extreme, go with the flow. Experience will help guide you to add baking time or increase liquid in the batter.

Enjoy the slightly altered density or moisture in a muffin or cake. Savor the differences in your experience of each food. As long as it’s not icky when it’s sticky, it’s all good!

Navigating a Loss of Taste and Smell

Many people are currently navigating a loss of taste and smell. For some the cause is COVID-19. For others it may be chemotherapy or a different virus. I experienced such a loss following a virus a few years ago. It took almost a year for my sense of smell to return to mostly normal. I say mostly because I still encounter days when things seem just a little bit off. Although they’re now rare, it is still disconcerting when it happens.

For those of you who are not regaining these senses quickly, there are treatments available and one of those can be done at home. Olfactory training is a treatment used to encourage smell fibers to start working again. You can begin it at any time.

Choose items already in your home and smell them, slowly mastering each smell and then moving to another. I’d probably start with coffee, vinegar, vanilla, and oil of oregano. I might also bury my nose in the autumn scented candle I can’t get enough of. This process stimulates the olfactory nerve and hopefully encourages the body to create new neural pathways.

Don’t be alarmed if some things smell wrong or foul for quite some time. This is the symptom that lingers for me. Certain items sometimes smell spoiled when they’re not. For some people, everything may taste like bananas for a day. There’s really no predicting the exact experience. Just know, you’re not losing your mind.

And if not being able to taste is causing you to lose your appetite, there’s a new cookbook from Life Kitchen called Taste & Flavour. Those with a keen eye may have noticed the u in Flavour and already guessed that the chefs who developed these recipes live in the UK. But don’t worry about converting currency. The book can be downloaded for free.

The chefs consulted with scientists, researchers, and patients to create recipes that add sensory excitement. Part of that formula is to appeal to the eyes by using bright colors. They also use texture and foods like pineapple that stimulate the trigeminal nerve. Other foods like soy sauce and mushrooms are included to stimulate saliva and boost other flavors in a dish.

You may have to alter the way you cook for a while. Or you may find that your preferences have changed. Any changes bring an opportunity to explore a variety of new food combinations you might not have considered before.

For most, the senses of taste and smell will return eventually. Until they do, olfactory training and specialized recipes can help you navigate the twists and turns that come with an altered sense of perception. We may not have normal, but we’re continually gaining new resources and I love that!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Out of the Mouth of Babes, Snakes, and Scientists – Smell Begins With the Tongue

Sometimes a new idea comes out of the mouth of babes, snakes, and scientists. A study published last week online in advance of the print edition in Oxford Academic Chemical Senses finds that smell may begin with the tongue rather than the brain. One of the study’s authors, Mehmet Hakan Ozdener, MD, PhD, MPH, became intrigued with the idea when his adolescent son asked whether snakes stick their tongues out in order to smell.
tongue
A current model of taste and smell shows two genetically different receptor systems located in anatomically distinct locations that send signals to different targets. While the two are known to intertwine to form the perception of flavor, scientists thought that the first merger occurred in the insular cortex – a part of the cerebral cortex in the brain. The insulae are believed to play a role in functions that include perception, motor control, self-awareness, cognitive functioning and interpersonal experience.

The abstract of this new study states: “Here we report that olfactory receptors are functionally expressed in taste papillae…The results provide the first direct evidence of the presence of functional olfactory receptors in mammalian taste cells. Our results also demonstrate that the initial integration of gustatory and olfactory information may occur as early as the taste receptor cells.” (1) Other experiments confirm that smell and taste receptors may be found within the same cell.

There are 400 different types of functional human olfactory receptors and scientists do not know what molecules activate the vast majority of them. While fascinating, this study alone does not answer that question or have a practical application other than to advance knowledge that will lead to other studies.

That’s the beauty of science. It’s a living body of changing knowledge. One layer builds on another. The more we understand about how things work, the more options we have for enhancing our lives. It’s good to remind ourselves of that occasionally.

Believing science has become a battle cry among those who want to stand firm on what we currently know. There’s a danger in that because tomorrow we will know more and that may mean that what we know today is no longer supported by the evidence. It also makes science sound like a restrictive rule book. Who wants to learn a bunch of rules? Certainly not bright minds that can imagine big ideas.

Instead of believing science, I’d rather we love it! And while we’re loving it, let’s be curious. Curiosity leads to advancement. Questioning is good. Skepticism can play a valuable role. Allowing our understanding to shift and change does not threaten our way of life. It has the potential to vastly improve it.

But don’t take that from me, take it from the mouth of a scientist: “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” – Albert Einstein.

(1)https://academic.oup.com/chemse/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/chemse/bjz019/5470701?redirectedFrom=fulltext

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190424083405.htm

https://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/insular+cortex
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Strippaggio – A Tasting Adventure!

My first experience with Strippaggio turned out to deliver unanticipated excitement.  Strippaggio is both the name of a local retail establishment and the Italian word for the process of filling your mouth with oil and then slurping so air spreads the oil up your nasal passages coating the taste buds with flavor.

I love any shopping experience that involves tasting something exotic or unusual, so I decided to make Strippaggio the first stop in an evening of birthday dining. My friends Chris and Heather joined me. The boutique offered around 50 varieties of fused or infused olive oil, roasted oils, and flavored vinegars.

jugs

Neat rows of stainless steel jugs with spigots sat atop counters that conveniently contained small plastic cups, rolls of paper towels, and a waste bin along with already bottled portions of the top selling varieties.  Each jug was labeled with a description of the contents and flavors letting us know what to expect before choosing our next taste.

We began with a lime infused olive oil that was bright and fresh, then followed it with infused wild mushroom and sage.  The wild mushroom variety turned out to be one of my favorites and one that I had to take home with me. After a few more slurps of infused oil, I was ready to mix it up with some of the vinegars.

counter

Our host cautioned us not to slurp the vinegars, just to taste them.  We tried white pear and cranberry, blueberry, chocolate, espresso, fig, maple, raspberry, and a spicy serrano honey vinegar.  After three or four sips, we returned to the oils.  Then back again to the vinegars lingering over the sweetness and dessert appropriate chocolate balsamic and pondering a pairing of raw pecans with the maple balsamic.

Things were going well until Chris slurped a vinegar, coughed choked, cried, and laughed. I felt for him, but I was laughing too.  One more caution from the host and we resumed our tasting by buying a package of pecans and dipping them in maple, blueberry, and chocolate balsamic.  The maple was definitely the best.

Chris

Finally, I was ready for one last review of my favorites so I could decide which to purchase. After a quick taste of roasted sesame oil, I returned to the serrano honey vinegar.  While I can’t tell you for sure what I did, I assume I slurped it as I swallowed.  The vinegar burned the back of my mouth and my throat immediately closed. I could not move air in or out.  It was as if I had something blocking my airway, but there was nothing there.  I paced, Heather worried, the host asked if I was alright, Chris stood in the back of the room and waited to see if laughter or 9-1-1 was the next appropriate move.

Cheri

After a few seconds that felt like an hour, I was able to loudly force air back through my throat.  I sounded asthmatic.  A few more breaths like that and I could cough, cry, then laugh.  Everyone laughed. I felt glad to be alive.

killer vinegar

I wasn’t willing to buy the serrano honey vinegar this time, but I will.  Instead, I went home with two other varieties and a survival story.  I wouldn’t have missed the experience for the world.  I highly recommend the tasting – just make sure you pay close attention to whether you’re tasting vinegar or oil.  If you don’t, you may get an unexpected adventure as well.

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