Taste versus Flavor and its Classification

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In 2004, Dutch restaurant owner and researcher Peter Klosse wrote an interesting thesis, entitled “The Concept of Flavor Styles to Classify Flavors” at the University of Maastricht (NL).

In this thesis, he made a stronge case for a distinction between taste and flavor. His research showed that the taste and richness of flavor are the basis for a classification of flavors.

“Before we can objectively discuss taste, we first need to distinguish between taste and flavor. Taste refers to the human act of tasting. It is an intricate experience which involves all the senses. Flavor, however, refers to products. Food and drink have flavors. Making this distinction is important because this allows us to classify taste as subjective: whether you like the taste of a product is similar to whether you like the color red. Flavor then is an objective notion, making classification and assessment possible.”, wrote Peter Klosse in this column.

In 1991, Peter Klosse founded the Academy for Gastronomy which is a training institute for food professionals, chefs and sommeliers in The Netherlands.

Book: The Taste Culture Reader
(C. Korsmeyer 2005)

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In 2005, editor Carolyn Korsmeyer published the book “The Taste Culture Reader: Experiencing Food and Drink‘ in the serie ‘Sensory Formations’ (Berg Publishers). Besides taste, this serie looks into other senses such as vision, sound and touch. Not in a technology but in a human perspective.

This book will interest anyone seeking to understand more fully the importance of food and flavor in human experience, said the publisher. So, I read the book and the following quotes resonated:

“(…) the senses usually work together in interrelation to create sense experience; the term that captures this integrative perspective of the senses is ‘intersensoriality’.” (Korsmeyer, p.8)

“The senses are the organs by which man places himself in connection with exterior objects.” (Brillat-Savarin, p.16)

“There is no situation in which sensibility and understanding, united in enjoyment, can be as long continued and as often repeated as a good meal in good company.” (Immanuel Kant, p.214)

“The significant quality of smell and taste is that it is possible to recognize them, but much more diffcult to recall them.” (Sutton, p.313)

“There is a particular strong line between the senses of taste and smell and the emotional dimensions of human experience.” (Lupton, p.19)

“Taste is a sensation of the moment. It cannot be preserved.” (Fisher, p.325)

Looking forward reading another book on taste by the same author: “Making Sense of Taste: Taste, Food, and Philosophy” (Cornell University Press, 1999)

Book: The Physiology of Taste

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In his seminal plenary speech at the Information Architecture Summit 2009 in Memphis (USA), Jesse James Garrett stated that in fact information architects and interaction designers are user experience designers. As designers, they focus on the engagement of people with artifacts, platforms and environments (online and offline).

According to Jesse, human engagement involves the mind (cognition), the heart (emotion), the body (action), and the senses (perception). Designers must know how to design for these human capabilities.

It almost goes without saying that besides for user experiences, the senses are also crucial for culinary experiences. Tastes, flavors, and smells are important human perceptions of the qualities of food. But are these inherently the qualities of food or are they only emergent through tasting and eating?

Long ago, the French lawyer and politician Jean Anthelme Brillat de Savarin (1755-1826) wrote an important and celebrated book on the human senses in a gastronomic context: “The Physiology of Taste or Transcendental Gastronomy” (1825). The book contains hardly any recipes but many anecdotes and observations covering all aspects of the pleasures of the table. He is considered ‘the greatest food critic ever’.

By reading this book, we gain understanding of our senses. We can use it to what JJG had in mind for user experience designers: facilitating compelling user experiences, never to forget.

Storytellers from Taste3

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Great stories are sources of inspiration. That’s one of the reasons we love the 18-minute presentations from the annual TED conference so much. Amazing people telling the most compelling stories.

In 2006, 2007 and 2008, a special set of these great stories was told. Robert Mondavi Winery organized the TASTE3 conference and invited storytellers from the culinary world. It’s the passion behind these stories which makes them so inspiring.

A few examples:

  • Chef and scholar Dan Barber relentlessly pursues the stories and reasons behind the foods we grow and eat.
  • Master breadmaker Peter Reinhart channels the science of baking into deep, spiritual lessons and dispels stale myths about the nature (and flavor) of good, wholesome bread.
  • Journalist and author Benjamin Wallace tells the true story of the world’s most expensive bottle of wine.
  • Owner and founder of Vosges Haut-Chocolat Katrina Markoff reveals the four steps that leads her to inspired, delicious and creative new chocolate collections.
  • Moto Restaurant’s Pastry Chef Ben Roche demonstrates the unique dining experience at Moto with his version of Carrot Cake, Nachos and Wine and Food Pairing.
  • Chef Jeffery Henderson tells his story from the streets to the stoves and how cooking changed his life.

According to the Taste3 blog, the next version of the conference will be in 2010. Deo volente.

Food Experience Design Course

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At the POLI.design (Consortium of Politecnico di Milano) in Italy, there are new post-graduate courses called ‘Food Experience Design‘.

The second edition (March 2009) focused on the specialization to create and design
innovative pizzerias.

The fourth edition (Sept-Nov 2009) focuses on rethinking baker’s, pastry and ice-cream shops.

From the various other courses like Hotel Experience Design, Entertainment Design or Outdoor Experience Design, some pictures are available as well.

Video: The Elements of Taste

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This video includes Chef Grant Achatz talking about his ultimate aim: to use food as a kind of artistic medium to give individual diners an emotional experience.

“If you can get past the soy sauce on chocolate, you will enjoy it and feel a certain way. It’s a journey where your heart beats a little faster.”

Book: Dimensions of the Meal
(H.L. Meiselman 2000)

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Food is art and science. Besides chefs performing the culinary arts and crafts, many researchers have looked into food from a scientific perspective.

Under the subtitle “The Science, Culture, Business, and Art of Eating“, author Herbert L. Meiselman (Senior Research Scientists at the U.S. Army Natick Research Development and Engineering Center) has collected an interesting set of scientific essays on The Meal. The chapters of the book are grouped into parts such as ‘Definitions of the Meal’, ‘The Meal and Cuisine’, ‘The Meal and Culture’, and ‘Designing and Producing Meals’.

Although the book originally costs a fair amount, it is currently available at a reasonable 20 dollars at Amazon.

From the introduction: “The objective of this book is to appreciate the complexity of meals; to see the psychological, physiological, cultural, nutricial, biological, sensory, food service/catering, and other business aspects of meals; and to see the interdisciplinary nature of understanding meals; meals are complex, but understanding meals and addressing meals in the practical world requires a more complex view of the meal.”

Food Design Weblog

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The blog Food Design for the KNL Program supports the Food Design course at Industrial Design Department of Delft University (The Netherlands). The course is an experimental activity.

“Why Food Design? The underlying focus of the joint master program is cultural identity, that can be defined as a person’s self affiliation (or categorization by others) as a member of a cultural group. Since cultural identity is a very broad theme, we are proposing to focus more narrowly on cultural identity through food.

The course exploits food as a cross-cutting concern of all human societies in all times to stimulate the students to design from the micro to the macro scale in ways that are sensitive to cultural identity.”

A Meal in the Live (elBulli)

In a two hours lecture on creativity at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences in 2008, world class chef Ferran Adrià (of elBulli fame) showed a short but beautifull video. In this video, the gastronomic experience of a couple is shown through their facial expressions.

Accompanied by the soundtrack ‘A Day in the Live’ (Lennon and McCartney 1967), we see how the restaurant crew serving the food to the couple, enjoying it to the max.

As Ferran said: “It’s not the food, it’s the experience.”

See also a similar interview with Ferran Adrià at Google, including reviewing the elBulli site.

Book: Kitchens (G.A. Fine 2008)

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Taking the restaurant as a metaphor for delivering compelling user experiences means being interested in the backstage as well as the frontstage. Backstage work in the restaurant (a.k.a. the kitchen) has been the ethnographic subject of the American sociologist Gary Alan Fine (1950). He published his findings in “Kitchens: The Culture of Restaurant Work“.

About the book: “Kitchens takes us into the robust, overheated, backstage world of the contemporary restaurant. In this rich, often surprising portrait of the real lives of kitchen workers, Gary Alan Fine brings their experiences, challenges, and satisfactions to colorful life. A new preface updates this riveting exploration of how restaurants actually work, both individually and as part of a larger culinary culture.”

The day begins slowly. Entering an empty, clean kitchen on a cool summer morning, one has little sense of the blistering tornado of action to come.