IFBC 2016: Part 3 — Taste

Quick, think of your favorite food. Now think of adjectives that describe it’s taste. Was it easy or challenging? We often say something tastes good, but have a hard time describing why something tastes good to us. That is because taste is actually something very complex, but at the IFBC session on taste, we learned how to put flavor into words, and in the course of an hour I realized why I love the Pisco Sour cocktail so much. First, it helps to define what taste is — a sensory stimulation of the sweet, savory, bitter, sour, and umami components of the gustatory system.

Now, if I asked you to close your eyes and imagine something sweet or savory, you’d have no problem and maybe thought of your favorite dessert or meat dish. Bitter and sour, maybe a bit more challenging. How about umami? Though hard to define, umami is a pleasant savory taste that is found in broths, mushrooms, tomatoes, parmesan cheese, soy sauce, cheese, and fermented foods, for example. It’s also very likely we’ve all experienced the taste of umami at a very early age, when we tasted our mother’s milk which is rich in umami.

What about the combination of all five basic tastes. Is there a food (or drink) that has sweet, savory, bitter, sour, and umami components? I can think of at least one example — the Pisco Sour. Let’s take a look at a traditional recipe for the Pisco Sour cocktail:

2 oz. Pisco Quebranta
1 oz. fresh lime juice
1 oz. simple syrup
1 oz. egg whites
Angostura Bitters

Combine all the ingredients except the Angostura Bitter in a shaker with ice. Shake vigorously to form a think foam, strain into a coupe and garnish with 3 drops of Angostura Bitters.

Now, let’s identify the five basic tastes in the cocktail. Lime juice is sour, simple syrup is of course sweet, and Angostura Bitters are, well, bitter. The egg whites are savory, and hopefully the ice is fairly neutral. That’s four basic tastes so far, sour, sweet, bitter, and savory. What about the Pisco? Since it’s not an aromatic varietal, it’s not sweet, and I would argue that because it is a single distillate made from 100% grapes and nothing else it has a uniquely rich terroir, which actually represents the umami in the cocktail.

But despite all the science behind taste, in the end our experience is hard to quantify because it depends on many other factors. What was the aroma or texture of the food you enjoyed? What was the environment, setting, and who were you with? Were you at home or traveling abroad? Was the food from a new country or culture? All of these factors contribute to your experience of taste, and sometimes, if you are fortunate, you will create a memory of something that tastes so good you will remember it for the rest of your life.


As an active food blogger, I was eligible for a discount during conference registration and in exchange I promised to write three blog posts on a subject of my choice related to IFBC 2016. This is the last of three posts about my weekend adventures at IFBC 2016 in Sacramento.