They Brew it, I sell it, You Drink it... and so do I..

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Does This Taste Right???

The human brain is an incredible organ.

They say that 80/90% of what you actually taste comes from what you smell, hence why food doesn't taste so great when you have a cold. All this 'taste', & of anything in that matter, still gets processed by our brains and we all can perceive it differently.

I heard a story a few years back about a man lost at sea, and while I'm not sure if it's entirely true it does throw up some interesting thoughts. Like I said, he was lost at sea, but fortunately so as he had a small supply of water, and was in a spot where the fish were abundant and easy to catch. After a couple of weeks of eating nothing but fish flesh, he apparently found himself absolutely detesting the flavour of fish meat. At the same time he was beginning to get massive cravings for the other parts of the fish most people would find revolting, like for the eyes to note one example. When some sciency dudes tried to explain what was going on they summarised that while fish meat is very good for you, it does not contain everything that the body needs to survive. The other parts of the fish which are often discarded do have many vitamins and minerals which, in survival situations, are quite essential. When this survivor (he was eventually picked up) turned from the meat to craving the un-desirables, it was his brain that saved him. It forced him to believe that eating fish eyes was the most delicious thing on the planet, which when you think about it, is quite a remarkable feat.

Now I'm not to big on my science so someone could possibly tell me that that's all hogwash, but it seems plausible.

It is certain that if you eat too much of something in the long run, your body can become intolerable to it. But that's probably more of a physical reaction than something to do with your brain muddling you up.

That did get me thinking though; if you drink too much beer could you become intolerable to it?? Would your body start to reject all that malty/yeasty goodness?? Well it's certainly true that some people are intolerant and even allergic to some ingredients in beer, but after further thought, it doesn't seem like something that could happen over a long period of time and over consumption, from looking at history. Let's face it, we can all say we have some sort of a varied, balanced diet, and we're not in a survival situation.

But what if we drank so much of the same beer that our brains started to play tricks on us, and the beer we once new, didn't really taste the same anymore? Would we even notice, and if we did would we blame it on something else? "Oh that breweries' beer doesn't taste the same these days..." - When it's probable that we've probably had a bit too much of it in our lifetimes, our taste buds have become dull to it, and our brains are telling us to "Try a bloody new beer!!"

Another big point is perceived taste. I'm only going to touch on it because it's a massive point but it seems to me;

If you think, and are convinced, that a beer is going to be horrible - then most likely - your not going to enjoy it. Also if you think a beer is going to be amazing, your most likely going to experience that, and even if you don't you'll try to make it out that it is.

Let's not even start on influencing tastes as well... I remember long ago when me Zak and Dan were sampling a brew, and me and Dan couldn't pick out any flavours from it. Zak said it tasted of marmalade - and unsurprisingly that's all we could taste for the rest of the beer!

Taste is an amazing thing. As individuals we will all taste differently, that's why some of us might love a beer and some hate it. But for me all of that 'taste' is manipulated by our brains and comes from a variety of influencing factors from age to experience to even our sex, for example.

.... or something along those lines.

Try to taste with your brain, and listen to what it's trying to tell you! It's much more clever than you give it credit for. So the next time someone disagrees with you about how a beer tastes, don't be so quick to shoot him down as a fool, that's just his taste.

The mad musings of this Ghost were brought to you whilst enjoying a lovely bottle of Stone Smoked Porter and a Peanut Butter and Jam sandwich.


  1. The psychology of taste and especially palate fatigue really interests me.

    Have you read this post from Bob Arnott, which links to this post from Stan Hieronymous?

    And, for that matter, here's one from us re: the effect of branding on the perception of taste.

  2. Bailey - the whole psychology of taste, and drinking for that matter is something that has really started to interest me as I'm in my own head far too often. Thanks for the links, will give them a read over a beer.

  3. my brain is telling me "no more carling, have a foster's". Okay brain.

  4. Psychology and taste fascinate me, too. Tiny hints, whether from the label colour or a note on the back which says it tastes like blackcurrant or lemon, are enough to change what you think you taste, as you said happened with Zak and marmalade.

    I want to learn more about this and do some proper research. I'll have to try and find some smart scientists who can give me some answers!

    And peanut butter and jam sandwich with Stone porter sounds amazing!

  5. Your brain is a clever organ and is able to associate nutrients with different foods. I've noticed that I get cravings for food like Marmite and spinach when I haven't been eating enough vitamin b or iron (something us veggies) have to watch out for.

    Palates/noses are all configured differently, something as subtle as a nose bleed could affect your long term ability to perceive scents.