Monday, November 12, 2012

The Sensual Writer: Taste

The Sensual Writer
Taste vs. Flavor


First, here are the Answers to last month’s quiz on Scent:

Men have a better sense of smell than women.

Answer: False

Proper training can enhance human ability to smell.

Answer: True
Thank you to the brave employees of the Philadelphia Water Department who had been trained to serve on the Department’s water quality evaluation panel. The researchers concluded that training is the factor most likely to enhance performance on smell tests.

Infants can pick out their mothers by scent.

Answer: True
Tests have shown that infants can detect their own mother’s unwashed breast and show preference the breast milk of their own mother vs. a substitute breastmilk.

Steel has its own aroma.

Answer: False
To give off a scent, a substance has to be able to dissolve in order to send molecules through the atmosphere to reach our nostrils. Steel does not dissolve.

The inability to smell can affect your weight.

Answer: True, as the ability to detect aromas affect our ability to taste to a great degree, loss of appetite or its opposite, may affect a person’s weight.

Once you lose your sense of smell, you’ll never regain it.

Answer: False to a large extent, depending on the reason for the loss.
If a person has a nasal blockage, a curable or even treatable disease, or a change of medication that affects the sense of smell, the loss can be reversed.

If you can’t smell a particular food, you can’t taste it either.

Answer: False
While smell and taste are largely connected, they are not completely dependent upon each other. A person who has a cold, for example, or a blocked nose, can still taste; if you burn your tongue so badly that you can hardly taste anything, barring any other problems, you can still smell. For example, have you ever smelled something so delicious, then been thoroughly disappointed at how it tasted?

Teenagers have the greatest sensory reception.

Answer: True-for now.
Tests have shown that by age 8, most children have reached a peak ability to detect scent; by age 15, the ability is already in decline.

People who cannot smell anything else can usually smell menthol.

Answer: True
Actually, the pain of the menthol that is received by the nostrils’ receptors, not the aroma.

Your left nostril processes pleasant smells and your left nostril, unpleasant odors.

Answer: False—just because: Right hemisphere of the brain processes pleasant sensation/emotion; left negative emotions, does not mean each nostril leads to a certain hemisphere of the brain to process the scent


Taste is as important as our other major senses, yet is often at least as much as, if not more so, overlooked than that of smell. Can we survive without being able to taste? Certainly, as much as we can exist without our other senses. Yet we would be the poorer for our loss.
In a word…chocolate.
Okay, I do know two people who don’t care for chocolate. They are both male.
Gustation, the sense of taste, is also a biological function involving chemical introduction to our sensory organs, commonly known as “taste buds” on our tongues. The olfactory system, our sense of smell, is located closely juxtaposed, so these senses work somewhat in conjunction. Can a person taste without smell, and vice versa? Naturally, although the perceptions of the individual sense are greatly enhanced by the other senses.
Taste: simply tasting food is a chemical process; the physical substance comes in contact with the gustatory calyculi, or taste bud, releasing the chemical signal sent to the brain which sorts it out and then reminds us of a previous experience, putting a name to the sensation.
Flavor, however, is the experience; the layer of pleasure, pain, reminiscence, that makes up the sensation of physically tasting a substance. As with the other others senses, a taste can evoke a powerful reaction.
Humans taste with the tongue. There are four basic recognized flavors: salt, sweet, bitter, sour. There are others identified in other cultures or even science, such as meaty (Japan), or metallic. Can those taste experiences stand alone or be justifiably one of the “four”? Go ahead, state your case! I’d love to hear your discussion.
What does taste or flavor add to a literary scene? Like the other four, the more a writer naturally portrays behavior, the more a reader can identify with not only the characters, but the story. Create a scene of a family meal. Is it a happy scene? A thought-provoking one? Angry, bitter, normal or dreadful? The food prepared, served, chosen, eaten can say a lot about your characters. How people react to a dinner, a breakfast in a diner, a power lunch, create a unique and intimate insight into an event.
Here’s where the layers of texture, of temperature of the food, of gourmet or completely outside-the-expected meals or parts of meals can be a character itself. What do people in your world eat or drink? What are their individual customs? Is meal time a social activity, a family event, or an evil necessity that takes away from life? Is food something your people look forward to? Obsess over? Annoyance? Treat? Are your characters adventurous, risk-takers, bold? Or shy, reluctant, bound by known likes and dislikes. Even those with emotional or physical disturbances can find their identity, their quirkiness, or uniqueness in food choice or food response. Shopping for food, gardening, hunting/gathering can create a powerful reader experience.
Other senses that add to our human nature include “Intuition” which I’ve colored gray in the excerpt; animals have the ability to sense certain natural experiences than humans, such as: sensing magnetism, echolocation, sensing infrared, chemicals, or pitches outside of our human perception, and a few others that may or may not separate, pure senses. I hope you were encouraged by these posts to add more sensory layers to your writing.
Don't forget to visit the other sense posts:
The final excerpt from my upcoming mystery, Meow Mayhem, follows here. It is color-coded for sensual imagery; something you may want to practice with scenes in your own work to see where you’re using scenes and where you might want to adjust. When I did this exercise, I noted that I had nothing of taste in this scene. Of course every scene doesn’t need all five senses, but I still wondered if taste would add anything. Check my solution. What would you do?


Original excerpt:

Yellow – sight

Green – touch

Aqua – hear                                                                                                      

Red - smell  

Olive - taste  

Gray - intuition


“Ivy!” Martha Robbins called to me from her stoop next door. I stopped at the end of the driveway. “Do you know what’s going on?” We could see the orange glow in the sky. Her kids were huddled with her in a blanket. “Dale was called to the station, but he didn’t say where the fire was.”

“At True’s store,” I ground out. “I have to go.”

“Oh, Ivy. I’m so…” Her voice faded as I started to jog. Two blocks later I realized that loafers were a poor choice of footwear and I slowed to a very fast walk. The evening was still plenty warm and I was...glowing. Soon I slowed as I met up with throngs of people who gathered to watch and wait for news.

I headed toward the alley behind True’s place only to find the entrance taped off. A squad car, lights stabbing the night, sat empty, close by, as Officer Larken spoke to people a few feet away. I moved in their direction, dodging sightseers. I held my nose against the acrid odor of burnt tar paper and wiring. A spray of water arced high over the building, which stood sooty but intact, billowing black smoke from broken windows and vents. At least any flames appeared to be out.

“Officer! Officer Larken! Where’s True?”

“Miss Preston. Good eve—”

It is not!” I snapped. “I need to know what’s happening. How bad is it? Where’s Mr. Thompson?”

True’s voice called from our left. “Here, Ivy. I’m here!”

“Oh, thank you, Lord, thank you!” I rushed to him. “I was so worried. I just ran. Are you all right?” I cupped his face in my hands. “How bad is it?”

“The fire burned mostly upstairs, my apartment. The firefighters did a good job. Lots of smoke damage, and of course, water damage. I don’t know about the store stock, but I wouldn’t be surprised if—” He had to stop to catch his breath. The front of his shirt wiggled.

“Isis. Oh, baby.” I had not even felt her when I had grabbed True so roughly. He opened the edges of his vest so I could see her. I reached my hand out to stroke between her ears. “She’s safe, oh, she’s safe.” Isis had no intention of letting True go. She even nipped at me, which I would have done too, under similar circumstances, but I did back off.

“She was already outside,” True said. “She wouldn’t let anyone grab her, but came to me when she saw me.”

“I wonder how she got out?” The prickly sensation at the back of my neck, when I had last been in the basement of Mea Cuppa, returned.


I was exhausted, as if I had been fighting the fire myself. Smoke hung heavy everywhere, blotting out some figures and creating other images that wafted, ethereal. My eyes stung and I blinked back tears. Due to the smoke. More than one person coughed and Officer Larken got on the microphone. “Go home, now. We don’t want anyone developing breathing problems.”

The auxiliary ladies had arrived with hastily assembled ham sandwiches and paper cups of coffee. I was surprised to discover that I could still detect the aroma of coffee under all the smoke. I accepted a cup and took a grateful sip, noticing and smiling at True’s familiar Mea Cuppa logo.

“Why don’t you stay with my wife and me?” Hanley offered True. “Our son’s gone for the weekend, a camp outing, so you can use his room. In the morning, we’ll figure out what to do.”

Cal Stewart dashed up. Just in time to save the day, I thought sourly. The third musketeer in this strange little web. Stop it, Ivy! You’re just tired.

“Hey! What’s going on?” Stewart asked.

Apparently the quality of the conversation, like the smoky air, was not about to improve any time soon.

“Thompson’s coming home with me tonight,” Hanley told him. “Why don’t you stop in for a while, too?”

“Uh, okay. Sure.” Stewart said, his attitude eerily similar to Hanley. They were plotting something. I could tell.

“Can I drop you off at home, Ivy?” Hanley asked. True looked at me intently, as if willing me to do something. But what?

“No thanks. I walked here. I’ll just walk back. Clear my head. Good exercise.” True nodded ever so faintly, so I had guessed the right answer. Goody for me.

“Can you take Isis for me?” True asked. “She knows you and you have her special food and supplies.”

“Sure. Fine.” I had laid in a stock of her favorite salmon treats, but I hadn’t told him that. True came close, transferring the uncooperative feline from inside of his vest to me. She settled under my chin, dug her claws in enough to make me wince and growled low, just to make sure we knew she was upset.

“Don’t believe everything you see,” True whispered while he kissed me on the cheek, his touch lingering in my hair.
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