Friday, September 28, 2012

Zones of Indiscernibility

I have been listening lately to Beard Foundation Vice President Mitchell Davis' very good podcast, Taste Matters.  I too have thought frequently on the structure and composition of taste, and would contribute this: taste is put into action via an organ structure that responds to both consistency and inconsistency.  What I mean is that often we are aroused to tasty food when what we are tasting is both clear and unclear (e.g. a blend of eleven herbs and spices).  What makes Coke coke-like and RC Cola a pale imitator?  Having cooked a lot but never having worked in an industrial food lab, I cannot tell you what you are tasting when you taste Coke, it is simply Coke.  Likewise, salt is essential to a soup -- without it you have flavored water -- but a good soup will not taste salty -- why is that?  It is because of what I would call, borrowing from Gilles Deleuze, taste's zone of indiscernibility.  At a certain point, not salty and too salty are obviated by an indiscernable zone that is perfectly salted.  I believe that all food operates in this way, the purest example being umami (deliciousness).  Take a drop of soy sauce on your tongue, and the palate reacts purely to this otherwise indiscernable fermented liquid bean paste.  Another example (for me) would be Pepperidge Farm Cookies.  Pepperidge Farm Cookies have gone through decades of testing to arrive at the perfect amount of sugar, the perfect amount of salt, etc., to the precision of production of a Porsche car body.  That is why when you taste a Chessmen or a Milano, what you are tasting is almost ontological in nature.  For our part at Berenbaum's, the recipes that we stick with also obey these rules: they go through weeks of testing, modifying the salt or hydration content by as little as 2-3% (which might come out to 10-15 grains of salt in your home recipe) in order to find the zone of indiscernibility where the product really moves the palate.

No comments:

Post a Comment