Cider: Taste versus Smell

I often talk about taste and smell being the same and, I’m not alone. This is because the flavors or what is often defined as the taste of food and drink depends on aroma. To be more specific, the flavor is created by olfactory receptors in the nasal pharynx picking up volatile compounds (aromas) when swallowing(1). But, this is really smelling and not tasting. Tasting is really only about five to seven sensations. The main five sensations are sweetness, sourness, bitterness, saltiness, and savoriness or what is also called umami. While many just reference these five tastes there are two additional tastes or sensations. These sensations are chalky and metallic.

The Seven Sensations of Taste

  1. Sweet
  2. Sour
  3. Bitter
  4. Salty
  5. Savory/Umami
  6. Chalky
  7. Metallic

If you are eating an apple and you taste apple or fruity, what you are really saying is you smell apple or fruit when chewing and swallowing the apple. The only true taste would be sweetness, sourness, bitterness, and maybe some umami depending on the apple. I doubt you will get salt, chalk, or metal from an apple, but maybe you could. Generally, the taste of the apple will be defined by the level of sugar, acid, and tannins found in the apple. The same will go for hard cider. Cider will tend to have low sugar and high acid since yeast consume most of the available sugars leaving you with the acids and tannins. However, the taste of cider is much more complex than just a sweet, sour, and slightly bitter liquid. Which is the reason so many of us talk about smell and taste being the same thing.

This may not be a good thing. I ran across and interesting chapter from R.L. Doty’s Handbook of Clinical Neurology. He explores the importance of both smell and taste as a way of assessing health and how they can be early indicators of diseases and health risks. While interesting in its own right, the importance of understanding and developing our sense of smell and taste was not lost on me. It links back to an epiphany my wife and I had about how cider has changed our lives. My passion for hard cider and the desire to explore and understand it led her to actually try it. I don’t mean she wanted to drink it for the alcohol. She wanted to try it to explore the aromas and tastes it can create. This led to us wanting to explore and experience more of our food and drinks. It changed our focus on both cooking and eating for health and enjoyment. As noted in Doty’s book, most people lose the ability to taste and smell as they age. Excessive loss of smell and taste above the normal levels can be a predictor of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and even death. He noted that older people with the loss of smell were three times more likely to be dead in the next 4-5 years versus those without loss. Actively testing, tracking, and developing our sense of taste and smell could potentially help us combat specific health conditions.

It’s another example of how conscious consumption or what I like to say, everything in moderation, can be a positive part of your life. Focusing on what we are eating and how it is made should not only make you healthier, it should also make you a better cider maker. So, enjoy the process of making cider. Eat an apple, drink some of the juice, and make cider. When it’s time, savor that cider. Smell it. Taste it. Let it sit in your mouth and linger on the back of your tongue. But, also share it and not just the cider but the food, the experience, and the memories. Cider can be a great metaphor for life. Squeeze every drop from it and, the best way to do that is to be open to new ideas, willing to try new things, interested in sharing what you find, and most importantly, focused what you are making and how it taste and smells.

(1) R.L. Doty, Psychophysical testing of smell and taste function, Handbook of Clinical Neurology, Chapter 15, Vol. 164, 2019

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