Taste and Culture of Food

Taste and Culture of Food

Nowadays, there are more displaced individuals living on planet Earth. It is more than what you have seen before, clearly displaying that there is a cultural movement going on. As there is an increase in the migration, generation of traditions, stories and ideas travel along with them and these get introduced to a new land.

Among the various cultural elements that are there, among them food is the one that cannot be forgone. This is one of the easiest and best method to make the transition and an important one too. Frankly, the need and love for food can transcends borders and when we see to the past, we might find the history of fusion that blends with the modern influences of tradition.

Multiple researches and studies prove that food culture of a community plays a major role in understanding the functionality of a community. You can know how the community connects to the past, lives in the current state (present) and imagines to the future. With regards to immigrants and refugees, food is divine. It is something related to peace offering. Kind of a literal breaking of bread, which can be shared and celebrated along with the new home.

However, this can somewhat leave an absence in terms of culture of their homeland. It will also lead to making history from the various ingredients and family traditions crucial. Most importantly, home cooks will really become inadvertent historians who have stock of recipes which they pass down through generations, thereby evolving our palates over time.

There Is More to Than Geography

No doubt, climate, terrain, fauna and flora and religion can deeply influence traditional cuisines. In the same way, individual cultures have or develop unique aversions and preferences, that too in these confines. Many historians state that hunter-gatherer tribes who lived on Earth, i.e. nomadic people who don’t farm simply eat only what nature provides. These people are finicky as the next person.

For example, Mbuti pygmies living in Angola find the basic idea of feasting on leopard meat a gross activity. This is because leopards eat human beings. Furthermore, primates resemble individuals for being a lot of appetizing. In the same way, Kalahari bushmen are well versed about the hundred desert plants which are edible. However, only basic fourteen varieties are consumable. These hunt giraffes, antelope, warthogs, etc. Furthermore, they assume ostrich taste bad and the meat o zebra is very much pungent.

Do you know that culinary peculiarities are most common among the various ancient tribes who are living side by side? In certain part of the Kenya, the Masai tribe consume a lot of cow’s milk as well as blood. However, neighbouring people (natives) Akikuyu are all about cereals and spuds.

Being Aware of The Genealogy of Taste Perception

Besides the cultural and environmental factors which deeply affect the choice of food, there is still a huge amount of evidence that displays the genetic makeup which can influence what people experience. Keep in mind that the basic tastes of sour, sweet, salty, umami and bitter will be detected as and when the chemicals created by these tastes are bind with some receptors of the tongue.

Each human being has different kind of receptors. And these are based on the DNA of us and research shows that having a bitter compound (which is somewhat easy to measure and is the basic marker for the entire taste sensitivity) will vary among various countries. Now in certain parts of South America, Asia and Africa, about 80% of the native population belong to the group of highly sensitive tasters. Lower end of the scale is the ethnic Europeans.

Geography of Food Recipes

Most of the love and hatred we have for food is something that we learned from our childhood. Breastfed babies and foetuses will taste what their mothers eat. This helps in displaying early kinds of affinities to certain flavours that is present in their mother’s diet. Also, when we start to eat solids, the concept of acceptable food gets evolved immediately. As time passes by, we slowly perceive that certain kind of flavours are simply programmed as per how we consume them on regular basis.

Certain researchers feel that in the western countries, people associate vanilla as a sweet food. So, it ends up as enhancing our perception of being sweet. This is what our brain does. In the east Asia, vanilla won’t make the food taste sweet as it is simply used in most of the savoury dishes.

So, you need to keep in mind that the cultural cuisines won’t be different in various dominant ingredients (like parmesan cheese, curry spices, or chillies). They will even have a conflicting option on what goes best with what. Do you know that traditional European gastronomy is all about sharing food? This is related to sharing food having flavours. But a study done some years back showed that the Asian cooking simply goes in the opposite way. They avoid combining all kinds of similar flavours. Finally, researchers reached to this conclusion after examining and finding compounds present in the 381 ingredients which are internationally used.

Rethinking or Assuming Taste as A Cultural Activity

Now the culture in the science of taste is something recognized as influential parameters. Even it is simply mentioned as the major black box. This leaves one to open to find out exactly how a culture will simply impact the taste and vice versa. Some of them often show the taster as a passive recipient of the various factors that are related to culinary and local cuisine traditions.

So, by moving the attention of taste as one of the physiological stimuli, the response of the individual to tasting will be shared and become as a cultural activity. Here, it is possible to recognize the taster as one of the reflexive actors who performs, communicates, senses, manipulates, and embodies taste. This can rather be passively perceived as a good experience in terms of food.

Sometimes, if you follow an anthropological approach in terms of taste and outlines, you might come across the methodological implications. This is related to the map of different strategies related to sharing experience of eating and paying attention to the context of the tasting practices. Now people propose that various taste activities can easily be analysed with the same kind of theoretical sense. Basically, this is namely for sharing practices which will generate and maintain a basic cultural understanding of what the meaning of taste is.

Taste in Terms of Social Sense

It is a known fact that if we are living as a family, we eat together. There is a constant fear in the sociality of the meal, and this is regarding the disappearance of the meal. Frankly, this rather is a myth than a reality. Across various culture commensality is highly valued.

Even though it might come surprise to many individual that these values are distributed differently. However, if you state that eating is a normal social activity, then it won’t explain by itself on how the taste can become social or a culture becomes taste. Here you do need to keep in mind that the actual substance of food that you share is still individual as it is put in your mouth, gets chewed, ingested and then perceived.

Here this can lead to a huge argument about one needs to analyse the taste as a kind of cultural phenomenon. It simply means that at first you must explore on how individuals interpret the symbolic meaning of food. Here it means the aesthetic judgment of the quality in terms of the Kantian way. Plus, it even digs deep into how the eaters interpret the food taboos, the basic definitions, cultural schemes of the food rules that is concerned with various cultures.

Sharing Taste

For moving the attention which lies in the privacy of the mouth and the subjective, internal reflections related to the public space of sharing the experience of eating, it is important to create a methodological approaches and models of analyses. This will easily shed light on the social processes of tasting.

There are various food anthropologists and sociologists who engage in such deep kind of analyses. This is basically focused on food practices about cultural context. However, this is seldom concerned with the explicit focus which is nothing but the processes of tasting. Tasting is nothing but a huge part of eating and drinking. However, it is not similar here. The deep focus lies on tasting and not on eating.

There is an extensive stress which lies on the use of the senses and the judgment of food quality. This can be considered as one dimension of eating. What can be gained from seeing tasting as a practice is a way to understand how ideas of food quality and preferences for certain foodstuffs are brought into the social and thereby being object for others and possible to share. Frankly, this kind of research would include a mapping of sharing practices, seeing taste not only as something that goes into your body but also the opposite way.

Also, an analytical approach must be followed. This is with regards to the various sharing practices that can be studied if they are under the same theoretical umbrella. Frankly, this kind of activities will be used for bodily techniques.

These bodily techniques are eating food using your fingers, manipulating the taste by cooking, talking about taste which is from the everyday dialogue of your family and even from the professional chef speeches on TV. This also includes the writing about food on various blogs and cook books, even on digital media like sharing the photos of food on Instagram, holding food festivals and wine tasting events, etc. These even puts perceptive to providing subjects related to food and nutrition in school syllabus.

Here the major factor lies in having a good understanding about how the taste gets externalized. And that too various cultures which makes it easy to analyse on how the cultural taste preferences are somewhat internalised. Here it simply points out that there needs to be research for taste which simply focuses on the required mediated space that is present among food and eaters.

The Cultural Activity Related to Tasting

What could it mean to have taste as a social sense? Of course, it can be stressed to include as an analysis of the taste as cultural activity. This can be rather isolating the focus on what the product is doing to one’s taste buds. Here there is a huge shift from taste to tasting. However, the tasting is not just a simple tasting.

The tasting here means other things and that too in a different kind of context. Keep in mind that the taste of the mussels won’t be the same in a restaurant for a guest who is eating at a gourmet restaurant when compared to a fisherman living in a poverty-stricken country.

The taste of mussels will be diluted in very many kinds of ways in these two situations. Mapping strategies of sharing would really work. But it might not be more than a long list of various kinds of practices. Here it is in reference to the context, which is taken into account. What a certain taste sharing practice means is different. It is just related to the situational as well as to the geographical, political and historical context. In order to interpret why people, share certain tastes and not others, one must find out why they talk about taste in this kind of manner and not another etc. So, one should pay a great amount of attention to the situations and conditions the activity of tasting take place within.


The taste and culture of food varies. It is not the same kind in each country and culture. That is why food taste better and different when you pass from one region to another. The process of eating is something we do not think about. It does affect our health in one way or another.


Saravavan Nadarajan (Vanan)

Vanan, fitness expert and leader at EzFit Singapore, specializes in holistic training—home-based, boot camps, and corporate fitness—with over a decade of industry experience.

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