Senses and History, Part Four: Taste

I don’t expect to talk about the concept of an innate ability to select the best styles and decorations, but I did want to briefly explore how that got to be. Have you tasted the latest shoes? Well, so far I have no input on that, so maybe there is no documentation on it. I’ll have to borrow someone’s Oxford English Dictionary.

Modern taste buds, especially in the United States, are triggered by sweets, salts, and oils. Deep fried Twinkies, anyone? We love charbroiled meats, bacon on top, spongy white breads, and bubbly drinks. We do donuts, chocolates, taffy, toffee, and beer with most of those as ingredients. Water in bottles, wine in boxes, and comfort foods as a selling point. The taste of good home-style cooking.

In Regency England, sugar was very expensive in spite of 120 sugar refineries in operation in the country. Due to a rather low output, the spice remained hard to get. Sweets were not an overriding taste of the time, more starches, and savory puddings. Anchovies, shallots, mustard, sauces, mutton, trout, ham – okay, I better stop before I clean out my own kitchen.


Chocolate did not have a sweetness to it and was almost strictly a drink served in a pot. Tea could be sweetened with honey in some cases. Salt was a bit easier to come by but again it was not cheap so it was used sparingly. Water could be bad to drink, so ale and wines were preferred. And of course tea and sometimes coffee. The water boiled for those so safety was observed.


Romans liked salt and carried it everywhere. They like spices and savory foods, strong flavors and spicy tastes. Wine flowed along with beer and ale. They did have a taste for sweets but liked to watch their weight. So they used a lo-cal sweetener called Sugar of Lead. Yes, that lead. The poison found in way too many things these days. (Check your lipstick, ladies!) So no, I think my stevia sweetener is going to stay around for a while.


No, Marco Polo did not bring pasta back to Italy from his adventures in China. Roman legionaries ate polenta, a dish for poor people back home, and gnocchi, knots of dough, a dish they shared with their conquered lands.

Pizza began as any flatbread with toppings. Did Roman soldiers add mozzarella and olive oil to a matzah cracker? Pizza! No tomato sauce, probably because it was considered a poison. Unlike lead.

Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Thursday with the last installment, Sound.

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