We don’t need food to stay alive. That is, biologically speaking, our body does not need an endless variety of food to survive. We merely need sustenance. The fact is, eating the same serving of food plus water for the rest of our lives won’t kill us. We don’t need our food to have pleasantly differing textures, interesting colours or appetising scent. Humans can live without taste buds—we merely need nutrition.

And yet, we are not built deprived of these simple pleasures. The average adult has between 2,000 to 8,000 tastebuds, which are a combination of cells connected to a series of neural pathways to the brain, where taste is perceived. Equipped with these sensitive receptors, the tongue can recognise different tastes i.e. sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami. 

But that’s not all we have to enjoy our sustenance. Although working in a slightly different way than those on the tongue, there are also taste receptors in the throat, the nose and sinuses, the throat, and all the way down to the upper part of the esophagus.

The way a food smells add to our eating experience. As we chew, volatile compounds are released and travel from the back of our mouths to our noses, where they stimulate a system to trigger specific sensations in the brain.

Heat is also perceived differently. Certain proteins in the mouth is activated by heat-inducing food, such as a mouthful of hot soup, chillies, pepper or mustard. Similar proteins help us perceive cold food—like ice cream—and other unique sensations, such as the one triggered when we eat foods with menthol, mint or eucalyptus.

Texture and consistency is also important to how we perceive taste. Scientists have come up with new terms, like rheology (the way liquid matter flows) and tribology (how oils and fats lubricate both the food and our mouths as we eat), to understand how these factors affect people’s food preferences. 

What about external factors? Why does a cup of hot cocoa sends you to heaven when enjoyed in front of the fireplace inside a cosy cabin on the alps? Why are cocktails so good when you’re lying on the beach? Why are beers so satisfying after work? Why do we need beer that badly after work?

Cause for celebration

The fact that our mouths are built in this insanely complex way; how there’s a myriad of different cells and neural connections intertwining with just one sip of black coffee tells us to celebrate diversity. This is the reason there are millions upon millions of tastes and flavours on this good Earth—more than anyone can enjoy in one lifetime. 

In celebration of this miracle that is our taste buds, The Culinary Issue is dedicated to convince you to grab a spoon and start using your taste receptors to its fullest. This issue marks the return of our popular New in Town column, where we recognise new and up-and-coming restaurants, bars and cafés in and around Jakarta through in-depth reviews conducted by our writers. The line-up this time around: newly rebranded OZONE Bar & Karaoke at The Ritz-Carlton Jakarta Mega Kuningan and Gunpowder Kitchen & Bar from ISMAYA Group. 

But before that, flip ahead to join our food writer, Linda Tan, on a culinary journey at classic French restaurant, Basic Instinct. Read all about the premier edition of Jakarta Dessert Week, which is happening this month. Also, Chef Gilles Marx shares pro cooking tips on how to create your own fine-dining experience at home. 

One of NOW! Jakarta’s signature event, the Best Restaurant, Bar and Café Awards were held in 23 September at Le Meridien Jakarta. The event had key players from the hospitality and F&B industry brushed shoulders donning white, red and rose. Catch highlights of the event in our visual report. 

Lastly, I would just like to encourage everyone to be just a tad mindful the next time you sip wine or savour a nice piece of steak. Let’s appreciate the fact that we have a virtually endless selection of tastes and flavours, and the physical instruments to enjoy them. Be adventurous. Try out new food and drinks as often as you can. Unlock the full potential of your taste buds by exposing them to as many experiences as you can.

Maybe then we can relate with Mr. Tolkien when he said, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

This article is originally from paper. Read NOW!Jakarta Magazine October 2019 issue “The Culinary Issue”. Available at selected bookstores or SUBSCRIBE here. 

Refa Koetin

Refa Koetin

A full-time, dream-powered writer, Refa handles NOW! Jakarta publication and other editorial projects in the company. When not writing at his second home (the office), he can be found roaming the city hunting happy hours or exploring its diverse culinary scene. He is also a sci-fi addict, ex-gamer, fitness junkie, beer lover and burger fan. Hit up +62 856 188 0336 for nerd talk or happy hour info.