The Great Tomato Taste Test

Feb 6, 2019 | Food and Culture

I’ve been thinking a lot about taste lately. About how it’s not a hypothetical concept that can be easily explained. It is an experiential process. Meaning, I can talk until I’m blue in the face about how to taste things and what to look for, but until you actually taste, you can never know what I’m talking about.

Yes, I know, you have taste thousands if not millions of things. But what I’m talking about is tasting with purpose. Tasting for seasoning. Tasting to know what to add to make food better.

With all of this in mind I have come up with an experiment that you can easily and cheaply do at home, that will demonstrate the core principles of flavour and taste.

Here’s what you will need…

  • 1 hot house or beef steak tomato (if you don’t like tomato the experiment can be done with cucumber)
  • 1 tsp of Sea Salt or Kosher Salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp vinegar (white, wine, cider, or a variety)
  • 1 glass of water

That’s it. That’s everything. Easy enough right?

Here’s what you do.

Take the tomato and cut six even slices off of it. Season one slice with a nice pinch of salt and pepper. Season one with a nice pinch of sugar. Another one with vinegar. One with salt, pepper, sugar, and vinegar. And the last two leave plain.

Still with me?

Now Taste

Start with one of the plain tomatoes. Take a bite. Chew it. Roll it around in your mouth. Think about how it tastes. Does it have a strong tomato flavour? Is it acidic? Is it sweet? Is it bland? Really think about the flavour coming out of the tomato. Even if you don’t have the words to match what your tasting, that’s fine. Take a sip of water and rinse your mouth.

Now take a bite of the tomato seasoned with salt and pepper. How is it different? Is there a bit of spice from the pepper? Is the tomato flavour more pronounced? Is it sweeter? More acidic? Take a sip of water to cleanse your palate and move on.

Now, take a bite out of the tomato seasoned with sugar. What does that taste like? Again, is it sweeter? More or less acidic? Is the tomato flavour more or less pronounced? Take another sip of water.

Take a bite of the tomato seasoned with vinegar. What’s that like? How is it different from the rest?

Finally, taste the tomato seasoned with everything. What’s that like? Is the flavour more intense? Does it taste better? What’s different? Take a bite of the plain tomato again and compare it with the fully seasoned one. Can you notice a difference now?

Take that second slice of plain tomato and using the ingredients you just used, season it to your taste. Make it taste as good as you possibly can using the salt, pepper, sugar, and vinegar. Take a bite. If it’s not as good you think it can be season it a little more. Taste again. And adjust until it’s what you want.

What’s the point?

The point is, that this how food is seasoned. All of it. Salt, pepper, sugar, and acid are the main flavouring components that we add to food to enhance it’s flavour. Learning how this ingredient react with each other, and how they change the flavour of the main ingredients is the key that leads to more balanced and more flavourful food.

Conclusion

This experiment is not going to make you a master chef. But, with a better understanding of flavour and seasoning you can start down a path to making better food. You just have to keep tasting and adjusting. Eventually, it will become second nature.

I seriously hope, that you do this experiment. I think that you will be blown away at how different a slice of tomato can taste with just a bit of seasoning. And I promise, that if you do this, you will start to understand everything I’ve been saying about flavour and taste from the beginning.

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