From Bitter to Sweet––God’s Mystery and Miracle
Connie Pshigoda for Shine Magazine
Oh, how I love to taste the flavors of the seasons! Juicy, sweet, fruits of spring, the vine-ripened garden produce of summer and the savory, rich flavors of autumn and winter excite my taste buds. I remember as a child growing up on our farm how much I enjoyed summer’s flavors from our cherry, peach, and mulberry trees. Nothing compared to those sun-ripened delights. How about you? What are your favorite taste memories?
I recently pondered how fearfully and wonderfully I’m made and questioned whether I’m only viewing my visible features more than those amazing qualities of my internal workings. This pondering gave way to exploring the five taste sensations found in the hundreds of taste receptors on the tongue and throughout the body. What a discovery!
There’s no shortage of science supporting the findings of how the sense of taste fully functions. I’m intrigued with how a flavor reaches my tongue, registers a response on a taste receptor, then sends a message to my brain, which then categorizes the taste as sweet, salty, sour, bitter, or savory. Then my brain sends a message to my digestive system to prepare the appropriate digestive juices to accommodate each taste. Now, I call that fearfully and wonderfully made!
What captures my attention even more than the science is the realization that my loving Creator designed me (and you) to enjoy a variety of tastes and flavors for a variety of reasons. The sense of taste––as is true of all five senses––has been part of our existence from the beginning of time. The sense of taste may have been more of a survival mechanism in those early times rather than a pleasure sensation. Here is a breakdown of the five well-known taste sensations and their primary characteristics:
Bitter—This highly sensitive taste receptor signals that a potentially poisonous or toxic substance has entered the mouth and should be spit out.
Sweet—This pleasure taste receptor signals sugars that are rich in nutrients and provide energy.
Salty—This taste is produced primarily by sodium ions in foods but should not be confused with the taste of common table salt.
Sour—This taste produces a puckering sensation caused by acids in foods. Originally, this taste receptor signaled potential decomposing or spoilage of food that might be unsafe to eat.
Savory—A relatively new taste discovered by a Japanese chemist to identify the flavor of protein (glutamic acid). This taste is also known by its Japanese name, umami, which means delicious!
Now that we’ve looked at the original intent of these amazing taste receptors, let’s consider how they affect our modern day-to-day dietary choices and meal enjoyment. Our wonderful Creator blessed us with taste receptors and foods with similar taste characteristics that protect, nourish, heal, and delight! Let’s look at these five taste traits in various foods and how they bring health and vitality to our body.
In our modern society and food markets, thankfully, we rarely face the danger of eating potentially poisonous or toxic plants or foods. A little bitterness in our diet not only keeps our meals interesting, but also supports healthy metabolism. Bitter plant foods that are high in antioxidants typically have a strong action on the body (improved digestion, cleansing and detoxing). These foods include kale, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, olives, citrus peel, arugula, bok choy, chicory, collard and dandelion greens, radish, and turnip, for starters. This is why green-leafy salad makes a healthy choice before the meal, preparing the digestive processes for the heavier courses of the meal. You may be surprised to learn that coffee and unsweetened cocoa are also considered a bitter taste.
The natural, original taste of sweet is not the sweet we know today. Most of the sweet taste receptors on the tongue are overstimulated by artificial (chemical) flavors and no longer recognize the subtle sweet sensation that once delighted earlier civilizations. Sweet tastes (and their nutrient components) provide energy and are generally nourishing. Chinese medicine observes that the taste of sweet acts as a tonic and nutritive, building cellular tissue and increasing energy. You will recognize the sweet taste in licorice, stevia, most fruits, watermelon, cinnamon, cloves, honey, bee pollen, and natural sugars.
The taste of common table salt is what we first think of when considering the category of salty. However, the salty taste in natural foods is subtler. A natural salty taste may be more “mineral-y” due to the food’s natural mineral content. Think about natural sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and iron. The healing properties of salty foods include nourishing (the high mineral content supports hair, skin and nail health), alkalizing, clearing lymph stagnation, and detoxifying qualities. You will reap abundant benefits by adding these foods into your diet: sea vegetables, (kelp, dulse, agar, nori, kombu), celery, dandelion leaf, parsley, alfalfa, and some herbs (red clover, mullein, nettles, horsetail, oatstraw, and chickweed), anchovies, capers, and pork.
Puckering is the sensation you get when tasting something sour. The organic acids (ascorbic, citric, malic, salicylic, and tartaric) provide taste and healing properties. The cooling, anti- inflammatory, and antioxidant compounds of the sour taste, provide healing support for building connective tissue, strengthening weak muscles and gums, and reducing free radical damage. A few foods that provide these benefits include lemon, lime, grapefruit, grape, elderberry, Granny Smith apples, mangosteen, pickles, sauerkraut, and pear. Lemon sorbet is often served as a palate cleanser between dinner courses.
This new (since the early 1900s), rich flavor, is produced when certain amino acids are released during cooking, curing, or aging. You taste this sensation when eating meat broth, cured meats, aged cheeses, soy sauce, fish sauce, green tea, asparagus, or cooked tomatoes. Time began in a garden with a variety of food flavors to stimulate the taste receptors to provide protection, pleasure, nourishment, and healing. The modern Western culture with all its artificially flavored, processed foods has diverged far from that of the Garden of Eden. Other cultures such as the ancient Chinese, Asian, or Eastern Indian cultures, have maintained their ancestral dietary roots and continue to enjoy the health and culinary benefits that the five tastes present.
Our loving Creator truly wants His children to “Taste and see that the LORD is good” (Ps. 34:8 NIV). To appreciate and respect how our bodies function and to feed them appropriately with God’s living food (not man-ufactured food substances), is to fully savor the flavors in every season.