Dimensions of Taste: Making the Unconscious Conscious
This page was designed as a lesson for a K-12 teacher workshop on the Brain, Science and Inquiry-Based Education. One topic to be explored during the workshop is the relationship between unconscious learning and conscious learning. The goal of this lesson is to give participants first hand experience with making conscious and becoming aware of, knowledge that exist locked away unconsciously. The premise is as follows: When one tastes wine (or any food or drink with a rich history of connoisseurship like coffee, olive oil, or cheese) the unconscious unaware to the conscious self is processing many flavor dimensions by the very nature and architecture of the human sensory and nervous system. While some tasters remain unaware of the many dimensions that are being processed, the connoisseur has over time and practice learned to bring those flavor dimensions into conscious awareness. The implications for teaching and learning will be explored. Some related topics are variation in nervous systems, play in the classroom, the Theory of Play, hands-on activities, and meta-cognition.
- Blind taste 4-5 wines and try to match a list of appellations to the unknown wines; record individual choices and summarize class percentages. Theses answers will be compared to the final answers given after the final tasting of the same wines at the end of the activity.
- Blind taste samples demonstrating five primary "taste sensations". Then mix in Umami and taste again.
- Participants should define flavor in their own terms.
- Discuss main factors affecting wine flavor
- human sensory physiology
- grape physiology
- climate effects on grape physiology
- cultural traditions
- Taste Wine, Compare class and individual answers to original choices and Discuss
- Discuss implications for Education
BRAIN DRAIN: What do you think when you hear...?
PART 1: BLIND TASTING
Match the pre-poured wine samples in front of you to the appellation from the following list:
- Marlborough, New Zealand
- Sancerre, France
- California, USA
- Bordeaux, France
- Asti, Italy
PART 2: TASTING FLAVORS
Taste the following samples:
• Sweet: 1 cup water with 2 teaspoon sugar
• Salty: 1 cup water with 1 teaspoon salt
• Sour: 1 cup water with ½ teaspoon cream of tarter which is tartaric acid
• Bitter: ½ teaspoon unsweetened baking chocolate - do not mix with water rather chew and coat the mouth with it
• Umami: 1 cup water with 1 tablespoon dried shiitake mushrooms – boil it and then let it cool
By tasting each solution individually you will be able to isolate each individual taste. Make sure you rinse your mouth thoroughly with plain water before tasting each new solution. Taste each solution multiple times to make sure your taste receptors understand their differences. Then taste each solution again but add a small amount of the Umami solution to it. Pay close attention and you will find that the salt and sweet solution become more intense while the sour and bitter sensation are muted or rounded. Remember only add a small amount of the Umami solution, too much will distort the results.
PART 3: DEFINING FLAVOR
After completing the two, initial tasting, define "flavor" in your own terms.
PART 4: FACTORS AFFECTING FLAVOR IN WINE
Human sensory physiology
Formative Assessment Question: Can the old hypothesis and the new be reconciled?
Figure 1. Changes in sugar concentration and titrateable acidy during ripening of grapes.t- Sugar, n- Acidity.
Formative Assessment Question: With all else equal, which wine will have a higher alcohol content; a wine made from Napa Co. grapes picked at the end of August or a wine made from grapes picked at the end of October? Discuss with a neighbor.
Climate Effects on Grape Physiology
Wine is sunlight, held together by water. ~Galileo
Sunlight = Sugar and ripening
Heat = ripening, but too much heat = loss of acidity
Cool = bright acidity, but too cool = loss of ripening
- Best grape growing climate = Long hot days, followed by cool nights (sounds Mediterranean?)
Sunset for Philadelphia July 12th = 8:30pm
400 miles north in Ottawa, Canada = 8:50pm
Formative Assessment Question: All else equal, which location, Canada or Mexico, will accumulate more degree days in July? ... in October after the equinox?
Putting it all together: Making the Unconscious, Conscious.
- Acidity, Sweetness, and Bitterness are important taste sensations in Wine and are the result of human physiology and grape physiology.
- Like Umami, alcohol in wine alters the perception of the other taste dimensions. Alcohol accentuates sweetness, heightens acidity and dampens bitterness.
Discuss traditions and resulting wine characteristics of wines in the original blind tasting.
Marlborough, New Zealand
|Figure #1: Comparison of correctly identified wines by country before and after participating in the above conversation about flavor, human physiology of taste and grape physiology.|