Whether it be an entrée or a cocktail flavor is one of our main driving factors in choosing your favorites. Everyone has their own likes and dislikes on what flavors strike their fancy.
Obviously this is a highly opinionated topic and everyone's taste is there own. It really depends on your genetics and your perception of taste and flavor. To some people a Bloody Mary is disgusting. To others a Bloody Mary is an excellent morning/early afternoon drink. It really depends on the development of one's pallet, and if you have actually gotten a bloody good Bloody Mary to start with.
Development of your pallet sounds all mystical and like one is all up on things. But what it really means is that you can drink/eat something and know the flavors that reside in it. You learn what flavors you like, dislike, and can combine together to make a wonderful taste.
Fona International offers a free course in flavor to help you develop your pallet. Flavor 101 is a 1 1/2 day course held at their headquarters in Geneva, IL. They cover topics in flavor creation, flavor analysis, trends, labeling, flavor types, and more... I personally have not done this yet, but plan to as soon as I get a chance. They also have more advanced pay courses called Savory Flavor 201 and Beverage Flavor 201.
So what are the flavors (At least what are the flavors as identified by those in the know)? They are: Sweet, Sour, Bitter, Salty, and the newly added Umami. (20)
Sweet - sugar
Food examples: bananas, carrots, corn, dates, figs, honey, molasses, vanilla (22)
Drink examples: Strawberry Daiquiri, Bay Breeze, Sex on the Beach, Simple Syrup, Peach Schnapps, Cola, many many more.
Sour - acid
Food examples: lemons, limes, buttermilk, pickles, rhubarb, grapefruit (22)
Drink examples: Gin Rickey, Whiskey Sour, Margarita, Lemon Drop, Lemonade
Bitter - alkaloid
Food examples: almonds, ginger, greens, dark chocolate, mustard, rosemary, saffron, sage, thyme (22)
Drink examples: coffee, beer, quinine, Campari, Picon, Pimms, Vermouth, Negroni, Americano, Pink Gin
Salty – sodium chloride
Food examples: anchovies, bacon, caviar, ham, oysters, salami, sardines (22)
Drink examples: Dirty Martini, Salty Dog
Umami – savory or meaty
Food examples: soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, Parmesan cheese, and sautéed mushrooms, walnuts, grapes, broccoli, tomatoes (20)
Drink examples: Bloody Mary, Bloody Caesar, Bloody Bull, Tomato Juice, V8
Similar to in a color wheel these flavors are related to each other either by being complementary or analogous. Complementary colors are those on the opposite side of the color wheel that when they are combined together form a balance (yellow and blue make green).(18) In flavors, sweet is complementary to sour and bitter is complementary to salty. For example when you balance sweet and sour together you get a new more complex flavor that has as many shades as a rainbow.
Analogous (related) colors are those colors right beside one another on the wheel. These share common colors and usually appear to be in harmony (blue and purple).(18) When you put flavors on a similar type of wheel you can see the relationships between flavors as depicted in this image. I'm not a flavor expert by any stretch but when I put this flavor wheel together it made sense to me. Sour and salty go well together in a Margarita for example. I put Umami in the middle from lack of a better place, but I think this theory remains true even with it there.
Here are some complementary flavor examples:
Food examples: apples, cherries, oranges, pomegranates (22)
Drink examples: Sugar rimmed Sidecar
Food examples: olives (22)
Here are some analogous flavor examples:
Food examples: fried pickles
Drink examples: salt rimmed Margarita
Food examples: caramel, cassia, chocolate, juniper (22)
Drink examples: Manhattan, Gin and Tonic, Black Russian
There are more taste sensations besides the 5 "official" flavors. These additional feelings include things like: Temperature (if something is hot or cold), Spiciness (pepper), Coolness (spearmint), Astringency (tea or unripe fruits), Fat, and Tingly Numbness (wasabi). Temperature had a huge influence in the cocktail world. When ice was invented to cool drinks down a world of opportunity emerged. As many feel cold drinks taste a lot better than warm/hot ones. (20)
With all these flavors and sensations there is a wide variety of mixtures and combinations for cocktailians to try in their libations. When mixing and matching ingredients it is imperative to know:
A) What flavor/sensation is the ingredient adding?
B) What flavors/sensations complement and relate to one another?
Be sure to taste every ingredient separately as to learn its flavor. This will give you better understanding of what to add when you are making a new cocktail or tweaking a drink for a guest. You may have a guest that asks for something sweet. By knowing what each ingredient in your cocktail adds to the drink you can change the ratio to make it a bit sweeter.
When it comes to people’s likes and dislikes there are some generalizations that can be made. Most people like one flavor over another. For example for most sweet is more desirable than sour. So in your balance go a little on the sweet side. So you might use 1 ounce sweet and 3/4 sour in your balance. (23)
When in elementary school I was taught about the taste bud map whereby each section of the tongue had different sensors for a certain flavors. Apparently we were lead astray. An article published by a team of biologist from the University of California has debunked this old concept of the "tongue taste map."
What the team discovered was that the cells and protein that enables us to taste the sour flavor can be found all over the tongue. The cells for sweet, bitter, and umami were previously discovered by the team as well. It is also believed that babies and young children have taste receptors on the top of the mouth. (21)
What this means for taste is that it is now a proven fact that it is necessary to move an ingredient all over the mouth in order to get the best possible feel for the flavor. So swish away!
Now with a better understanding of flavor you and I can mix a lot more effectively with great results. Go experiment and figure out what flavors taste good together for yourself and go with it!