Posts Tagged ‘taste’

Food and its flavor are important to God. We can tell because He talks about both in the Bible—a lot. Depending on which version you use, you’ll find anywhere from 600 to 1,000 references to eating, 300-plus verses on food, and more than 30 places that specifically refer to “taste”.

How does that whole tasting thing work, anyway? Here’s a quick overview: first, find a mirror and stick out your tongue. (You might want to do this when you’re alone.) See all those little bumps? They’re called papillae; each one contains somewhere between 30 and 100 taste buds. Most scientists agree that we humans experience five basic taste flavors, sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami. Umami, a newcomer to the list, was only officially recognized in the late 1990s. It’s the taste of protein – which, according to all I’ve read, tastes pretty much like MSG (monosodium glutamate). Now, when a molecule that produces taste comes into contact with the taste cells in your taste buds, a chain reaction is set off in the network of taste nerve fibers, ending in your brain. Your brain then recognizes the taste as something pleasant or not.

By the way, do you know the difference between a taste and a flavor? A taste falls into one of the aforementioned five categories while flavor is a combination of taste and smell—and possibly a few other things (temperature, texture, etc.) as well. The people who research this stuff are still working on the “other things”.

So what’s the difference between the way a “normal” person tastes something and the way a gourmand tastes it? Here’s an example – and please do play along: Imagine biting into something truly delicious. I’m picturing a piece of my moist, delicious oatmeal cake, but feel free to substitute your own personal favorite snack for the sake of this exercise. Or if you prefer, you can make my oatmeal cake for yourself – the recipe’s at the end of this post. Go ahead, you can come back when it’s in the oven. I’ll wait.

You’re back? Great. Now, if you’re like me, when your taste buds encounter this tasty treat, they go “Wow!”, do a little happy dance, then sink into a semi-coma of flavor-filled happiness.

However, as I understand it, if you’re a connoisseur of fine food – aka gourmet or “foodie”—that bite is a whole different experience. When a bona fide foodie bites into that same piece of cake (or one just like it, because I’m not sharing), their taste buds go “Wow!”, do a little happy dance, and then turn into a team of CSI experts. (That’s Culinary Scene Investigators.)

You see, those who have trained taste buds aren’t content to just enjoy flavor on a surface level. They want to examine everything about that piece of cake to fully appreciate each aspect of its deliciousness. What makes it so good? What components have come together to make this cake better or worse than other cakes? Why is it the way that it is? How does it smell, how does it look, how does it feel? I’d venture to say this is a deeper, richer experience than most of us enjoy with our food.

Is it possible to become a spiritual gourmet? To appreciate the subtle nuances and robust flavors available in an intimate relationship with God? I believe it is. I’ve found the more I study flavor, food, and the process of cooking, the more I learn about God. It’s not something they teach much in either seminary or culinary school, but it works for me. And it all begins with taste.

How do you taste something? Really taste it? Try this: First, don’t talk. Focus. Smell it. Close your eyes. Concentrate. Don’t be in a hurry. Now taste it. Let it melt on your tongue. What’s your first impression? Pay attention: what’s the dominant flavor? Is it spicy? Sweet? Does it live up to the promise of the aroma? Hang on, here come secondary flavors. How do they work together? What about the texture (what chefs call “mouth feel”)? Is it creamy, crunchy, chewy, tender, rubbery . . . is that a good thing or kind of disgusting? Are there any lingering flavors after it’s gone?

What would it be like to approach God the same way? To stop talking at Him and start listening to Him. To block out distractions and concentrate—as Psalm 46:10 directs us, “Be still and know that I am God.” To not be in a hurry. To look beyond first impressions and surface chit-chat. To go deeper into the complex, multilayered, infinite personality who is almighty God?

It might be life-changing.

© 2009 Susan Ellingburg

Oatmeal Cake

Stir together and cool.

     1 ½ cups oats (instant or regular)

     1 ¾ cups hot water

Mix the following ingredients together and beat until very creamy:

     2/3 cup shortening (I like Butter Flavor Crisco)

     1 ½ cups brown sugar

     1 ½ cups sugar

     3 eggs

     ½ teaspoon salt

     1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Sift together:

     2 cups flour

     ½ teaspoon nutmeg

     1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

Alternately add flour mixture and oatmeal mixture to sugar mixture. Pour into greased 9×13 pan and bake for approximately 45 minutes.

It’s good just like this, but to die for if you slather it with cream cheese frosting—especially if you make that frosting from scratch with the recipe from The Whimsical Bakehouse cookbook. Trust me, you’ll never go back to that canned glop again.



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Here’s what I’m talking about: one evening I was cleaning the kitchen with the Food Network on for company when I happened to glance up in time to see Bobby Flay taste a piece of cheese. Bobby (I’d call him Chef Flay in person, but I feel braver in print) is a celebrity chef, restaurateur, television personality, and author of multiple cookbooks . . . in short, someone who knows his food. And there he was, tasting cheese. Now, I love cheese. It makes me happy. But after listening to Bobby expound at some length on the subtle flavors, top note, bouquet, and so on of this specific chunk of cheddar (or whatever it was), I came to the conclusion that I had never tasted cheese in my life. Apparently, I didn’t know how.


What does that have to do with God?




The Bible says to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8 ) What does that mean? It boils down to “try it, you’ll like it”. In other words, give God a chance.


And many of us do, on some level. But I wonder . . . could it be that when God says “taste”, He means something more akin to Bobby Flay’s examination of that bite of cheese than, say, my propensity to scarf down an entire bag of salt and vinegar potato chips in 5 minutes flat?


What’s the difference?



The quality of the experience.


Now, when it comes to food, you may not much care about squeezing every last iota of flavor out of each bite. Food just isn’t that important to some people and that’s OK. But what about God? Do you want to limit your experience with Him to the spiritual equivalent of swallowing a handful of vitamins just often enough to stay alive? You don’t have to, you know. There’s a banquet waiting, with more courses than you can imagine and a vast array of dishes to nourish your soul.



And you’re invited.



(c) 2009 Susan Ellingburg 

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