Game of Tongues: How to Develop Your Palate (& Have Fun)

Closeup of lips with red lipstick holding pepperminThe tongue is perhaps one of the more complicated parts of the human body and innumerable blog posts could be written about this magical muscle. This particular post will focus on the particular experience we have when tongues touch food as well as ways to expand this experience (or just have fun).

The process of tasting occurs when something (i.e. food) stimulates receptors on the tongue (taste buds) that then send a message to the brain. The brain interprets the transmission as “Taste!” and associates it with a specific kind or kinds of taste: sweet, salty, bitter, sour. [1]

The tongue learns many other things when it touches something: it learns the temperature and texture of the substance, it evaluates the substance according to our likes and dislikes, and sometimes it can detect whether or not a food is harmful to us. This complex muscle has plenty of time to evolve because taste is one of the first senses to develop in humans. Many believe that babies put just about everything in their mouths in order to understand the world around them. As Robin Goldstein, Ph.D. says, “Babies don’t just put things in their mouths for pleasure or comfort; they also use their mouths for exploration. They learn about objects by tasting them, feeling their texture and experimenting with them.” [2]

Certainly, not every toy needs to be tasted or opening licked. (See for example, this hysterically awesome Discovery article, “Things You Shouldn’t Lick,” which was written in response to eye-licking trends in Japan.)  But when was the last time you used your tongue to explore and learn more about the world and the food in it?

Especially as the weather starts to grow colder, here’s a fun game to play while you’re bundled inside. This can be totally G-rated and played with a friend or you can modify it and turn it into a sensual game. To add some extra spice to the game, if your partner agrees, throw a blindfold into the mix. It can also be fun to play on your own. Ask a friend to identify some foods you’ve never tried before or just create a shopping list yourself, and rock out on a solo expedition!

Game of Tongues

  1. Choosing the foods: Create a list of foods and beverages that have different textures and temperatures and hit different notes on the palate (sweet, salty, sour, bitter). Be sure to choose foods that you know your partner is not allergic to and that will not burn their tongue or crack their teeth. Have your partner do the same, creating a list for you. Here are a few ideas: sweet/smooth- peach nectar; sweet/salty/crunchy- good quality chocolate bar with fun things inside like brown butter or sea salt and almonds; sour/sweet- mangoes w/chili and lime, kumquat; sour/salty/crunchy- pickled green beans, kimchi; sweet/bitter/smooth- Aperol (an alcoholic beverage), grapefruit with all of the white pith removed—just the pods of juiciness; bitter- arugula, mustard greens, cocoa nibs; cold/smooth- frozen cherries; warm/chunky- baked mashed yams.
  1. Preparing the food: Remove foods from any packaging and put in glasses or bowls so they are not easily recognizable.
  2. Blindfold your partner if they’ve agreed to it in advance.
  3. Ask your partner to lick the item and describe it. Here are some prompting questions if they need help: What did you notice about the texture? Tell me about the temperature. Does it remind you of anything you’ve tasted or smelled before?
  4. Have your partner take a small bite or sip and roll it on your tongue: What new do you learn? Describe it. Can you guess what this is?
  5. In between the foods, have your partner suck on a lemon wedge and drink a few sips of water in order to clear their palate.
  6. When you’ve gone through everything, identify for your partner the foods they ate and debrief: What did they want more of? What would they eat again? What about the taste/texture/temperature did they enjoy?
  7. Switch! Now it’s your turn.

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[1] HowStuffWorks.com; University of Texas Health Science Center; Stanford University Psychology Department.

[2] Robin Goldstein, Ph.D. “Into the Mouths of Babies,” Washington Parent. September 2010.

 

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