Mens Sana in Corpore Sano, as the ancient Romans used to say, a sound mind …
Once, for my birthday, I made reservations at a Michelin-star restaurant in the hopes of expanding my experience of food. Seats weren’t easy to come by, and the meal certainly wasn’t cheap, so I expected to be absolutely blown away by new flavors and textures on my plate. Unfortunately, because I didn’t properly prep my palate beforehand, I was utterly underwhelmed and unable to taste the full range of flavor presented before me.
We have only a handful of ways to experience the magnificently diverse world around us, which means every day we must make the most of all of our senses, including taste. Here are eight palate cleansers I rely on to give my days more flavor.
Everything you do can have an effect on how your tongue and brain decipher taste, so maintaining a healthy lifestyle ― and most importantly, a healthy mouth ― will keep your palate ready to taste. No amount of palate cleansers will help your taste buds if they aren’t strong enough to detect flavor, anyway. Avoiding processed foods, exercising, practicing good oral hygiene, and quitting cigarettes will improve your ability to taste. Several oral diseases result in loss of taste, so regular brushing and flossing are mandatory. If you make the switch to e-cigs, you should remember that cleansing your palate is just as important for detecting vapor flavors as it is for noticing flavors in your food and drink.
Though it may seem refreshing, cold water is actually rather bad for your body. The body must warm up cold water before it can use it, requiring massive amounts of energy and causing untold damage to the stomach, heart, and brain, which are sensitive to temperature changes. Perhaps worst of all, cold water numbs the tongue, making flavor detection nearly impossible. Swirling room temperature or warm water around your mouth will cleanse your palate, but you should avoid the cold stuff.
If you know what your next course is going to be, you should prep your palate with specific cleansers. For example, spicy meals are best tasted before and after a cleansing glass of whole milk. The fats in the milk neutralize any stray spice molecules, allowing your mouth to taste only the flavors that are in your current meal. Thus, it is important that you drink whole milk, as lower-fat varieties won’t have as much effect.
Containing almost the exact opposite qualities as whole milk, pickled ginger is spicy, sour, sweet, and acidic ― but it still makes for a good palate cleanser. Best known as the strange pink garnish that accompanies plates of sushi, pickled ginger’s flavor doesn’t linger in the mouth, and its high acidity effectively washes away all other flavors. The Japanese always munch on some pickled ginger between bites, and maybe you should, too.
Though vegetarians might object, a few slices of rare red meat work wonders at cleansing the palate. Though beef contains flavors of its own, the proteins and fats are particularly good at clearing away acidic and sweet flavors from other foods, particularly red wines. Perhaps that is why every sommelier advocates pairing a healthy cabernet sauvignon with your steak.
The natural equivalent of the sorbet course, pineapple clears the palate thanks primarily to its sweet acidity. However, it is important that you find a pineapple that is appropriately under-ripe. You want to avoid soft, yellow fruits, whose sweetness can actually impair your ability to taste. Instead, crunchy white pineapple provides a tongue-scouring texture and dryness that makes your palate feel squeaky clean.
Like that of under-ripe pineapple, the crunch of celery tends to scrub the mouth. Plus, the vegetable is notorious for its light flavor and water content; These qualities fed into the negative-calorie hoax a few years ago, but in truth its moisture and fleeting flavor make celery an excellent natural palate cleanser.
Plain crackers aren’t appealing to everyone, but professional food tasters love nibbling on them between courses. The reason is crackers do not present any strong, competing flavors; the flour and water of table crackers usually only have one, mild note. Thus, they allow the taste buds a much-needed rest. One study found that crackers were in fact the best palate cleansers for fatty, bitter, sweet, spicy, cooling, and astringent foods.