Unless your best friend is a chef or you avidly follow the food pages of the local newspaper, you probably have no way of knowing how refined your palate is or what that even means. If you're looking to get more into food culture but you don't know how to start, this article is a good way of learning how food critics and food lovers define their relationship with their tastebuds and how you can develop more knowledgeable tastebuds yourself.
When foodies talk about their ability to appreciate and identify foods, they usually refer to their palate. The palate is actually the roof of your mouth, which contains a hard bone and some soft flesh that keeps your mouth separate from your nasal cavity. As to what this has to do with whether a food critic for example, can detect cinnamon in a baked cookie, before tastebuds were fully understood, people believed that their tasting ability was determined by their palate, hence the use of the word do describe the sensitivity of their tastebuds.
In reality, your metaphorical palate or ability to appreciate food comes from your tastebuds, which are located on your tongue, soft palate, and esophagus. There are five different kinds of taste receptors which register sour, sweet, bitter, salty, savory, piquant, and metallic tastes, with many dishes having elements of more than one kind of taste. Humans have between 2,000 and 8,000 tastebuds grouped into sections that respond to a specific taste, so the more tastebuds you have the more sensitive you will be to the food made by artists in the kitchen.
Part of the sensitivity of your palate is also defined by your sense of smell. Smelling food enhances the taste experience, so if the dust in your condo gives you a stuffed up nose, you will have a diminished ability to taste your favorite foods. You can also lose some of your tasting sensitivity through smoking, head injuries, chemical exposures, polyps, radiation, and old age. In some cases, the sensitivity can be recovered by eliminating the offending substance while others are permanent.
As for the ability to distinguish foods, your palate must be taught. Andrew Lee is a dentist in Toronto and told us that he can easily recognize the taste of a variety of toothpastes, fluoride gel, and dental plasters because he uses them with his clients all the time. To teach your palate to distinguish between Thai spices and Indian curry or to list the ingredients in a batch of chocolate chip cookies, you must eat many dishes as well as the ingredients to build up your recognition of each substance. There are actually food courses in many colleges and community centers that can help teach you how to train your palate.