When I first began smoking cigars at the age of 18, I frequented a local cigar lounge where my passion for cigars developed. During my first year or so of smoking, I made it my goal to try every single cigar in the shop. As I did, I found cigars that I loved, some that I didn’t enjoy, and some I was even repulsed by. My curiosity was sparked as I began to ask the question: why? Why did I love certain cigars and not care for others, especially those that so many others enjoyed? At the time, I did not fully grasp that we each have our own unique senses of taste and preferences to certain flavors. Honestly, I thought that everyone tasted the same flavors that I did when smoking any particular cigar.
So what is it that makes some love spicy, earthy, ligero packed, full bodied cigars and others delicate, sweet, and medium bodied cigars? There are many factors, all of which ultimately boil down to our palate. Before we get to discussing one’s palate, we need to first look at taste and how we perceive flavor. I’ll try and keep it brief, I promise!
Taste is a sensation; a feeling, so to speak, that almost every human experiences. There are five basics tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. We sense taste when cells in our mouth react with a substance, such as a food, beverage, cigar smoke, etc… The cells responsible for taste are, appropriately named, “Taste Receptors,” also referred to as “Taste Buds.” Taste receptors sit on top of Papillae, which are those tiny bumps on your tongue and each papilla contains hundreds of taste buds. Because of our anatomical diversity, some people have more taste receptors than others; as the wise philosopher Lady Gaga once said, we are simply “Born This Way.” This means that some are simply anatomically advantaged in the sense of taste. A study conducted by Linda Bartoshuk determined that approximately 25% of humans have an above average sense of taste, another 25% have a below average sense of taste and the remaining 50% of people have an average sense of taste.
Now taste is only the first part of how we detect flavors, let’s move on to the more interesting aspects of how and why we detect certain flavors.
Speaking generally, we detect flavors based on taste, smell, and texture. We already covered taste and I’ll assume you already know what smell and texture are, so let us not waste any time and move on!
Now, have you ever, while dining, drinking or enjoying a cigar said something along the lines of, “I taste a flavor but I just can’t put my finger on what it is?” Many of us have and this is why: our memory plays a large part in flavor detection. For example, in my cigar reviews, I have mentioned detecting notes of fig, white and green peppercorn, and Hollandaise sauce. Did the manufacturer intend on the cigar having these flavors? Likely not. Did everyone who smoked these cigars taste the same things? They likely did not, but I did. I did simply because these are flavors which are familiar to me. The first time you taste something, the taste is registered in a part of your brain called the gustatory cortex. Once you become familiar with that taste, your brain will recall it when you taste it, or something similar, again.
I am going to stop here because I really want this last portion to stick with you. If you desire to truly explore flavors, the best way to start is to expand your database of taste experiences. Go out and try a new food or pick up a new spice and taste it on its own. I say this about cigars, but it applies to everything else, from food and drink to what we do in life:
“Smoking cigars is not a hobby nor is it a lifestyle but an adventure filled with experiences; each cigar its own experience to create such an adventure, both pleasant and sometimes not so much, but an adventure nonetheless.”