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A 'sophisticated' palate


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Many foods are described as appealing to a so called sophisticated palate.

These tend to be food which are not necessarily instantly gratifying, indeed, often taste unpleasant on the first try.

How much of this is to do with the actual taste, and how much is due to conditioning, and peer pressure?

If I order a pizza, and have it with anchovies and olives, and my friend has pineapple and sweetcorn, my choice might be considered more sophisticated, but why? Because a child might enjoy my friends choice but probably not mine? By the principles of Thai cookery both choices are unbalanced (Too salty Vs too sweet, with little counterbalance).

How do certain foods attain this status? I see several common properties

- The foodstuff is either dirt cheap (Well at least originally!) or expensive

- Salty or sour is good, sweet isn't.

- Most people shouldn't like it

- It should preferably not look too appetising

- You shouldn't be able to get it from your local supermarket!

Does anyone know of any evidence that tastes do actually mature? Or have any examples of foods which follow/break the golden rules?

Carl

I love animals.

They are delicious.

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Your question sent me straight to the dictionary (Webster 10). VERY interesting. Sophisticate as a verb means 1: to alter deceptively, esp. adulterate; 2: to deprive of genuineness, naturalness, or simplicity; 3: to make complicated or complex.

There aren't many more positives in the definition of sophisticated: 1: not in a natural, pure, or original state; 2: deprived of native or original simplicity: as a: highly complicated or developed; b: having a refined knowledge of the ways of the world cultivated esp. through wide experience; 3: devoid of grossness: as a: finely experienced and aware; b: intellectually appealing.

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Hm. I wonder what the OED says. That's seems a very... American definition of "sophisticate". But the perhaps "sophistry" is it's root? :blink:

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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OED:

Sophisticate v. trans 1. a. To mix (commodities) with some foreign or inferior substance; to render impure in this way; to adulterate. Now somewhat rare. b. To deal with in some artificial way. c. To render artificial, to deprive of simplicity, in respect to manners or ideas; to convert into something artificial.

2. To corrupt or spoil by admixture of some baser principle or quality; to render less genuine or honest.

3. To corrupt, pervert, mislead (a person, the understanding, etc.)

4. To falsify by mis-statement or by unauthorized alteration.

5. instrans. to practice sophistication.

Sophistication 1. a. The use or employment of sophistry; the process of investing with specious fallacies or of misleading by means of these; falsification. b. a sophism, a quibble, a fallacious argument.

2. a. Disingenuous alteration or perversion of somethng; conversion into some less genuine form. b. Deceptive modification.

For the record, though, the version of the OED that I have seems not to have any use citations after 1900.

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You shouldn't be using the definition of the verb as your point of departure, but instead of the adjective (even though historically derived from the verb, the meanings may diverge). Also, the verbal definition which includes "to corrupt/mislead/spoil etc" refers to an archaic meaning of the verb.

VERB: to develop into a more complex form (paraphrased from The New Oxford Dictionary of English)

ADJECTIVE (sophisticated): developed to a high degree or complexity; aware of and able to interpret complex issues; appealing to people with such knowledge of experience (direct quotes from the above volume).

-- lamington a.k.a. Duncan Markham

The Gastronomer's Bookshelf - collaborative book reviews about all things food and wine

Syrup & Tang - candid commentary and flavourful fancies

"It's healthy. It's cake. It's chocolate cake."

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lamington, you're right to some extent. I just thought it was interesting that the origins of the adjective, to be found in the verb, were so negative. To me it sounds like some very good marketing -- turning what was originally to be avoided into something supposedly desirable.

At bottom, my point was that the idea of a "sophisticated palate" is a lot of hogwash. It smacks of elitism, of class divisions, and ignores the simple fact that if it tastes good, it IS good. :biggrin: And what tastes good to some doesn't taste good to others, but neither view is morally or ethically or socially right or wrong.

Edited by Suzanne F (log)
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Hi SuzanneF, I have no quibble with the etymology of it... you're right about its origins and how interesting (and ironically appropriate) it is for the issue at hand. Lots of things change in either direction ("cavalier" is a great example), but the emphasis in other replies had been on the archaic meaning, rather that what it means now. The idea of a "sophisticated palate" may be hogwash (and I share your view), but the etymology of the word "sophisticated" doesn't make it hogwash.

Edited by lamington (log)

-- lamington a.k.a. Duncan Markham

The Gastronomer's Bookshelf - collaborative book reviews about all things food and wine

Syrup & Tang - candid commentary and flavourful fancies

"It's healthy. It's cake. It's chocolate cake."

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I forgot to check the dictionary definition, always a good start with this sort of discussion!

Interesting, the use of the word as a verb, not something I had really though of. I probably could add some incendiary comments about Webster's being an American, not English dictionary, but I won't!

Carl

I love animals.

They are delicious.

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Hi Carl... completely on thread now, i would say that the idea of sophistication can have to do with one's own willingness to test boundaries -- well, some of the simpler ones at least :wink: . Perhaps pineapple and sweetcorn seem a little "homely" and that's why people might label it unsophisticated. But we all have our little secrets, don't we... whether it's Jeffrey Steingarten's Milky Ways, or all the foods being mentioned on an active thread right now. I remember an Australian writer mentioning last year how he has only grown to like tea in later years... I'm sure many of us have experienced something similar -- doesn't need to be labelled as sophistication, but it's just proof that our tastes change with time and perhaps other experiences. Time + experience = "age" or "maturity" and thus the assumption of better taste...?

-- lamington a.k.a. Duncan Markham

The Gastronomer's Bookshelf - collaborative book reviews about all things food and wine

Syrup & Tang - candid commentary and flavourful fancies

"It's healthy. It's cake. It's chocolate cake."

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Lamington,

I think you are right, tastes do change over time, and I think you can grow to love something which once made you retch.

I think the snobbery comes with the foods you are supposed to enjoy, and the opinion of some people that if you don't like them you have an unsophisticated, or underdeveloped palate - rather than the much simpler explanation that you simply don't like it!

I wonder how many 'Foodies' we could fool into loving Cheese Triangles if we told them it was a very acquired taste and sold them at Dean + Deluca? (I personally quite like them, all you have to do is tell yourself they have nothing to do with cheese and enjoy on their own level. Just like Crab sticks!)

I love animals.

They are delicious.

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I wonder if "sophisticated palate" doesn't have two common meanings . . .

1.  Breadth:  Wide variety of taste experiences

2.  Depth:  Able to discern the "flavors" of a dish

I like that a lot. No value judgments. :biggrin:

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I am sure that no one here will have any doubt that it is possible to develop a broader appreciation of food - just as a wine afficionado can pick out components of taste in a wine, a gourmet can do the same with food.

But just as a good wine will still taste good to a novice drinker a less 'seasoned' eater will still enjoy a well made dish.

The issue is, are certain foods inherently more 'sophisticated'?

I love animals.

They are delicious.

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Forget all this semantics stuff--I just want to know who in the heck would put sweet corn on pizza?

I bet if you got the stats for top selling toppings in the uk, sweetcorn would be right up there (Probably in between pineapple and chicken tikka!).

I know I am a hypocrite - I am against food snobbery and believe what you eat should be about what you enjoy, but sweetcorn on a pizza is just wrong!

I love animals.

They are delicious.

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The issue is, are certain foods inherently more 'sophisticated'?

Looking at a question like that in the abstract may not be a productive endeavor -- we've seen plenty of discussions like it on eGullet, they really can't be settled through argument, and it doesn't seem anybody has come up with conclusive scientific proof one way or the other (I'm not even sure it's possible to say what that proof would entail).

But what about just looking at some concrete examples: would anybody argue that, as between Hershey's crap chocolate and Limited Edition Valrhona 2002 Ampamakia, the Hershey's is more sophisticated, or that the more sophisticated taster of chocolate would choose the Hershey's? If we can agree on some little things like that, maybe we can begin to build an argument.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Maybe the topic is a little broad, some concrete examples might be good.

I think the chocolate example is a good one. None foody types (Or indeed non chocolatey types - I think chocolate obsession is quite specialised!)

would probably be astounded by the prices people will pay for artisanal chocolate, especially when they taste it it is so different to their conceptions of what chocolate tastes like.

I personally see chocolate (Hgh cocoa solids, decent brand) and chocolate bars (sweet, cheap and hopefully very sickly!) as two different things - see my cheese triangles comment below and I enjoy them both, indifferent ways. But I can believe that some people would love one and hate the other, but why should the one who loves the Valhrona and hates the cheap chocolate be deemed the more 'Sophisticated'?

For an interesting angle on the development of childrens palates read this article by Jay Rayner

http://www.observer.co.uk/foodmonthly/stor...,568557,00.html

I love animals.

They are delicious.

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I wouldn't argue that it makes you a more sophisticated person -- there are plenty of sophisticated people who couldn't care less what they eat. But I would say that a preference for a Valrhona chocolate over a Hershey's-type chocolate (or even over Callebaut, if you want to get closer in category) arguably indicates greater sophistication in a person's taste in chocolate. Part of the reason this is true is quite simply that the people who are knowledgeable about chocolate say so. They define the parameters of sophistication in that context. It's an agreed-upon standard set -- if not formally, at least in an identifiable way -- by the serious producers, professionals, and consumers. If you disagree with it, you are either unsophisticated about chocolate (the most likely explanation) or you are an extremely sophisticated outside-the-box thinker (not likely, but always possible).

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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What if the gap between the chocolates is narrowed?

For example, between a Ghirardelli Bittersweet Chocolate Baking Bar & a Valrhona "Le noir Amer" (bittersweet- 71% cocoa) bar for say, hot cocoa, . . .

Which is the more sophisticated choice?

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I think it's the Valrhona without question, but that's not the point: I'm sure as between really good Cluizel and really good Valrhona (or between two of the better Valrhona products), there are places where the choice is more about style than sophistication. What I'm trying to establish is a baseline for building an argumet. Because if we can't agree that Valrhona is more sophisticated than Hershey's, what's the point of going further?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I think it's the Valrhona without question, but that's not the point: I'm sure as between really good Cluizel and really good Valrhona (or between two of the better Valrhona products), there are places where the choice is more about style than sophistication. What I'm trying to establish is a baseline for building an argumet. Because if we can't agree that Valrhona is more sophisticated than Hershey's, what's the point of going further?

I'll agree with you on the Hershey's versus Valrhona thing.

So, keep going. I'm wondering when we'll get to, as you put it, the style rather than sophistication juncture. And, more interestingly, how we got there!

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Well I think the next step is to look at other specific comparisons: first within product categories, like wine, chocolate, coffee, tea, beef, and other areas where there is a pretty well established pecking order of quality and sophistication that connoisseurs "get" and the mass market doesn't give a damn about; and then in the conception of finished products, such as homestyle "low cuisine" versions of things like stew and the "high cuisine" renditions of the same dishes. The hardest thing to say is, "if you don't like urchin you're not sophisticated." But it's easier to say, "if you don't think this good urchin is better than that crap urchin you're not sophisticated about urchin." Then the question becomes can we go from one to the other.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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The hardest thing to say is, "if you don't like urchin you're not sophisticated." But it's easier to say, "if you don't think this good urchin is better than that crap urchin you're not sophisticated about urchin." Then the question becomes can we go from one to the other.

In a sense, this is a crucial issue--how we phrase the statements.

For instance, when my poetry students would question my grading, my canned response was: "I can't always tell you when I read a really good poem. But I can certainly tell you when I read a bad poem. Unfortunately, you have not produced a really good poem." I'd then explain what in particular caused their poem to not be really good.

So, might this be what we are after: the ability to acutely discern the bad as opposed to holding up the best?

Edit: clarity

Edited by MatthewB (log)
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