Thursday, August 23, 2007

Acquired tastes

Anyone who knows me well or has ever worked with me knows that I am rarely more than an arm’s reach from a can of Diet Pepsi. I love the taste, I love the sound the can makes when it opens, and I have many great memories of drinking this Lovemark. Who could be surprised then that when Japan launched Pepsi Ice Cucumber, some wag sent me the details. As if I’d swap! Still, it did get me to thinking again about taste and how it forms such powerful emotional connections. It is interesting, for instance, how many of the tastes we love are, at first trial, difficult, and in some cases, downright unpleasant. Anyone who has seen a small child with a mouthful of food considering whether she is going to spit it out or swallow it knows exactly what I mean. Who can honestly say they loved their first sip of coffee or first encounter with an anchovy? What drives us on to learn to love? We want to be part of the gang, we want to show we are all grown-up, we simply want to prove we can. Today the range of foods we can get is amazing and curiosity about flavor is a shared passion. The best part is that out there on the Edge there are still remarkable tastes and textures to explore. Jonathan Swift said that it was a bold man that first ate an oyster, and he was right. We might not be there first, but how about expanding your taste repertoire with one of the following delicacies listed by Wikipedia. Go on, you know you want to!

  1. Casu marzu, a Sardinian cheese containing live insect larvae

  2. Durian, a pungent southeast Asian fruit

  3. Fernet Branca, a particularly strong, grape based, herbal digestif

  4. Haggis, a traditional Scottish dish mainly consisting of minced sheep offal, boiled in a sheep's stomach

  5. Hákarl, putrefied Icelandic shark

  6. Head cheese, a dish made of meat from an animal's skull and covered with gelatin (usually set in a mold)

  7. Huitlacoche, fungus-infected maize, popular in Mexico

  8. Pu-erh, a compressed, aged tea dominated by strong, earthy overtones

  9. Salmiak, Nordic/Dutch ammonium salt liquorice candy

  10. Tempeh, a fermented food made from soybeans popular in Southeast Asia

You should add to that list two of my own favorites care of Heston Blumenthal at The Fat Duck, where I ate last week and which is, along with El Bulli, the best restaurant in the world. They are snail porridge and egg and bacon ice cream. You can check out The Fat Duck’s tasting menu here.
These tastes may be a long way from the global mainstream today, but so was sushi 30 years ago. Sometimes we most enjoy the things we work for. This is certainly true of many Lovemarks. The relationship is not always instant because people are getting used to the ‘taste’. Brand creators should remember this when they put new brands into the market. In these days of fast change, it is easy to lose faith too quickly when something don’t take straight away. We have seen this happen with some terrific TV shows. Given an extra season, they might well have become hits. You’ve got to have faith to win Loyalty Beyond Reason. Faith in the taste of the consumer.


Susan956 said...

Hah! Go on Kevin, try the roast turkey or the smoke salmon pate flavour of one of these. The flavour list for these soft drinks is something to behold:

I hated olives when I first had them and now really like them.

But to me the vegetable of the devil is the brussel sprout. Hate the things. And yes, I know you English gents usually gobble them up with abandon.

Once again spooky as I just listed the cucumber drink (two days ago) in a job that I'm freelancing on and came across haggis and sent a silent message to my long deceased Black Watch grandmother asking..why..why..why! (I know, they were poor and used everything).

Your comments about faith I need to think about more as I've had two oppositional reactions (oppositional in my own brainbox).

Enjoying the popping sound of a coffee sealant on a jar - Vicar of Dibley.

Susan956 said...

"Sometimes we most enjoy the things we work for."

I tend to agree and the 'sometimes' affords me the caveat I needed on this. I suspect that what we work for we focus on more; we become more aware of features and elements.

That said, sometimes I see people who appear to need to struggle for most things and I believe it would be good to just make one thing easy for them; give them one thing they don't have to work for.

As for the TV shows issue - hmmm...interesting comment. We know books and shows etc that did not take off on one network or publisher and yet a year later have done extremely well elsewhere.
How does one know if its timing or simply poor product? Are you suggesting shows about to be axed after a season should go to the consumer base first for commentary? Isn't it largely the view of consumer reaction that cuts shows??
(Apart from network politics etc of course).

A British show about lawyers - and the Clerk become a favourite actor for me - was axed and I was terribly disappointed. It seemed to only run a couple of seasons.

Piotr Jakubowski said...

Tempeh happens to be one of my favorite foods. Growing up in Indonesia, it was a staple with any meal served with white rice (at least I had made it that). Fried Tempeh has to be the best. I will admit that Durian is quite the challenge, especially getting over the smell. They also have durian ice cream!

The Bacon and Egg ice cream sounds kind of enticing. Next time you're in Japan you should try some Squid Ink ice cream.

On the topic of Japan, I recently watched a webisode about branding which mentioned the conforming of brands to different tastes. For example, Kit Kat in Japan offers chocolate as well as green tea flavors.

As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, taste is in the buds of the connoiseur. I will, without shame, admit that I love ketchup on pizza, steak tartare and pickled cabbage.

Ayisha said...

Nice and knowledgeable gifts for everyone-
Books and references

Susan956 said...

Piotr.. I don't mind tempeh either. I also agree that durian is really nice, once you block your nose :) My cousin used to have tomato sauce on corn flakes and the main character in Darling Buds of May will put it on iced buns.

I've had frogs legs once and they were nice. Chicken flavour. I've never had any Australian indigenous meats although I understand kangaroo to be good but very gamey so if not cooked well its a little strong for sensitive palates.

The 'head cheese' Kevin referred to has unfortunate connotations here *grin and discreet cough* (perhaps pointing this out is tacky) however no-one could persuade me to eat what was described.

Not salted stuff but I love licorice!

Anyone here apart from me likes vegemite?

ayisha..I gather you consider books a good gift :)

mimi hui said...

Fat Duck is bar none. Blumenthal pushes for an immersive, engaged, fully sensorial relationship with food. I loved having perceptions of how food should be prepared, tasted, and be experienced turned on its head. Fantastic.

When I told a friend about securing a reservation, she decided to take the day off from work to go. There are short videos of our experience at Fat Duck including the bacon and egg ice cream (along with photos). One big thing worth noting. The bacon is infused IN the egg. No joke. (can be seen on the video, it was so unbelievable) Will be happy to share if anyone is interested.

Haven't had the pleasure of experiencing El Bulli as of yet (and sadly, had to give up Per Se reservations at the last minute due to travel).

I had the pleasure of landing in Singapore during Durian season. For someone unaccustomed to it, the waft of Durian is frightening, indeed. Locals claim that the aroma of durian is one of the appeals! The texture is the other. And in reality, the olfactory sense is one of the most powerful triggers of memories and in conjunction, emotion.

Sady, for me, durian smells too commonly of socks...and memories of...umm, well...socks... :)

mimi ( at ) canalmercer -dot- c o m

Susan said...

Actually ayisha..I took the trouble to look. I can't imagine giving anyone I know one of the medical books you seem to be advertising. Helping a medical student out with a purchase if I could, yes. As a gift for someone outside the field and given the topics those books cover - no.