The perfect bite is all about flavor. Just as aroma works in aromatherapy, flavor works in flavortherapy. There are specific foods that we desire because they make us feel a certain way. You have foods that you eat to comfort you when you’re down, celebratory dishes that you like to take to a party, and there are some you may even like to eat alone.
The food we eat often depends on what is going on in our lives. There is food for ordinary moments—each taste contributes to that moment—and food for special events. Certainly, the time of year—and each season—influences what we eat. I equate particular flavors with emotions or feelings. This basic food theory is probably something that you already follow, however by thinking about how you feel and what you eat you can create a whole new system of comfort food. Use your personal, favorite foods to comfort, soothe, stimulate, or uplift yourself.
You can use this philosophy of healing foods to create dishes that directly relate to your emotions, to change or alter your moods. Specific foods and dishes can nourish and replenish us, or they can pick us up and then, make us crash. Take stock of your mood or state of mind and think about what you would like to eat. Particular combinations of tastes and foods can reinforce or change the way you feel. Often the synergy of ingredients works together to encourage a mood. For example, combining three comfort foods to triple the power of comfort.
By thinking about why and what we really want to eat, we can extend ourselves beyond food sensations. Without smell we cannot taste; our olfactory sense is the prelude to what we taste. Surely, we delight in the aroma of food as much as the taste, but there is also the sensation or emotion of how we feel when we eat the food. Eating should be an organoleptic experience.
The Merriam Webster Dictionary definition of organoleptic; “1: being, affecting, or relating to qualities (such as taste, color, odor, and feel) of a substance (such as a food or drug) that stimulate the sense organs; 2: involving use of the sense organs, evaluation of foods.” If you reflect on this, you can use it as a form of self-help, or think of it as flavortherapy. Choose food to suit your mood, to encourage a good mood, and even shake off a bad one.
Think now, what food makes you happy? Which foods do you reach for when you are down and blue? What do you grab for sustenance when you are on the go? What would you prepare to seduce your lover? Is there a special dish that you always make when your best friends come over? When my galpals gather, I often make a dessert with chocolate. Once their serotonin secretion and caffeine from the cacao kick in, there is a noticeable rise in the room’s decibel level. Blonde bottoms with maple, chocolate & pecan topping or hot fudge sundaes directly stimulate this behavior—you’ll find recipes for them in the dessert section.
When my kids were growing up, sometimes they’d come home from school and ask me to make a specific dish for dinner—and they still have requests as grownups when they come to visit. Consider, do they feel happy when they ask me for spicy nachos, or do they want comfort and nourishment when they request mashed potatoes and stewed tomatoes? Are they looking for a pick-me-up or do they feel depressed about something when they have to have chocolate brownies right away?
Test yourself with this simple food theory of flavortherapy: what do you want to eat and why? What food do you need to make you most happy? What will satiate your appetite and make you feel balanced, well-fed, and nourished? What do you want to eat that will be the perfect bite right now?
I have a big list of these favorite foods, which are also comfort foods. Sometimes it is just one simple delicious thing like chocolate pudding infused with fresh bay leaves, or sometimes it is a combination of foods like baked beans, coleslaw and cornbread. Flavortherapy can be certain ingredients combined to make a specific taste, or it can be a few dishes that are prepared and served at the same time to create the perfect bite. These are dishes or foods that are tried and true—I go for them over and over again. They are ingrained in both my smell and taste memory and they elicit certain feelings in me when I eat them.
“Food is transformative—a smell or taste can quickly take you back to somewhere you had been long ago.”
~ Ashley Strickland Freeman The Duke’s Mayonnaise Cookbook
An example from my childhood is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich served with potato chips and milk. The creamy nuttiness of the peanut butter, the sweet and tartness of the jelly, along with the saltiness of the chips make for the perfect bite. Not only is the combination of flavors important, textures are as well. The softness of the bread, the gooey, sticky filling, the crunchiness of the chips are all just right when washed down with the cold milk. This combination from my childhood makes me feel happy, providing quite a bit of protein from the bread, nuts and milk, and carbs, which give energy. Even though there is a bit of junk food involved, that’s okay occasionally.
Some of these foods are things that I ate as a kid or are family traditions, others I came across or created over the years. Most of the recipes have variations, which I am referring to as “creative possibilities.” These variations are included at the end of each recipe. And of course, these are ideas to inspire your food creativity—because your perfect bite might be different than mine!