How does telling your dinner party guests a few details about the wine you’re serving dramatically change their perception of its taste? Should you add wines from Uruguay to your must-taste list? What’s the difference between flavour and taste?
In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m chatting with author and journalist Nell McShane Wulfhart.
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- What inspired Nell’s latest book, The Great Stewardess Rebellion?
- Which shocking discoveries did Nell make while researching The Great Stewardess Rebellion?
- What are Nell’s most memorable moments from writing a New York Times travel column featuring celebrities?
- How did Nell end up living in Uruguay?
- What do you need to know about wines from Uruguay?
- Where was Nell when she got the idea for her book, Off Menu?
- How can our other senses impact our perception of the taste of food and beverages?
- What’s the difference between taste and flavour?
- How does sound affect our perception of what we’re tasting?
- What do we know about how supertasters experience taste and flavour differently from others?
- How do depression and certain medications impact our senses?
- Why should you use the retronasal smell?
- What simple trick can you use to amplify your experience of dark chocolate?
- What impact does our knowledge of a specific wine have on the tasting experience?
- What simple strategy can we use to improve our dinner party guests’ experience?
- How do extrasensory cues impact flavour and enjoyment?
- Why does Nell recommend adding a squeeze of limes or lemons to food or water?
- Why do ice cream companies add certain scents to their packaging?
- What effect does loud music or noise have on your sense of taste?
- Should you serve your best wine first or last at a dinner party?
- Why should you consider serving two wines at the same time?
- I love Nell’s advice to share a few details about a wine with your dinner party guests as it will dramatically change their perception of its taste.
- I’m more keen now to taste more wines from Uruguay, especially Tannat.
- I found Nell’s explanation of the difference between flavour and taste fascinating.
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Tannat is really strong, it’s really powerful, and you would rarely drink it on its own. It’s really a wine that goes with food. - Nell McShane Wulfhart Click to tweet
When we say something is delicious, we’re talking about its flavour, not taste. - Nell McShane Wulfhart Click to tweet
Men, in general, are not as good at smelling things as women are. - Nell McShane Wulfhart Click to tweet
If you have a great bottle of wine, make that the first thing you serve. - Nell McShane Wulfhart Click to tweet
About Nell McShane Wulfhart
Nell McShane Wulfhart is a decision coach and author. She has written for The New York Times, The Wall St. Journal, The Guardian, and many other outlets. Her most recent book, The Great Stewardess Rebellion, is about how flight attendants in the 1960s and 70s staged a revolution for working women everywhere. The Wall Street Journal described it as “exhilarating” and wrote that “Wulfhart is a vivid storyteller who writes with energy and style.” Nell’s audiobook, Off Menu, is about the secret science of food, drinks, and the dining experience.
- Connect with Nell McShane Wulfhart
- Diary of a Book Launch: An Insider Peek from Idea to Publication
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- Unreserved Wine Talk | Episode 86: How We Buy Wine Based on Secret Retail Triggers with Dr. Tim Dodd
- My new class The 5 Wine & Food Pairing Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Dinner And How To Fix Them Forever
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- You’ll find my books here, including Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines and Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass.
- The new audio edition of Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass is now available on Amazon.ca, Amazon.com and other country-specific Amazon sites; iTunes.ca, iTunes.com and other country-specific iTunes sites; Audible.ca and Audible.com.
Nell McShane Wulfhart 0:00
What we hear can change the flavour of what we’re eating. There was a great experiment by Charles Spence. He called it, I think, the Sonic Chip. He gave a bunch of people in the lab some Pringles out of the can. And he put headphones on them. And for some of the people eating the Pringles, he turned up the volume of their own crunching. And those people perceived those chips as being fresher than the ones who just heard it at the regular volume. In general, smell is definitely the most powerful one, especially when it comes to things like wine. And it’s that flavour, it’s the smell plus the taste plus the other senses that creates flavour. Flavour is really created more in your mind and it is on your tongue.
Natalie MacLean 0:44
Do you have a thirst to learn about wine, the love stories about wonderfully obsessive people, hauntingly beautiful places, and amusingly awkward social situations? That’s the blend here on the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast. I’m your host, Natalie Maclean. And each week, I share with you unfiltered conversations with celebrities in the wine world, as well as confessions from my own tipsy journey as I write my third book on this subject. I’m so glad you’re here. Now pass me that bottle please. And let’s get started.
Welcome to Episode 217. How does telling your dinner party guests a few details for the wine you’re serving dramatically changed their perception of its taste? Should you add wines from Uruguay to your must try list? And what’s the difference between flavour and taste? You’ll hear those stories and tips in our chat with Nell McShane Wulfhart. Three of you are going to win the audiobook edition of her book, Off Menu, about the secret science of food drinks and the dining experience. It’s fascinating. Just email me and let me know you want to win.
Now a quick update on my upcoming memoir Wine Witch in Fire: Rising from the Ashes of Divorce, Defamation, and Drinking Too Much. So great news for those of you who love to listen, which would be all of you. My agent has just sold the audio writes for my memoir to Tantor Audio, one of the largest audiobook companies in the US. They’ll produce the audio book which will be available worldwide. They’ve given me the first opportunity to audition to be narrator. However, if I’m not a fit, I just use air quotes there. I get to approve the person who will read the book. And then I’ll pick Reese Witherspoon. Anyway, I’m so thrilled with this because audiobooks are how I read. And apparently an increasing number of people do as well. The Pandemic really accelerated the growth of audiobooks. And now with big players like Spotify investing $3.5 billion in the audiobook space, there’s more excitement than ever. So I know you listen to podcasts or at least this one. Do you listen to audiobooks? Do you have a favourite audio book you can recommend to me? Let me know.
So here’s a review from Kathy Kelly, a beta reader from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “A great and powerful memoir. This book is quite interesting and really made me think. I also really enjoy books with data and scientific findings and I appreciate that she provided evidence quotes and examples from other books that work in tandem with her own experience. I like that she wove in the witch references throughout the book. Five stars”. Thank you, Kathy. I’ve posted a link to a blog post called Diary of a Book Launch in the show notes at NatalieMaclean.com/217. This is where I share more behind the scenes stories about the journey of taking this memoir from idea to publication. If you want a more intimate insider seat beside me on this journey, please let me know that you’d like to become a beta reader and get a sneak peek at this manuscript. Email me at [email protected] Okay, on with the show.
Natalie MacLean 4:19
Nell McShane Wulfhart is a decision coach and an author. She has written for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and many other outlets. Her most recent book, The Great Stewardess Rebellion, about how flight attendants in the 1960s and 70s staged a revolution for working woman everywhere is described by The Wall Street Journal as “exhilarating”. And the paper’s reviewer also wrote “Wulfhart is a vivid storyteller who writes with energy and style”. Nell’s audio book, Off Menu, is about the secret science of food, drinks and the dining experience and she joins me now from her home in Uruguay. Nell, welcome. So great to have you here with us. Correct my pronunciation right off the bat there.
Nell McShane Wulfhart 5:08
Actually its Uruguay, but I wouldn’t worry about it.
Natalie MacLean 5:13
Okay, well, I’m just not gonna bring it up again. But it’s so great to have you. Now before we dive into your book, Off Menu, let’s chat briefly about your latest book, which is on a completely different topic but I think equally interesting, especially to those of us who travel a lot. The Great Stewardess Rebellion, it’s received rave reviews. I already quoted the Wall Street Journal but for our listeners I’ll give a couple of other reviews. The New York Times described it as a meticulously detailed history dramatic, invigorating and instructive. Cool. The Washington Post said Wulfhart, through her prodigious research, secures a place for women who endured all manner of indignities to forge a better future for those who put their lives on the line every day in a job once regarded as frivolous. Wow. So what drew you to that subject now?
Nell McShane Wulfhart 6:01
Well, you know, I’ve been a journalist for many, many years. And I think every journalist out there is always looking for a book idea, because instead of working on 20 different articles at once, we’d love the idea of just working on one thing for a prolonged period of time. Off Menu, that book we’re going to talk about today the audio book. that was something like that. Something that really caught my interest. And my latest book, The Great Stewardess Rebellion, you know it’s a true story. It’s about flight attendants in the 1960s and 70s who banded together, changed the airline cabin, which was the most sexist workplace in the United States at the time, into like a place where they actually had rights as workers through the power of the women’s movement and the labour movement and just sheer doggedness I think. And it just for me that was like those subjects are super interesting, and I think everybody loves a stewardess and it’s just like interesting to hear stories about stewardesses. Even the word is kind of captivating.
Natalie MacLean 6:57
It is. It’s exotic in a way. And is it still correct to say stewardesses? Or do they generalize to steward now. Or is there another word for it? I’m just curious.
Nell McShane Wulfhart 7:06
I think now we just use flight attendant. Once men started flying on domestic airlines in the early ’70s for a little while they said stewards and stewardesses, but that became I think very awkward. And now a flight attendant its sort of like police officer, like just a nice gender neutral term.
Natalie MacLean 7:22
Absolutely. Okay, good. Good. What was the most surprising thing you learned while researching or writing the book?
Nell McShane Wulfhart 7:27
Oh, my gosh. Pretty much everything. It’s a very dramatic story. I did not realize that things have been so difficult for women working in the ’60s and ’70s. If you were a stewardess in the ’60s, you would be fired if you got married. You would be fired if you got pregnant. If you manage to avoid both of those things, you would be fired when you turned 32 because the airlines wanted to keep the stewardesses really young. And there were incredibly strict weight limits. You also had to keep your weight like under a certain amount. And if you gained a couple pounds, you could be pulled right off a flight. The uniforms are astounding. There’s a tonne of those in my book. Amazing uniforms. The whole world of work for women in the ’60s and ’70s is fascinating. And it’s not just for North America, too. There’s some good stuff about some Canadian airlines in there as well.
Natalie MacLean 8:12
Oh, excellent. Juicy. And when you say the outfits were astounding, do you mean they were highly sexualized?
Nell McShane Wulfhart 8:18
Not just sexualized but sort of ludicrous. Southwest Airlines, at one point, the uniform in the ’70s was a pair of bright orange hot pants and white lace up Go Go boots. And this is the sort of thing like if you’re going to be serving hot coffee to 150 passengers at one time, it’s not really what you’d want to be wearing. One of the Canadian ones they had sort of a frontier flight where they were flying loggers I think to and from the sites and they had like fringed vests and very short miniskirts like tartan miniskirts sort of like a wild west aesthetic.
Wow. Very cute.
Nell McShane Wulfhart
Not very practical.
Natalie MacLean 8:55
Oh my God. Wow. I want to get into that as well, that book. So you’ve done your own fair share of travelling, tell us about some of the places you’ve lived and how perhaps they did or didn’t tie into your travel column for The New York Times.
Nell McShane Wulfhart 9:08
I have been living abroad. I’m from Philadelphia originally, but I’ve been living abroad since I was 18. So many, many years. I was at university in Dublin. I lived in Vietnam for almost five years. I lived in Korea for a year. I lived in Sri Lanka for a while. And I’ve been living in Urguary for eight years I think at this point. I enjoy travelling. I enjoy not being in the United States. And every day when I read the news from the United States, I feel happier and happier, faraway. And yeah, it’s just it’s been really wonderful. So I’ve written a lot the New York Times Travel section over the years. Lots of 36 hours in Bogota or 36 hours in Buenos Ares. Places like that. Sure. And my column that ran for three years, and that was interviewing celebrities about what they took in their carry on luggage, which was the fluffiest yet most fun and probably easiest writing gig I’ve ever had. Just call up RuPaul. Get him to tell you about all the stuff he brings in his luggage. Send it off.
Natalie MacLean 10:11
What does he put in his luggage by the way? RuPaul.
Nell McShane Wulfhart 10:14
Oh RuPaul is like such a professional. Like you know if you ever watch Drag Race, he’s always talking about his suits and the maker of his suit. So he told me all that. Suits. Who curates his suits. Everything is like branded. Everything’s like really on point and professional. I was trying to get him to tell me about like all the drag stuff he takes but I think there’s the sheer size it was just too much like costumes and the makeup like everything. It’s overwhelming.
Natalie MacLean 10:37
And was there any celebrity who took something really strange that you remember?
Nell McShane Wulfhart 10:41
The thing I remember most clearly was Aidy Bryant, who was on it Saturday Night Live. And you know, she’s a comedian. She has a lot of TV shows. And one of the things that she always brought with her was her own very colourful pillowcase from home. Because she said like not only does your own pillowcases, like when you’re staying in a hotel or something, makes you feel sort of homey and has the right smell and it feels nice to use. But when you’re doing like you know Zooms or FaceTime or any kind of video chat, it adds a sort of pop of colour to the background, which she thought was was really nice. I had never thought about it before. But I like it.
Natalie MacLean 11:13
Yeah. Absolutely. And you’d get those silky pillowcases that they’re supposed to be better for sleeping. Anyway, I’m going down a rabbit hole. Save me now. How did you end up in Uruguay?
Nell McShane Wulfhart 11:24
Well, like I said, I’ve been living abroad for a really long time. And most of my journalism career has been travel. So you know, I prefer living abroad but Uruguay specifically because my partner actually got a job here. Or actually, I found the job and I was like apply for this job. And he got it. And we’ve been here ever since.
Natalie MacLean 11:42
Awesome. And this is apparently like you have a strong focus on food and of course travel. But not as much of a focus on wine in your past. But you say when you arrived in the country, that’s when you really started to learn about wine. How did that happen?
Nell McShane Wulfhart 11:57
You know I think it’s when you’re just thinking about wine, wines of the world, it can feel totally overwhelming. Like I have a memory of a goldfish. Like I could not possibly remember like what region of France like the wines I prefer come from. Like that’s never going to happen. So living in South America, it was like okay at least the wines I’m drinking now are sort of more contained. They come from like a few, they come from Argentina; or they come from Brazil; or they come from Uruguay; or they come from Chile. And I feel like I can learn about these wines. Just narrowing the focus helped me. And also just probably getting slightly more successful career wise and being able to afford more wine was also was also something that helped.
Natalie MacLean 12:38
Yeah, now I don’t get to taste much Uruguyan wine. Look, I don’t know why I keep going back to the word that I’m butchering. But is Tannat their major red grape wine?
Nell McShane Wulfhart 12:48
Yes, yes. Tannat is obviously their main grape here. And it is as I’m sure you know, it is really strong; it’s really powerful. And you would almost never drink it just on its own. Like it’s really a wine that goes with food. A Tannat on its own is very tannic.
Natalie MacLean 13:02
Tannic. Because isn’t that the root of the word or the grape Tana? The first of the tannins. Okay. So does decanting help it? Like do you ever try that?
Nell McShane Wulfhart 13:12
Oh, definitely. It definitely helps. But I would just say as a general rule, unless you’re buying very high end Tannat, it’s a food I mean it pairs perfectly with steak, which is sort of the main dish here. It’s the thing you eat ,ost often when you’re living in Uruguay. It has a food culture very similar to Argentina, which I think people know about. A lot of like wood-fired grilling, a lot of red meat, a lot of cheese and sausage and steak. So Tannat is a great wine to pair with that.
Natalie MacLean 13:37
And you know roughly the size of the country’s wine industry? Like how many wineries? I have no sense of it. I haven’t written about it. So do you have a rough idea of how big it is?
Nell McShane Wulfhart 13:49
The wineries here are very small. There are a couple of wineries now they’re doing a lot of exportation. There’s Bouza and there’s Garson. And those are the only two bodegas that people outside Uruguay would really be familiar with. They’re the biggest. They’ve had the most you know marketing money at their disposal. But Uruguay’s history of wineries is mostly family based. You know very small bodegas, family run. They’ve been doing it for a long time. And I would say there’s probably more than 100 but there’s not like 500. I mean, there’s fewer than 4 million people who live here, so it’s a really small country.
Natalie MacLean 14:28
Okay. Okay. Well, that makes sense. All right. So let us jump into Off Menu. Where were you when you got the idea for this book?
Nell McShane Wulfhart 14:38
I was in a bar.
Excellent. Great setting.
Nell McShane Wulfhart
In Edinburgh. I was writing a 36 hours in Edinburgh for the Times and I had a really spectacular cocktail, a Last Word cocktail, which is usually you know it’s made with chartreuse. It’s usually green, but the one they served here was clear. They had basically clarified the chartreuse and taken out the green. And then they sort of the cocktail with a tiny tablet that could add it back in. And it was the experience. It was not just that it was a delicious cocktail. It was the experience of drinking something clear that I knew should be green. And thinking about as I was drinking it like how that perception was affecting the flavour of the cocktail. It was that sort of juxtaposition of those two things that was really interesting to me. And then I met a woman called Erica Duffy, who pops up quite a lot in the book. And she’s like a former perfumer, and flavorist, and an expert and all this stuff, and she kind of led me down a rabbit hole of all the things the five senses: how they affect things that we eat and drink and the flavour. And I just sort of ran with it. Yeah, it’s became become really fascinating.
Natalie MacLean 15:47
Absolutely. I just love how you wove all of the information but with great stories. And so how did it change that clear chartreuse? What did you expect? And what did it taste like? How did you perceive the taste to change?
Nell McShane Wulfhart 16:00
I think the first sip was very confusing. I don’t think I knew what I was drinking. And it just highlighted that difference between expectation and reality. And one of the things I explore in the books that we’ll probably get into is how the thing you expect to eat and drink is often like what you’re eating and drinking, regardless of the actual thing. Like that’s not very clearly put, but it’s all about perception. It’s really like the thing you that your brain thinks you’re eating or drinking is what you’re eating or drinking, even if it’s not the thing in front of you like the literal thing you’re putting in your mouth. And so having a drink that should be green.
You could think of it with anything. Like you could colour a lemonade and make it blue. And theoretically, it should taste the same right – like the food colour doesn’t have any taste – but it doesn’t. So it’s all about the perception.
Natalie MacLean 16:50
Right. Our minds are powerful. They do create a reality to the extent they even affect our senses or what we think we’re perceiving. That is fascinating. Now so before we dive into all that, you have a great clarification. What’s the difference between taste and flavour?
Nell McShane Wulfhart 17:04
I love this. I think this is so interesting. So I feel like a lot of us grew up with this idea of the tongue map. That like the tip of your tongue tastes sweet, and the sides of your tongue tastes salty and sour. That tongue map has been totally debunked. All of your taste buds can taste everything. But when we think about taste, taste really is just a few modalities. It’s salty, it’s sour, it’s bitter, it’s sweet, it’s not flavour. When we say that something tastes delicious, you know we’re talking about its flavour. We’re not talking about its taste. So when we talk about things like umami, umami is like a relatively new arrival to the world of taste right, this kind of like savoury meaty taste. That’s something your tongue can pick up but your tongue can’t really pick up anything more than these five modalities or six. Sometimes the definition is a little fluid.
Natalie MacLean 17:58
What’s the sixth one? Have they. They’ve added one have they?
Nell McShane Wulfhart 18:01
Well, it’s sort of a western concept. In other places there are other tastes so like astringency would be considered a taste you know. And like in the United States and North America, we don’t talk about a astringency being a taste the same way we talk about sweet being a taste.
Natalie MacLean 18:14
It feels more like a drying. Because in wine, we talk about astringency but more as a sensation or a texture drying than a taste, right.
Nell McShane Wulfhart 18:22
Exactly. It feels more like. Yeah, exactly. It feel more like a touch. Precisely. But there have been some revelations from scientists, Western scientists talking about there’s a taste of like, starchy or carbohydrate that our tongue can pick up. Which, I don’t know, it’s a growing field that like a lot of things, especially things my book, they’re changing all the time. You know, the expectations are different, though what we’re learning is different. So I think that’s what’s fascinating.
Natalie MacLean 18:45
Absolutely. And so, does tastes combine with smell to create flavour? Like how do we get to deliciousness, which is a flavour as you said.
Nell McShane Wulfhart 18:53
Yes, taste and smell. I mea, all of our senses can contribute to this. You know I talk about this in the book, about how what we hear can change the flavour of what we’re eating. There was a great experiment by Charles Spence. He called, I think, the Sonic Chip. Which basically he gave a bunch of people in the lab some Pringles out of the can. And he put headphones on them. And for some of the people eating the Pringles, he turned up the volume of their own crunching. So it was louder, and those people perceived those chips as being fresher than the ones who just heard it – they’re crunching and at the regular volume.
I mean, they were the exact same Pringles. Like a Pringle is a Pringle.. That’s the sort of their appeal, right. But it was if that particular sound actually affected like the flavour of what they were tasting. But yeah I think in general smell is definitely the most powerful one, especially when it comes to things like wine. And it’s that flavour, it’s like the smell, plus the taste plus the other senses that creates flavour. Flavour is really created more in your mind than it is on your tongue.
Natalie MacLean 19:50
Okay. And you also talk about how women are more likely to be super tasters than men are. And that’s especially a sensitivity to the bitterness or the burn of high alcoholic spirits. But are they, super tasers, also able to detect more subtle aromas? Like, do they have a wider range of what they can detect?
Nell McShane Wulfhart 20:11
For certain things. Super tasters are something I think we’re still learning about. And what I think is so interesting is that although there are more women super tasters than men and that in fact white men in general have the lowest number of super tasters per group, when we create food and we create cocktails like those are mostly designed with white men as their audience. You know beer or something, when people are creating the flavours of those things, they’re targeting that audience even though men in general are not as good at smelling things as women are. And apparently, things like at different points in your menstrual cycle you can taste or pick up more flavours or fewer flavours, if you are older younger even if you’re on SSRIs that can affect how you’re perceiving flavour.
Natalie MacLean 20:55
SSRIs. The. What are they. Serotonin uplift something? What are they? Anti-depressants. Like serotonin or whatever Zoloft. They can diminish, okay. And for the same reason can being depressed diminish your sense of smell?
Nell McShane Wulfhart 21:14
Yes, being depressed can diminish your sense of smell. And therefore your sense of taste. A lot of people who are depressed lose interest in food. And I think that’s part of the reason. I mean our senses are affected by so many different things. And those senses in turn affect how our eating and drinking and then how we can experience those things. It’s hard to separate them out. But I think it’s endlessly fascinating.
Natalie MacLean 21:35
Oh, I do too. And then on the flip side, you also say that sometimes depressed people gain weight because they’re searching for that flavour. They keep eating to find to recover the flavour memories that they had. So you know it can have two opposite effects it seems.
Nell McShane Wulfhart 21:51
I think less depressed people and more people who have anosmia, who have lost their sense of smell. I think the common idea is that if you’ve lost your sense of smell, you would wouldn’t eat that much because you lose so much interest in food. But it turns out that people with anosmia often gain a lot of weight because they’re searching for that flavour that they used to experience and enjoy. They’re trying to get that pleasure out of food and they can’t get any more. So they’re eating in order to try and recapture it.
Natalie MacLean 22:17
That makes sense. And you also say we should use the retro nasal smell, which we’ve talked about on this podcast before, breathing out through our noses after swallowing wine. You say smelling from the inside out, which I just love that phrase. What’s happening as we breathe out through our nose? What’s happening to say the different weights of molecules?
Nell McShane Wulfhart 22:39
Well, I think when you put them in. Okay, so you have something in your hand and you smell it, ortho nasally. So through your nose, that gives some sense of the flavour. And then when you put it in your mouth, so first of all it’s heated it up. If it’s food or wine, it’s dispersed. There’s more surface area. So there’s more basically, just like it’s opening up, it’s giving more chance for flavour molecules. And then when you’re swallowing, that motion pushes air up into your nasal cavity. Again it’s like it adds a whole other layer of flavour because it’s a second kind of smelling.
I think you can see this most easily – I mean, you can see it with wine, certainly how it becomes much more complex and much more flavourful – but I think also the great example is something like durian, or maybe like a really stinky cheese. Something that a lot of people might smell you know orthonasally through their nostrils and think, man, like I don’t like the smell of this. It doesn’t smell good. I think one of the examples I use in my book is fish sauce, which I use all the time when I cook. I love fish sauce but the organism smells like it’s not that great to me. But once it’s in your mouth and it’s warmed up into saliva mixing with it, and you swallow and it pushes that air up into your nasal cavity, there’s a whole different kind of experience, a whole different kind of flavour experience. So while smelling a stinky cheese might not be that enticing, once it’s in your mouth and you’re swallowing and you’re getting that second smell experience it’s like wow. This is what I’m here for.
Natalie MacLean 24:04
Oh, that’s great. You also mentioned that in the book that ortho nasally, like when we’re just for sniffing whatever it is, you’re going to get the lightest molecules that float up and off of the drink or of the food. But with warming it up, heating it up, you’re going to make it more airborne and on that retro nasal you’ll get perhaps the heavier molecules of aroma, perhaps I don’t know maybe they’re richer or more complex or were interesting or you just like them better.
Nell McShane Wulfhart 24:29
Yeah, just as a whole. I mean it’s smelling something through your nose really like barely counts.
Nell McShane Wulfhart
I mean it counts for a lot but I think I will smell a glass of wine you know before I take a sip, but the experience of smelling glass of wine and tasting that wine when it’s in your mouth and your swallowing and you’re getting that retro nasal experience. I mean you know they’re two totally different things, right?
Natalie MacLean 24:53
Yes, absolutely. Is this why you suggest letting like a good piece of say dark chocolate sit in your mouth for a whole minute?
Nell McShane Wulfhart 25:02
This was one of the hardest pieces of advice in the book that I found to implement, which was when somebody said, when you’re eating chocolate, you should hold that piece of chocolate in your mouth for a full minute before you like swallow it. Who would do such a thing? This like blew my mind, but then I started doing it and it’s right. It’s because that cocoa butter gets a chance to melt and to warm up and it opens up a whole other layer of flavour that just you’re not going to get if you’re just like crunching it and swallowing it down.
Natalie MacLean 25:29
Oh, wow. Yeah. And it’s so luxurious, as you say. Chocolate melts at body temperature. It’s very sensual. So you also get that textural sense that you wouldn’t get by just, as you say, chomping away and swallowing it quickly.
Nell McShane Wulfhart 25:43
100%. Yeah and texture is so important. And that like pretty like viscosity that chocolate gets when it melts like yes, it’s a completely different experience than just chewing and swallowing fast.
Natalie MacLean 25:53
Yeah. So you already mentioned that you know our expectations change our perception of both taste and our enjoyment. You cite an interesting study of blind tasting of five wines and participants said they enjoyed the one that they were told was the priciest. And that was despite the fact that that same wine was in another glass and they were told it was less expensive. And an MRI brain scan image even showed the pleasure centre of their brains lighting up more with the pricey bottle. Tell us how our expectations change when we’re told some details by, say a sommelier, of the bottle that they’re trying to sell to us in a restaurant and how we might use that strategy at home.
Nell McShane Wulfhart 26:30
Right, I mean perception is so much of labour and I can see it myself. Like if I’m in a restaurant even just to have a sommelier I feel like already increases your expectation of what the wine is going to be like. It increases your anticipation rather than just picking a wine off the list. And you know having the waiter come over and open it. Like talking to the person about it, hearing the story about it, this is just creating so much anticipation and expectation. And it literally changes the flavour of the wine.
In this study that you reference, these people who were undergoing the MRI, tasting the same wine. Told that one was from a $10 bottle and one received a $90 bottle, like their pleasure centres in their brains lit up more when they were drinking the $90 bottle of wine than the $10 bottle of wine, even though it was the same wine. Like literally a physical reaction that can be made, that can be measured, but just shows you that like flavour really is created in the brain.
And when you have this sort of a shortcut. Actually, you can use when you’re you know hosting people and you’re not quite sure what you’re serving. Like if you hype it up a little, you give it a story, you present something in a certain way, it does this thing where it just creates this kind of expectation for the person who’s going to eat or drink that thing. And they are literally going to enjoy it more.
Natalie MacLean 27:47
Wow. You say maybe tell them that it’s you know the vines were planted on a special hillside or there’s only 500 bottles made and that builds the anticipation. I love that I might try that one.
Nell McShane Wulfhart 27:58
If some tells me that I’m drinking a bottle of wine that’s like a micro project, there’s like 200 bottles, there’s only 500 bottles, like I have to have that wine. Like that’s why I’m going to enjoy that wine. And it just gives this feeling of exclusivity or privilege or something and the wine literally tastes better.
Natalie MacLean 28:15
It does. And you know, just sort of related but separate note, they’ve done MRI scans of people in accidents and then reading a script, say a car accident, and the brain is showing the same pattern. So they’re not actually remembering, they’re reliving it. Like our minds as I say are so powerful. They create and recreate our experiences.
So how can preparatory sounds help? You know the preparation of a meal whether it’s, I don’t know coffee grinding versus a microwave beeping. How does that impact us?
Nell McShane Wulfhart 28:47
Well in the same way that a sommelier telling me the story of the three monks up the hillside who made this incredible bottle of wine gets you excited to drink the wine, that happens with food as well. And it’s all about using our other senses, right. So the sound of a microwave in the kitchen. If you’re in the dining room at a dinner party waiting to be served food and you hear that bing of the microwave, like your expectations take a nosedive. Like you’re much less excited to eat that food. On the other hand, if somebody brings out a big salad. They start tearing up some fresh herbs, decorating the salad right in front of you, you have all these other cues. You have you can hear what’s happening; you can smell what’s happening; you can see what’s happening. There are all these freshness cues that are prepping you to really enjoy that salad you know.
When you host a dinner party, you don’t want to be cooking all the time, right. You want to be out with your guests and having fun. So you can absolutely prepare all the food ahead of time. Like you don’t actually have to be cooking a lasagna in front of your guests. But I just love the idea that these extra sensory cues – bringing lasagna out on the table and you know grinding some fresh black pepper in front of your guests in front of them, letting them see that little bit of performative aspect that is going on – increases their enjoyment so much. And again, the lasagna is the same lasagna. It’s just that triggering these other cues, using those other senses, that really helped us enjoy that much more.
Natalie MacLean 30:10
So restaurants have this nailed with the giant pepper grinders or the parmesan or the even shaving truffles. It’s all getting us ready.
Nell McShane Wulfhart 30:19
Exactly. I think of like restaurants that make guacamole tableside. Like there are so many like you know smell cues and sound cues and visual cues. Like if somebody’s making guacamole tableside like you’re gonna eat that guacamole. You’re very excited. Yeah, it’s like it’s all experience.
Natalie MacLean 30:37
Yeah. And you even talk about some restaurants will do things like spritz saffron. Saffron is expensive, it dissipates quickly I think, but they’ll spritz the plate with it either tableside or just before the plate is served. Why is that?
Nell McShane Wulfhart 30:51
Spritzing anything I think is like another nice shortcut when it comes to food. Because especially something is being served family style. It’s in the middle of the table. People are less likely to be getting all the aromas. Often it feels different. So the idea of sort of creating the right atmosphere, either using a little bit of the juices from whatever you’ve cooked and spraying them into the air like, again, that’s triggering anticipation. Or just doing anything that is complimentary. One of the ideas I put in the book is like if you’re serving mashed potatoes, you could tie a sprig of rosemary to the serving spoon and then when people pick up the serving spoon, it sort of like crushes Rosemary a little bit. It brings those aromas into the air. And then you have sort of like multi sensory experience rather than just like mashed potatoes on the plate.
Natalie MacLean 31:36
That’s brilliant. Did you talk about someone invented a spoon that actually spritzes or something? Was there a device or a fork?
Nell McShane Wulfhart 31:42
There’s there’s a lot of talk about spoons in the book because I think the things that we use to eat with – plates, bowls, glassware, cutlery – are so important. I don’t think there’s a spritzing spoon but there are plenty of spritzing devices.
Nell McShane Wulfhart
I mean, I’m sure someone has invented that already. You could probably find it on Amazon.
Natalie MacLean 32:03
And so yeah you also talked about like you know even ripping basil or whatever. Any of these smells really get our gastric juices going. Our saliva, which is really important in our mouths, because then you’re liquefying the food. It’s touching more tastebuds. You have a trick with limes and lemons Squeezing limes or lemons on some food because it puts the pH back in balance or I guess it’s just getting your mouth watering and enjoying food more, right?
Nell McShane Wulfhart 32:28
Absolutely, like any of those aromas especially when it comes to citrus like the aromas dissipate very quickly. The volatiles fly off, that’s the end of it. And it’s sort of the difference between store bought orange juice, like in a carton, and fresh squeezed orange juice. It’s like citrus oils in the skin of any kind of citrus fruit give it like that something extra. It makes it tastes completely different. So yes and also you can use those even just like creating a sense experience. The way people would cut up you know lemons and limes and just plop them in a jug of water. There is like an aroma that comes in that. Like the taste is not actually that good. Like the flavour is not that interesting to me of like a couple of slices of fruit and a big jug of water. But the aromas that make it really appetizing.
Natalie MacLean 33:13
And you even say that some packaging is designed this way. Like I think you mentioned the Mars candy company makes 12 bars and there’s a flavour seal. Like when you open the package, what happens?
Nell McShane Wulfhart 33:24
Packaging is so important when it comes to perception and in terms of flavour. Like it affects – I could talk about this for hours – like it affects everything about the way that we eat. I think you’re referring to in particular is with ice cream. And of course frozen things don’t have a smell, right. You can’t smell something is frozen. But these companies that make ice cream, they will often put perfume, some kind of perfume, especially usually a vanilla scent into the open glue of the packaging or under the lid. So when you open it, you can smell what the thing is going to taste like even though you know vanilla also is. Like the vanilla smell is not connected to real vanilla, also smells kind of kind of dark and dusty. It smells totally different than an artificial vanilla flavouring. But they are creating that anticipation. And again, they have to add that because you can’t smell ice cream or at least not what is still frozen.
Natalie MacLean 34:14
Right. And you said that it was either Ben or Jerry could not smell so he made sure that chunks of stuff in his ice cream were bigger.
Nell McShane Wulfhart 34:23
Yes, I think it’s Jerry. He has anosmia, no sense of smell. So obviously he can taste very little. And so for him, texture became really important. And so that’s why Ben and Jerry’s. Like that’s what they’re famous for is the chunks of stuff that go in the ice cream. And you’ll notice if you compare Ben and Jerry’s ice cream to other flavours of ice cream, the chunks in Ben and Jerry’s are bigger. Like there’s much more focused on like chewiness and texture then there is in other brands. And that’s why. It’s because you have to sort of compensate for that lack of smell with a different sense.
Natalie MacLean 34:56
Love it. You know all this anticipatory stuff reminds me of why those unboxing videos on social media are so popular. I look at them and go there opening a box. But there’s something about it. I don’t know if our curiosity or what’s inside or I don’t know what it is. But anyway, all the authors that when I get a new book. So I’m gonna have to do that. I don’t know.
Nell McShane Wulfhart 35:19
Yeah, you will. People love it.
Natalie MacLean 35:22
So let’s get back to music. How does loud noise or music affect our sense of taste, especially say if we’re in a restaurant?
Nell McShane Wulfhart 35:29
Oh, this is like one of my pet peeves is restaurant noise. And the older I get, it becomes like a major peeve. It depresses our other senses. So there’s loud music in the background. If there’s lots of lots of noise, not only is it annoying, because you have to shout to your companions, but it really makes means that you experience the flavours last. Like it diminishes your sense of flavours and your sense of taste. I remember having an experience in a really wonderful sushi restaurant in San Francisco 15 years ago, before I had started exploring any of this stuff, and I was eating his piece of incredible yellowtail. And I just sat there and I close my eyes and I plugged my ears with my fingers and just sat there like chewing because as soon as I would – those other senses were alert – like I couldn’t taste it as much. I couldn’t get the flavours out of it. And I found that to be true in terms of almost any kind of thing like that. That kind of background noise, it creates stress. If it’s fast, loud music, it’ll make us eat faster. If it’s loud music and we have to shout to our friends, then we get thirstier faster and we drink more. There’s all sorts of ways in which that background noise has not necessarily a negative effect – because maybe you want to drink a lot and yell at your friends; no judgment – sounds like take away your ability to really appreciate like any kind of subtlety and flavour for sure.
Natalie MacLean 36:44
Right. And so then we generally choose fast foods or foods that aren’t as good for us because we’re compensating. We want extra fat, extra salt, extra sweet to match that extra noise that’s in the background.
Nell McShane Wulfhart 36:55
And it’s also like a stress response. When people are feeling under stress, they don’t choose carrot sticks for a snack. They choose chips or chocolate or something like that. So yeah, loud music and loud noise does create that sort of stress response in our bodies. And so yeah, we order less healthy food.
Natalie MacLean 37:13
Yeah, especially if carrot sticks creates the stress in the first place, and you just want a chocolate bar or whatever. But yeah, you’re talking about stress. Of course that’s the release of cortisol, the hormone that can suppress taste. So how does that connect maybe with hosting a noisy party at home? Should we serve our best wines first or last? Like are they going to taste them the wine at all? Or what should we be doing with the way we serve wines?
Nell McShane Wulfhart 37:39
I mean it really depends on your guests and the party. But one of the scientists I interviewed for this said after the first couple of sips no one is like really tasting the wine. And I do think that’s true. But definitely as the night goes on, people are not really paying attention to the wine. So if there’s like a great bottle of wine that you have, make that the first thing that you serve because that’s when people are the most sober. That’s when people are paying the most attention. Usually conversation is not as rowdy as it might be later on. So if there’s a great wine, I would serve that right up front.
And one tip that I did have from somebody who studies wine is she always served two wines at once. She never just served one, especially if there’s one that she really wants to highlight and call attention to. Because she likes giving people something to compare the great wine to, and it helps them figure out what they like and what they’re tasting. So if she has people for dinner party, there’s always two wine glasses and she always serves two wines at the same time. And of course then you know it also helps spark conversation because people can say oh I like this one; I like this thing about the other wine. So it’s almost a conversation starter as well. But yes, definitely don’t serve a good bottle of wine at the end of the night. That’s a little waste of money.
Natalie MacLean 38:50
I love that tip. Two wines, I’m gonna use that. The other thing I would think is that by the end of the night with more alcohol all of our senses dull. Like that’s why if we have too much our speech slurs. We can’t walk straight. So I imagine our sense of smell is diminishing under the weight of alcohol, too.
Nell McShane Wulfhart 39:09
Totally. And also just like we get satiated like our receptors. Like if you’re eating the same thing for a long period of time, like you stopped tasting it a little bit. A lot of people will like they’re always hungry for dessert even if they’ve just eaten an enormous meal. My sister used to talk about when she was a kid as having like dessert box in her stomach that like would never be fall in no matter how much dinner she ate. Like there was always room for dessert. And that’s because those sweet receptors are still fresh. You know you haven’t been like bombarding them with sensations all this time. So you know that’s like you’re not maybe physically hungry but your brain is hungry. Your brain is ready to eat more of something that tastes entirely different.
Natalie MacLean 39:49
Natalie MacLean 39:56
Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed my chat with Nell. Here are my takeaways. Number one, I love Nell’s advice to share a few details about the wine with your dinner party guests as it will so change their perception of its taste for the better. Number two, I’m keen now to taste more wines from Uruguay especially Tannat. And three, I found Nell’s explanation of the difference between flavour and taste fascinating.
In the shownotes, you’ll find my email contact, the full transcript of my conversation with Nell, links to her website and books, and where you can find a live stream video version of these conversations on Facebook and YouTube Live every Wednesday at 7pm. You’ll also find a link to my free Ultimate Guide to Wine and Food Pairing. That’s all in the show notes at NatalieMaclean.com/217. Email me if you have a tip, sip, question would like to win one of three copies of the audiobook Off Menu or would like to be a beta reader of my new memoir at [email protected]
If you missed episode 86 go back and take a listen. I chat about wine marketing secrets with Dr. Tim Dodd. I’ll share a short clip with you now to whet your appetite.
What are the big differences between the way men and women buy wine?
Dr. Tim Dodd 41:15
Men tend to be trophy buyers so they buy for cellars. They like to have things that are rare and exceptional. Whereas women a lot more sort of practical for more immediate consumption. They’re conscious of colour and labels a lot more so than men. And then, when people go into a tasting room, they get a free visit around the winery. They get a couple of free glasses of wine and have a great experience. Women tend to buy wine out of a feeling of obligation, but feel obligated because they’ve had such a great experience.
Natalie MacLean 42:02
If you liked this episode, please email or tell one friend about it this week, especially someone you know who be interested in the wines, tips, and stories we shared. You won’t want to miss next week when we continue our chat with Nell McShane Wulfhart. Thank you for taking the time to join me here. I hope something great is in your glass this week, perhaps a wine that tastes better because you know on which hillside the vines are planted.
Natalie MacLean 42:33
You don’t want to miss one juicy episode of this podcast, especially the secret full body bonus episodes that I don’t announce on social media. So subscribe for free now at NatalieMaclean.com/subscribe. Meet me here next week. Cheers.