If you’ve ever been to a wine tasting and wondered how someone can taste all those flavors in a sip of wine (grass or asparagus, really?) the answer is often only found in a well-trained palate. While some people definitely have a better palate than others, you can use a few easy to employ techniques that will improve your taste buds, and therefore, your enjoyment of the foods you consume.

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Know the Basic Tastes

There are five basic tastes: Sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. It’s important to know how to tell the differences in these flavors. Sweet, salty, and sour are pretty easy to discern, and bitter isn’t too hard. Umami, on the other hand is what is known as savory. Foods like mushrooms, meat, and cheese are often described as umami.

Some foods are a combination of flavors. Fruit can be both sweet and sour, dark chocolate can taste both sweet and bitter, and some cheeses can taste both salty and have that umami flavor. When foods are combined, you will get a little of everything, but you have to be able to recognize it. You can learn to recognize it by tasting foods alone and paying attention to the flavors they give off. You should first learn to appreciate each of these tastes for what they are.

Try New Foods

If you consistently eat the same foods, you’ll never expand your palate. Get in the habit of trying something new everyday, or at least whenever you get the chance. You don’t have to totally change your habits; even making simple substitutes once in awhile can introduce you to new flavors.  Instead of eating spinach in your salad, try arugula. Eat asparagus instead of broccoli and try cheeses you’ve never had. If your supermarket has an olive bar, try olives you’ve never had.

You’ll never expand your palate if you aren’t willing to see what else is out there, and there is plenty out there that you haven’t tried.

Learn to Savor Your Food

Take a minute to think about what you’re doing when you eat. Are you watching television? Having a conversation with your family? Driving?

While you can tell whether the food you’re eating is satisfying or not while doing other things, it can be very difficult to tell what it tastes like. You don’t taste each and every spice in your spaghetti sauce, or the seasoning on your popcorn. Even tasting something as simple as fresh herbs can be surprising when you actually put some thought into it.

To truly expand your palate, you need to think while you eat. Take a bite of food, close your eyes, and savor it. Think about the flavors that are present. If you’ve ever taken a wine tasting class, this is very similar.

Be Adventurous

If you really want to change your palate, you have to be unafraid of trying exotic foods. There are plenty of foods that at first glance will seem disgusting: Smelly cheeses, new meats, or juice made with broccoli. You have to force yourself to try something if you have the chance. How will you know you don’t like it until you try?

The next time you’re in an ethnic restaurant, order something you’ve never heard of and taste it. Or if you’re traveling to a foreign country, try every single food that is offered to you, no matter how unappealing it sounds. The only way to reset your palate is to constantly bombard it with new flavors and textures.

Cleanse Your Palate

When you eat a meal, you probably eat a bite of this, followed by a bite of that, and then a bite of something else. You may go from course to course, simply eating and enjoying your food, but do you taste each and every thing? Depending on what you’re eating, it’s likely that you’re not, although this doesn’t mean you’re not enjoying it.

If you’ve even been to a fine restaurant and had the waiter bring you a bite of sorbet or something similar between each course, you’ve cleansed your palate, although you may not have realized it at the time. Citrus, bread, or even just water gets the flavor of one food out of your mouth entirely before moving on to the next so that you can experience the full flavor of each course.

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Set aside some time once or twice a week and do a palate cleansing exercise. Get a bunch of new foods each time and try them in their unadulterated state.  Think olives, herbs, fruits, and vegetables, chocolate, or wine. Taste each one, savor it, and take notes on what you think you taste. Repeat with the same foods, but be sure to introduce new ones with every session. You can do this alone or with a friend, but remember that the point is to taste the food, not engage in conversation or get distracted by movies or gossip.

Have plenty of plain, salt free crackers, white bread, and citrus fruits for palate cleansers, and drink lots of water as well. Make sure to use the palate cleansers between each food to make sure you’re getting the full experience.

Remember Your Senses

Your sense of smell is directly tied to your taste buds, which is why you can’t taste anything when you have a cold. This means that when you’re sick, it doesn’t make sense to try to train your palate, or even go out to a fine restaurant where you want to taste all the amazing flavors the chef has to offer.

Visual appeal is also important when it comes to food, which is why you may sometimes be turned off by brown foods even though they may taste good.

Watch Out For Sugar

Sugar can wreck havoc on your diet, your health, and your waistline, but it can also severely affect your palate. If you find that you have trouble tasting different foods, or discerning flavors in cooked dishes, it could very well be because you are consuming too much sugar.

Try cutting back for a while and pay attention to your taste buds to see if that changes. Remember that sugar hides in unusual places; so be sure to read nutrition labels before buying any type of packaged food.

Pay Attention to Non Food Items You’re Consuming

The absolute worst thing you can do for your palate is smoke cigarettes, or anything for that matter. It dulls both your taste buds and your sense of smell, which is why many people that quit smoking suddenly find that within a few weeks of their last cigarette, food suddenly tastes much better. If you want to improve your palate, you need to quit smoking for good.

Some prescription and over the counter medicines can also affect your taste buds, so if you suddenly notice that food tastes different, or less flavorful, figure out if it could be a drug you’re taking. You’ll have a hard time training your palate if you’re taking something that is blocking your senses. Chewing tobacco, too much coffee, or illegal drugs can also have an adverse affect.

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To fully enjoy a wide variety of foods, you have to be able to taste them. There’s a difference between enjoying a meal, and truly tasting every flavor and ingredient that goes into it. Learning how to train your palate is often as simple as paying attention when you eat, as well as being aware of other factors, such as smoking, that will affect your taste buds in a big way.

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