Here’s what I mean by yummy:
Here’s what I mean by delicious (a delivery from my CSA):
What’s the difference?
“Yummy” food tends to have qualities such as:
- Little fiber
- Sugar, fat, and salt provide the dominant flavors and textures
- Little raw ingredients
- Mostly yellow, orange, or brown
- Other colors often come from food coloring and don’t represent the raw foods
- Corporate processing
- Many ingredients
“Delicious” food tends to have
- Many colors
- Complex flavors and textures
- Mostly resembling the plants it’s made of
- Few ingredients
Delicious to me means that the food exhibits combinations of flavors and textures that complement each other to make me feel like saying, “that tastes good.” I like nuance, subtlety, and complexity, all the more if unexpected. I have to specify that I’m not a gourmet. I don’t like fancy or complicated. I don’t value rare or hard-to-get.
Nearly all fresh, ripe fruit and nuts meet the criteria. They have a variety of flavors and textures. The simple apple, for example, has multiple flavors that come and go within each bite. The skin has a different texture than the flesh, and the flesh releases juice that feels one way while the dry remains break down another way. Different apples taste different.
Even the sweet, soft banana has nuance and mixes of flavor. The peel, which I now eat, offers contrasting texture. (For some reason people feel compelled to talk about pesticides as if it was breaking news for me when I mention peels, so I’ll mention I wash them thoroughly. I’ll also mention I wait for the skin to thin and show lots of spots before I eat them.)
Sugar and salt, by contrast, while pleasing, offer no complexity or nuance. I find their sensation pleasing, but I distinguish pleasure from delicious. Tasting sugar usually makes me feel like I want to eat more, but that’s motivation – -reflex – -not sensation. Sugar is just sweet. Beyond lacking complexity, it overrides other flavors’ complexity.
For example, my stepfather says he likes his favorite dish, which he calls “fiery tofu,” for what he calls the contrast between its sweetness and spiciness. The sweetness comes from maple syrup, which alone has nuance and complexity if you look for it, but in the dish you only taste its sugar. More precisely, the sweetness of sugar overrides spiciness. It numbs you so it doesn’t hurt. In other words, I find that adding sugar lowers a food’s nuance, subtlety, and complexity.
Sugar makes food more yummy but less delicious.
I bet my stepfather’s dish would offer more subtlety, nuance, and complexity without the syrup. It has plenty of vegetables and some pineapple, which is sweet but not only sweet. He’d have to add less spice to keep the same feeling of spiciness without the syrup. Then he’d get nuance, subtlety, and complexity.
Sugar makes things yummy and comfortable at the expense of what I call delicious. It makes you want more . That’s reflex, not taste. In the way I wouldn’t value a participation trophy as much as one I won through competition, I don’t value sweetness as I value nuance, subtlety, and complexity.
Salt is similar, though it doesn’t override as much as sugar does and seems to reach a limit in how much I can take per time. Sugar doesn’t seem to have such a limit. If I only cared about pleasure, I don’t know what would limit how much sugar I would eat – -maybe the size of my stomach.
Butter and oil also offer pleasure, more from the texture. They don’t taste as strong as sugar or salt, but they also override other flavors, so I find that they also simplify and numb.
I can make a similar case for textures. Crispy on the outside, tender on the inside has come to dominate textures, along with gooey for desserts. I find them pleasurable too, but there are a lot of alternatives, and even crispy on the outside, tender on the inside doesn’t have to come from deep frying and breading, the apparent technique of choice.
About flavor, not only health
Most people talk about sugar, salt, and fat from a health perspective, telling us how manufacturers use them to manipulate us to eat more and that we should avoid eating too much of them. They describe the challenge of stopping yourself from eating too much, taking for granted that sugar, salt, and fat taste good.
It took me a while to discover the difference between pleasing and delicious, meaning, for me, nuance, subtlety, and complexity. I’m approaching sugar, salt, and fat not from a health perspective but from a taste perspective.
I finally discovered that yummy and comfortable don’t make food better for me because they aren’t what I call delicious. Eating comfort food or yummy food doesn’t make my life better. It reminds me of how Richard Feynman, winner of the Nobel Prize in physics distinguished between physics and math, “physics is to math as sex is to masturbation.”
I see the health perspective, but it’s less important for me than a taste perspective. The health perspective accepts something which makes it harder to avoid sugar, salt, and fat that I don’t – -that they taste good. My perspective – -that they taste pleasurable but not delicious – -makes it increasingly easy to find industrial products disgusting. It’s becoming inevitable.
In a comedian’s words
Adam Carolla described yummy pretty well in this call about “the yummy phase”:
Read my weekly newsletter
Subscribe for a weekly update of musings on leadership, the environment, and burpees.