Practical Use of Our Liking For Complex Flavors

People like complex flavors. I suppose this is why I prefer black tea to green tea. My evolutionary explanation is that this preference caused our ancestors to eat more bacteria-laden food. Bacteria make food taste more complex and bacteria-laden food are healthier than bacteria-free food.

Phil Alexander sent me a story from this book that illustrates this preference:

We entered the saloon. Not a customer was there — a very surprising fact, considering that it was New Year’s Eve. The only person in sight was the bartender who paced back and forth in front of the bar like a caged beast.

“Well, whatta you want?” he asked savagely.

“Why, we just want a little New Year’s drink,” I returned. Winterbill was too surprised to say anything.

“Mix ‘em yourself,” the bartender replied. “I’m through with the saloon business.”

“If you feel that way about it,” I said, “why don’t you sell out?”

“Well, the first guy who offers me $300 can have the works.”

Somewhat amused and thinking he must be joking, I retorted, “I’ll give you $300 — provided it includes all your stock, the cash register, and other equipment.”

“Mister, you’ve bought yourself a saloon!” he snapped. “I’ll not only include all the stock and equipment — I’ll throw in a full barrel of whiskey I’ve got in the basement.”

Winterbill now joined in the fun and began to take an inventory.

The owner took off his apron and handed it to me. “Gimme the three hundred bucks.”

I gave him the money, still believing it was a joke. He put the money into his pocket, got his hat and coat and departed. To our complete bewilderment, we found ourselves in the saloon business.

A few minutes later, our first customer came in. He evidently had not made our place his first stop. I hurriedly put the apron over my evening clothes and asked for his order.

“Martini,” he said in a thick voice.

“Martini,” I repeated to Winterbill.

“Stall him!” Winterbill whispered.

“Coming right up,” I told the customer. He didn’t mind waiting. He was at the stage where he wanted to talk and so proceeded to do.

Meanwhile Winterbill racked his brain, for he had only the vaguest idea how to mix a Martini. He finally settled upon a recipe. He put a dash of everything from the numerous bottles behind the bar into one drink. I stirred it up and handed it to the customer. We watched anxiously while he drank it down.

“That was good!” he exclaimed. “Best Martini I ever tasted. Mix me another.”

Again Winterbill started to mix.

“How do you feel?” I inquired, none too sure of the consequences.

“Me?” asked the customer. “Fine. Never felt better in my life.”

He didn’t show any bad results after the second drink, and we both were relieved. As time went on more customers came in. They ordered whiskey sours, Manhattans, and Martinis. Winterbill had just one formula and that’s what he gave them all. Nobody complained.

. . . By the time we closed that night we had taken in more than the whole outfit cost us!

4 Responses to “Practical Use of Our Liking For Complex Flavors”

  1. Alex Chernavsky Says:

    I once made this Ethiopian stew (the recipe lists ten different spices — and I used all ten). It was OK but not great.

  2. dearieme Says:

    That’s the spirit in which I approached my first chemistry set: “I’m going to the garden shed, Mum, to mix everything up”.

    The result, as far as I remember, was brown.

  3. CD Says:

    Hey Seth,

    It reminds me of this story: http://www.joe-ks.com/archives_jul2004/Chili_Cheater.htm

    A guy won a Texas chili cookoff by combining samples from all the entrants.

    Seth: Reminiscent of psychology research that found that a face photo constructed by averaging many faces was more attractive than any of the individual faces.

  4. Alex Chernavsky Says:

    The New York Times just ran this interesting article about spices:

    The Transformational Power of the Right Spice