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“Man and his creations” conference by Athens Calls Athens
21-23 Oktober 2020
The History of the Greek
Sense of Taste in Food
Prof. dr. Boskou George
Department of Nutrition and Dietetics
School of Health Science & Education
Harokopio University Athens
[email protected], FB:@FoodJokey
„Deipnosofistai”
verses 60 b,c
Athinaios
(Athenaeus)
2-3 century AD
leavened little piece of dark bread, sprinlkled with straw,
each of the two of us had, twice a day, and a few figs.
sometime mushroom was roasted and snail, when the dew
was down, and grasped some local greens and chrashed
olives, and we had to drink pitty wine of doubtfull quality
Could we ever consider
the life without the
sense of taste?
Is a basic function of our human body, a basic sense

It allows the qualitative evaluation of our food

Prevents the swallowing of undesired substances

It provides delight and pleasure (hedone)

Activates the memory with experiences of the past

According to Aristotle
the taste should be above all senses
Aristotle and the senses
Aristotle (384-322 BC) in his work "On the Soul"
defined the five human senses as we know them
touch, vision, hearing, smell and taste
and underligns that the taste is the basic condition for
the serenity of the soul
(Aristotle, „On the Soul”, book 2nd, chapter Ι')
In another book he states the taste above all the other
senses should be able to sense the common everything
«....έπρεπεν η γεύσις περισσότερον των άλλων
αισθήσεων να αισθάνηται τα κοινά πάντα»
(Aristotle, „On Sense and Sensible”, chapter. Δ')
Hipocrattes and the tastes
Hipocrattes, almost 100 years before Aristotle,
classified the food in 4 categories according to the
physiological responces in the human body:
warm (e.g. onion), cold (e.g asparagus),
dry (e.g grapes), wet (e.g lettuce).
However this classifications was not clear enough,
therefore later he made another classification
according to the taste responce:
sweet, sour, salty, bitter, harsh and tart
Since then the basic tastes are
sweet, bitter, salty, sour
The combination of the 4 basic tastes, and their
intensity, creates other complex tastes
The tastes are captured by the taste bubs on the
tongue and through 13 nerves the signals are
transmitted to the brain that distinguishes or
combined tastes.
The feeling of harsh, tart and spicy are not considered
basic tastes but physiological responces.
Counterbalance of tastes
Usually there is a counterbalance
between the sweet and sour taste
and between the bitter and salty taste
sweet
bitter
taste
sour
salty
Umami taste
Is either the 5th taste or the hedonic combination
of the other 4 (?)

It was defined in 1908 by the Japanese chemist
Kikunae Ikeda

It is an expression of the savory taste or savory
integration (?)

Uppon umami taste the development of modern
taste enhancers was based (MSG, “Ajinomoto”)

About 100 years before Savarin gave the name
"osmazome" for the flavour of cooked meat

The taste is decisive
Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin was a
man of multidisciplanary education in
law, chemisty and medicine. In 1825
he wrote the legendary book
“Physiologie du goût”, the testament
of moderm gastronomy. In his book
he states that:
“While the smell
explores the food, the
taste is to decide”
Euchymia (ευχυμία)
The word flavour, that describes both the smell and
taste in the ancient greek language is defined as ευχυμία
(euchymia)

Etymology: eu- (ευ-) meaning good and -chymia from
chymos (χυμός) meaning juice, sap.

So the word euchymia or flavour describes the aroma
and the taste of food when it is whithin the mouth
cavity

Claudius Galenus in 2nd cent AD wrote the thesis „De euchymia et
cacochymia, seu de bonis malísque succis generandis”
The “euchymia” of Aristotle
«...τώρα πρέπει να πραγματευθώμεν περί οσμής και
χυμού, τα οποία δηλούσι το αυτό σχεδόν πάθος
(αίσθημα), αλλά δεν γίνονται και τα δύο εις τα αυτά
όργανα»
“...and now we must elaborate on smell and taste
(chymos), that deem nearly the same sense
(pathos), but are not both perceived in the very
same organs”
(Aristotle, „On Sense and Sensible”, chapter. Δ')
Aristotle and the balance of tastes
(chymoi)
«Όπως δε τα χρώματα γίνονται εκ της μίξεως του λευκού και του μέλανος,
ούτως οι χυμοί γίνονται εκ του γλυκέος καί του πικρού. Ούτως ο λιπαρός
είναι ο χυμός του γλυκέος, ο δε αλμυρός καί ο πικρός είναι σχεδόν ο αυτός
χυμός, ο δε δριμύς καί αυστηρός καί ο στρυφνός καί ο οξύς χυμός είναι
χυμοί διάμεσοι»
„As the colors are made from the mixture of white and black, so the
juices are made from the sweet and the bitter. Thus the fatty is the
juice of the sweet, and the salty and the bitter is almost the same
juice, and the harsh and tart and the sour and the sharp juice are
juices in between”
salty
bitter
sweet
(fatty)
harsh, tart, sour, sharp
Tasty is hedonic
The term Hedone (ηδονή), is a Greek word for pleasure.
In mythology Hedone was a minor goddess, daughter of Eros
and Psyche
It was also a philosophical concept for the Epicurean school, the
hedonism.
The term „tasty” characterises the property of a food to
irritate the taste buds of the tongue and to create a nervous
stimulation of pleasure (hedone).
The hedonic
disk of
Olive Oil
The hedonic
disk of
Wine
The chalenge of taste complexity
In the begining the 20th
century Bampis Anninos
lays satyric critisism on
the meals of the
bourgeois of his era in the
book called
“The Compendium of the
Stomach”
Η πρόκληση της πολυπλοκότητα της γεύσης
«... Διαταράσσουν δε το μαγειρικόν καθεστώς εκάστοτε και αι
φαντασιοπληξίαι των εκκεντρικών. Διότι, αν εις την αρχαιότητα
η νευροπαθής Κλεοπάτρα ανέλυσεν εις όξος και ερρόφησεν τον
βαρύτιμον αυτής μαργαρίτην, ευρέθησαν και άλλοι άσωτοι εις
νεωτέρας εποχάς, οίτινες προς επίδειξιν έτρωγον ομελέτας
επιπεπασμένας δια κόνεως πολυτίμων λίθων κοπανισμένων, όπως
ευρέθησαν προ ολίγου χρόνου μερικοί και μερικαί μπλαζέ του
καλού κόσμου εν Αγγλία, οι οποίοι αηδιάζοντες την μονοτονίαν
των συνήθων γευμάτων, επενόησαν τας σαλάτας εκ πετάλων
ρόδων ή μενεξέδων, ηρτυμένων δι' αρώματος Κολωνίας...».
Μπάμπης Άννινος “Το Συναξάριο του Στομάχου”
The chalenge of taste complexity
They disrupt the culinary regime in each case and the
fantasies of the eccentrics. For, if in antiquity the
neuropathic Cleopatra dissolved in acid and drunk the
precious pearls, other prodigals were found in modern
times, that ate omelets sprinkled with dust of precious
stones, to show off. As found recently, some “blasé”
ladies and gentlemen of the English “bourgeoisie”, who,
disgusted by the monotony of the usual meals, indulged
in salads made of petals from roses or violets, scented
with “Eau de Cologne” ...
Bampis Anninos “The Compendium of the Stomach”
The ancient „scholars” of food & senses









Homer of Ionia, epic poet, provided detailed description of meals and
feasts in Ilias and Odyssey (8th-7th b.C.)
Empedocles of Akragas, philosopher, described the physiology of
senses (5th b.C.)
Iccus of Taranto, athlete, founder of athletic dietology (5th b.C.)
Mithaecus of Sicily, famous cook, the author of the first cook book
(5th b.C.)
Archestratos of Gela or Syraccuse, the first journalist of
gastronomy, author of „Hedypatheia” (4th b.C.)
Mnesitheus of Athens, physician, the first dietitian, author of the
work “On Diet” (4th b.C.)
Herodicus of Selymbria, physician tutor o Hippocrates (4th b.C.)
Hippocrates of Kos, physician, patron of medicine (4ο b.C.)
Aristotle of Stagira, great philosopher, author of „On Senses and
Sensible” amond many others (4th b.C.)
The ancient „scholars” of food & senses








Epicurus of Samos, philosopher of empiricism (sences is the source
of knowledge) and hedonism (pleasure is ethical and pain is evil),
(3th-4th b.C.)
Theophrastus of Eresos, plilosopher and herbalist, patron of
botany (3th-4th b.C.)
Dioscourides of Cilicia, systematic herbalist, (1st a.D.)
Plutarch of Chaeronea, philosopher and biographer, wrote
nutritional advice in the work „On Children Education” (1st a.D.)
Apicius, roman gourmet, the important cookbook „De Re Coquinaria”
is attributed to him but is actually a collective work (2nd a.D.)
Galenus of Pergamon, physician, patron of pharmacy (2nd a.D.)
Athenaeus of Naucratis, philologist, author of the work
„Deipnosophistae” (2nd-3d a.D.)
Paulus of Aegina, physician, author of the first medical
encyclopedia (7th. a.D.)
some ancient cooking devices
“Gastra”, casserole, roaster
“Estia”: oven, grill,
fryer, steamer
“Krateftes” barbecue for skewers
The tastes in Ancient times
Socrates, Plato and Aristotle in example
never tasted sugar, potatos, tomatos
oranges, lemons, aubergines, bell peppers
and other common ingredients of the
mediterranean cuisine.
So there is a philosophical question:
What was the taste of ancient food?
The history of taste
(chronogastronomy)
Our purpose was to capture something intangible, that is,
the taste of our ancestors.
With bibliographic study, where a scrutinus observation
was made on the main ingredients of cited recipes.
About ten or more recipes were studied from each period.
Very good bibliographic sources were the books of Andrew
Dalby: „Siren feasts: a history of food and gastronomy
in Greece” and „Food in the Ancient World from A to Z”
Taste score
Each recipe was rated on an hedonic scale of 5 degrees
for intensity of each of the four basic tastes
Increasing intensity
1
bitter
sour
sweet
salty
2
3
4
5
Intentisity of taste per period
bitter
sour
ΠΙΚΡΟ
ΞΥΝΟ
sweet
salty
ΓΛΥΚΟ
ΑΛΜΥΡΟ
5
4
3
2
1
0
Ne
ic
h
t
i
ol
e
ra
&
c
i
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s
a
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ne
a
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e
The geography of taste
(geogastronomy)
In another study we tried to alocate the basic tastes and
taste properties in different areas of modern Greece
An extended database of Greek recipes was used (an
outcome of a time-consuming effort, that now counts
to ~10,000 entries)
About thirty or more recipes were studied from each
geographic area.
A three star rating system was used
(*slight, **mild, ***strong)
TASTE
TASTE
Sweet***,
Sweet***,Bitter*,
Bitter*,Salty***,
Salty***,Sour**
Sour**
PROPERTY
PROPERTY
Spicy***,
Spicy***,Herbal***,
Herbal***,Fatty**
Fatty**
TASTE
TASTE
Sweet**,
Sweet**,Bitter**,
Bitter**,Salty*,
Salty*,Sour*
Sour*
PROPERTY
PROPERTY
Spicy**,
Spicy**,Herbal*,
Herbal*,Fatty*
Fatty*
TASTE
TASTE
Sweet**,
Sweet**,Bitter*,
Bitter*,Salty**,
Salty**,
Sour***
Sour***
PROPERTY
PROPERTY
Spicy**,
Spicy**,Herbal***,
Herbal***,
Fatty**
Fatty**
TASTE
TASTE
Sweet**,
Sweet**,Bitter**,
Bitter**,Salty**,
Salty**,Sour**
Sour**
PROPERTY
PROPERTY
Spicy***,
Spicy***,Herbal***,
Herbal***,Fatty**
Fatty**
This presentation was based on
Μπόσκου Γ. και Παλησίδης Γ., Οι Έλληνες και η
αίσθηση της γεύσης, περιοδικό ΑΡΧΑΙΟΛΟΓΙΑ
τεύχος 115,
Ιούνιος 2010
Μπόσκου Γ. και Παλησίδης Γ., Οι αλλαγές στη
μαγειρική και την εστίαση στο χρόνο, περιοδικό
ΑΡΧΑΙΟΛΟΓΙΑ τεύχος 117, Δεκέμβριος 2010
Μπόσκου Γ. και Παλησίδης Γ., Νέα Διατροφικά
Πρότυπα, Εκδόσεις ΙΜΕ-ΓΣΕΒΒΕ, ISBN 978618-5025-03-8, 2012
„On Ends”
There would be no better epilogue to this
presentation than a phrase of Epicurus (341-270 π.Χ.)
from his work „On Ends” (Περί Τέλους):
„I do not know of what to think as good,
when I set aside the pleasures of taste,
love, hearing - even the pleasant movements
by the sight of a shape, and any other
perceptions of pleasure born on the entire
man with any sensory organ”
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