Ep. 35: So why not… have a taste test?
Welcome to another episode of So Why Not? Podcast. This is episode 35: So why not… have a taste test?
This will conclude the inaugural season of So Why Not? It’s been a whole year since the first episode launched out into the world. Thanks for being here. Thanks for listening. Thanks for being patient with me to work through my growing pains. Starting this podcast has been a much needed creative outlet for me over this past year. I have learned the ins and outs of producing a podcast—something I never really saw as part of my life’s map. I have put myself out there and pushed my shy, introverted self into unknown territories of discomfort and growth. I hope that you have learned from the guests that have been on the show, have enjoyed hearing from their perspectives, and have thought about ways that you want to grow and stretch yourself and maybe even had ideas for things you want to do differently. I can’t thank you enough for coming along on this ride with me.
This is a “just for fun” kind of episode. Some of the episodes during this past season have been about life changing circumstances, of growing a family, of choosing a career, of going after your dreams. But this episode is about trying something new, being a critical thinker, and just enjoying the process.
You need something fun to do during a school break? This one’s for you. You want a fun activity for a girls’ night? I got you. Wanna host a party and do something different? Here you go. There will be so many ways to make this work for you.
We often think about taste as a preference or a level of a certain type of flavor or food one can withstand. But the sense of taste can actually serve as an evolutionary mechanism of protection. Taste can potentially protect us from eating spoiled or tainted foods. If you tasted something just completely unpalatable, you might spit it out. You might have just saved yourself from a stomach full of poison of some form.
From a science perspective, our personal sense of taste can even be linked to genetics. How you perceive a certain taste to be enjoyable or unpleasant, for example the polarizing taste of cilantro, can be from how your taste receptors process foods at a cellular level. I’m linking an article from Wired about the science of taste in the show notes. There is a very interesting video at the top of the page from an interview with Dr. Robert Margolskee and he goes into depth about how different tastes work and how our bodies process them. Of particular note, he goes into detail about the taste map you may have learned about in school and the thought for how the tongue is divided into different sections of taste buds that process different types of tastes on different portions of the tongue. Odds are pretty good that you learned it wrong. I know I did. (https://www.wired.com/story/science-of-taste/). It has also been interesting over the last few years to see how some of the long-hauler patients with Covid have had lasting nerve-damage with loss of taste for extremely prolonged periods. What a very unfortunate side effect.
Back to the taste test topic: on my list of 35 things I want to do before turning 35 this year (you can hear more about that in episode 30: So why not… try something new with your New Year’s resolutions?) I included having a family taste test on this list.
I’m going to tell you all about how we did ours and some other ideas that you could use to do this with friends or for a party or at work or just for fun for yourself. There are limitless possibilities for different applications.
The taste test idea was actually inspired by a creative business concept I saw on Instagram. There is a company called “Utah Taste Off” and pre-pandemic they hosted in-person events for a taste off of a designated category of food from local vendors. So for example the category might be sugar cookies or doughnuts or salsa or bbq or macaroni and cheese, etc. And then participants would vote on their favorites and the vendor of the food with the highest vote would be the winner.
After the pandemic began and in-person events were limited, they pivoted to a take home version where customers could pick up a kit that featured half a dozen or so food items from local vendors within a designated category. They even had a few kits available in Las Vegas where I live but it only lasted for a few months and we were out of town or the pick up times didn’t work out and I never got to participate.
But I like the idea and thought it would be fun to try as a family. My kids like to give stars to foods they eat as a rating anyway so this would be great. We recently went on a family vacation to Oahu and I decided that that would be a good time to do the family taste test. We wanted to get shave ice every day we were there so this sounded like the perfect category. So before we left for Hawaii, I created a form that we could each fill out every time we ate shave ice. It has a line for our names, the location, what we ordered, and then a scale from 1-5 for categories of taste, texture, presentation, and value. After adding each of the scores from the individual categories, we would give each shave ice spot a total score to then declare a winner. There was also a notes section if there was anything noteworthy to remember.
I have a free download of the scorecard we used in the show notes and I’m leaving it as a Word doc so that you can tweak it however you would like for your own taste test. I preferred to have them in a more portable size so I made four of the same exact pages within the Word doc and then in the print settings changed it to print 4 per page. I then cut each page into 4 after printing so that they were easy to stick in a zip-top bag with a pen and it made them more compact to travel with. We had them with us on the go so that we could score them then and there.
So in the six full days we were in Hawaii, we had shave ice at 4 different places. We repeated one place out of convenience at the resort where we were staying. I’ll tell you the places we ate and what won.
We stayed at Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki at the beginning of our trip and had a shave ice at the poolside quick service restaurant there called “Wiki Wiki Market.” The flavors were pretty typical and you could add vanilla ice cream inside and sweetened condensed milk on top. But even the basic shave ice, of which there is only one size, was $9! That’s a lot for some ice and syrup. Poor value there but the taste was middle of the road—not the best ever but definitely decent.
We drove up to the North Shore over the weekend and went to two of our favorite shave ice places from when we were there last summer. The first is Matsumoto’s in Haleiwa. They are very well-known and the line can get long but they’re really well organized and it moves quickly. They have a pretty extensive flavor list and you can add ice cream, condensed milk, moch, and Azuki beans. They’re served in a paper bowl so not the most elaborate presentation but the best perk and one of the most unique parts of how they’re served is in addition to a spoon, there is also a straw so that when it starts to melt, you can drink it. Genius! And they didn’t cost quite as much—like $4 or $5.
The next place we went on the North Shore is not too far down the road in Haleiwa, called Kaimana Shave Ice. They have all natural flavors and ice cream that are all made in house. You can also add sweetened condensed milk and a whole list of other toppings. We love the cacao flavor. They have a beautiful deck right off the side where there are tiny bright colored lizards like I’ve never seen anywhere else lurking on the sidelines waiting to slurp up any sweet shave ice that may accidentally get dropped down on the deck. There are also some nice shady spots near some fresh water on the property to enjoy your shave ice. The texture of the ice and the natural flavor selection are a fantastic combination and a really unique version of anything I’ve ever had before. The price point is comparable to Matsumoto’s—around $4 or $5 each.
The last place we got shave ice was at Aulani, the Disney resort. We’ve stayed there a couple of days at the end of our trip both times we’ve been to Oahu. Unfortunately the shave ice machine was out of order during the majority of our first trip so we didn’t get to try the iconic Mickey-shaped shave ice until the past vacation. The shave ice stand is in the middle of all of the pools at the resort and is a great afternoon treat when it’s hot and sunny out. They have about a dozen flavors and you can get ice cream and sweetened condensed milk. Price-wise they’re in the middle of the places we tried at around $5-7 depending on size and toppings. Although the presentation may have won there, the texture of the ice is coarse and they don’t use enough syrup. A good portion of the bottom (which you can clearly see through the clear plastic cup in which it is served) was still white ice when we got it.
Ok, so how did they score? Mateo, our 5-year old, gave every category of every shave ice place a 5-star rating. Every shave ice he ate received a perfect score. He was just happy to consume so much sugar that week. Izzy, our 7-year old, is becoming quite the discerning little foodie. She’s pretty adventurous with trying new foods and forms a well thought out opinion of her taste. Her scores were pretty in line with how Julio and I scored them all within a couple of points. After tallying up our scores, we actually had a tie for first place. Both of the North Shore spots, Matsumoto’s and Kaimana, were the standouts. You can’t go wrong with either place and we will try our best to hit up both places the next time we’re in Oahu. Next was the shave ice from Wiki Wiki Market at Hilton Hawaiian Village. The flavor was decent but $9 is less than an ideal value. They are pretty large so you could definitely share but we all have differing tastes and don’t always want the same order. Last place (and if you know me, you know it pains me to say many negative remarks about Disney) went to the shave ice at Aulani. The texture of the ice was just too coarse (not the ideal fine snow texture) and it didn’t have enough flavor. It’s so cute and picture worthy in the Mickey shape that it’s hard to resist and we had even read similar reviews prior and still wanted to try it. But they also serve Dole Whip on property so if you like that, it may be a better option. So those are our hot takes on shave ice on Oahu. A very specific category if that serves you for future vacations.
The point of all of this is not to necessarily provide reviews on shave ice but for an example of HOW we decided to conduct our taste test. If this is something that you might be interested in doing yourself, there are a few routes you could take to make your own version of a taste test happen. We decided on our shave ice taste test method out of practicality. We tasted and scored our food individually and at different times. Logistically it would be impossible to conduct a taste test of shave ice around the island of Oahu at all of the locations from which we purchased at the exact same time. They would all be puddles by the time we got to the last stop. There was no comparing a bite of this and a bite of that and going back for more to decide. Temperature would be something to consider for your taste test if you’re obtaining food from an outside source. If your category is something hot or cold or temperature-dependent in any way, you may want to weigh out the best way to logistically conduct your taste test.
Conversely if your food item is not temperature dependent, or easily storable, you could consider a method of obtaining all of the items prior and conducting your taste test all at the same time. For example, if you wanted to try multiple types of cookies that would still be good at room temperature, you could collect them all prior and then have the option of comparing them all at once. If there were some top standouts, you could much more easily decide at the same time instead of having to rely on memory (in addition to your scorecard) from a prior time point.
You obviously don’t have to be traveling to conduct a taste test. It would be a great idea to support local stores in your community in this way as well. You could try out all of the local scoop shops in your city and decide on the best ice cream, or have a bbq battle out of the local bbq restaurants, or best pepperoni pizza at several local pizzerias. Again, deciding if take out from multiple places at the same time would work well versus slowly trying one place at a time. It could be something ongoing to look forward to if you choose the latter option.
You don’t even have to necessarily purchase something from an outside source either. Another idea might be to collect multiple recipes and then make them yourself to find a winner. Everybody says their chocolate chip cookie recipe is the best—so figure it out on your own through trial and error by baking them yourself.
If you want to make it more social, you could invite friends or family members to bring their favorite item (store bought or even home made) within a category. As a point of caution, consider if someone might leave with hurt feelings if their favorite family recipe in which they take great pride could end up last place. People can take their food and their effort personally sometimes. It doesn’t have to be a deal breaker. Know your audience and what effect it may have if their dish comes in last place.
You could consider having a competition as well and have the cooking or assembling be part of the social activity and having objective categories to judge by, maybe from others who didn’t participate hands on in the competition portion.
I think this taste test activity can be applied to so many age ranges as well. It’s definitely fun for adults but I could totally see this as a fun activity for kids, too. I think it could even make a fun party idea for little foodies. Kids love to be heard and to have opportunities to form their own opinion for a change. My kids loved our shave ice taste test and still talk about it weeks later.
In regards to portion size, a taste test can be just that: a small taste. It doesn’t mean portions need to be that of a competitive eater. If you’re planning for a group of people, you could have bite size portions, especially if you’re trying several of the same type of item.
As I’ve been thinking about this taste test idea, I remembered that one of my favorite accounts on Instagram, @femalefoodie, made a really smart and creative pivot to at-home taste test videos during some of the first parts of the pandemic that indoor dining wasn’t as plentiful. She did so many types of categories of different store bought foods from potato chips to hot chocolate to specifically vanilla ice cream. This could be a really fun idea for either your household or making it more social to have friends bring their favorite brand of “X” product. That might help take the big feelings of their personal taste being discredited if they didn’t actually make the item.
An important point to keep in mind with a taste test is that we all have different tastes. From food to clothes to music to movies to friends even, we all have different tastes and preferences. You can use an objective measure of scoring as much as you want to try to keep things even but at the end of the day, we all have different tastes. Be confident in your taste. Be discerning. Continue to learn what you like and what you don’t like. Enjoy it. Be willing to try new things. You might just find your new favorites.
I hope that this topic has given you a new idea for something fun to try if you’ve never participated in a taste test before. There really are so many options for how to execute it.
To summarize, here are some points to consider for constructing a taste test:
-Logisitics: can it be done all at once? Does temperature come into play? Would it be better to spread it out over time?
-Store bought, from a restaurant, or homemade
-Will it be a social activity or a smaller group?
-What categories will you use to score?
Make sure to check out the show notes for this episode on my website at sowhynot.me so you can get your free download of the scorecard we used and make it your own. I love hearing from you on Instagram. You can find me at @sowhynot.podcast. Make sure to tag me if you decide to do your own taste test. I’d love to see how you do yours!
As always, I hope you can use these ideas as tipping off points to channel the ambition, curiosity, and desire to create the life you want to live. Thanks so much for listening. Our time is so important and I am so appreciative that you spent some of it with me.
**You can download the taste test form we used below. I made the exact same form on 4 pages in the doc and then changed the print settings to print 4 per page to keep them small.**