Did food taste better in the past and if so, why?
That food had more flavour years ago was commonly voiced by older people in my childhood. This page considers whether their view lay in personal perception, cookery skills or the food itself, and it considers how to attempt to achieve that old-fashioned taste today.
By the webmaster based on firsthand recollections and informal discussions
When I was a young adult, older people regularly seemed to complain that food didn't taste as good as it used to. They yearned for that old-fashioned taste? Were they right to do so? I certainly understand their position for one or more of the following reasons:
The changed perception of the taster
- As it is older people who complain about food tasting worse today, it could be because their taste buds have deteriorated with age - as indeed so much of our bodies do.
- Families were larger and they were expected to sit down with other for meals rather than rush off and eat on the run. So there was a social aspect to eating that increased its enjoyment.
More skilful cooks in the past
- Kitchens in the past had what was known as a stock pot. The liquid leftovers from one meal were placed into it and then added to the next meal and so on. This considerably added to the combination of flavours in the stock pot making future meals far more flavoursome than if only the stock cubes of today had been used. Not any more. Today food safety is paramount, but people cared less about that in the past than they do today.
- Excess fat from roasts was poured off into a basin and kept for later use - again with no concern for germs. Provided that food smelled all right it was taken as all right.
- A whole generation - me included - grew up without learning cookery tips and tricks by watching their mothers cook skilfully. This was because of the shortages and limited range of available foodstuffs during WW2. The mothers probably could cook skilfully, but they were unable to demonstrate their skills, and were unable to pass them on. Today's good cooks have learnt their skills in other ways than at their mother's sides, so what older people are complaining about less taste may well be just different tastes.
Food really did have fuller flavour in the past
- Food used to be organically produced. There was no intensive farming of cereals and vegetables, and farm animals and poultry roamed freely. Their diet included scraps from people's tables and what they could scratch around to find for themselves. Today food crops are largely mass-produced and animals are bred for more meat rather than taste.
- No food was ever served really cold because there were no fridges. A shaded outhouse or food safe was in every home, but it was never colder than the surrounding temperature, and, apart from in the depths of a cold winter, it was never as cold as a fridge. Food that is colder than room temperature is never has such a fulsome taste as food served at room temperature. Just try bread or chocolate straight from the fridge, to see for yourself.
- Food was eaten fresher in the past, as it did not have to travel long distances and it was eaten in season.
- People in the past were not as concerned about germs as we are today, so there was widespread use of the stock pot, and dripping was kept until it was used up. If it smelt all right, it probably was.
- Excess fat from roasts was poured off into a basin as dripping and kept for later use - again with no concern for germs.
Incidentally the vintage cookery book that everyone has heard of is Mrs Beeton's. However, just glancing through it shows that she was writing for the more affluent members of society with no shortage of money and with time on their hands. My interest and the focus of this website is the everyday life of ordinary families.
The old-fashioned taste today
As older people die and younger ones take their place, we don't hear as much about that old-fashioned taste because younger people never experienced it. Is it possible to resurrect it without paying a premium for organic food and without a risk to health?
The links in the above menu are to pages which show how I have done my best to achieve the old-fashioned taste today while making my own recipe modifications to capitalise on modern cookery techniques, equipment and food safety. I hope you find the pages interesting and useful.