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Does dirt have a flavour?

 
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Does soil impart a taste?  I've foraged dandelion, red clover, mock strawberry leaves, and grown purslane, malabar spinach, and lettuce.  They all have a sameness that is hard for me to describe.  What's the plant version of "gamey?"  
 
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Rob Lineberger wrote:Does soil impart a taste?  I've foraged dandelion, red clover, mock strawberry leaves, and grown purslane, malabar spinach, and lettuce.  They all have a sameness that is hard for me to describe.  What's the plant version of "gamey?"  



Put some in your mouth! haha find some clean soil and give it a try.

Gamey seems to be an interesting word to me. Feral Sheep meat can be considered as gamey. Gamey to me seems to apply as something which is unfamiliar?

I imagine once these foraged foods become more common today, they will begin to be less " gamey" and become more known.

I recall this from watching one of the Green hills BBC documentary.


Anyways just my two cents to throw down the well.
 
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Dirt does have flavor.  As do rocks.  
 
Rob Lineberger
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Janet Reed wrote:Dirt does have flavor.  As do rocks.  



Can you describe the flavour?
 
Rob Lineberger
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jordan barton wrote:

I imagine once these foraged foods become more common today, they will begin to be less " gamey" and become more known.



Now that is interesting!  I agree that I only apply the word "gamey" to the unfamiliar.
 
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Rob Lineberger wrote:

Janet Reed wrote:Dirt does have flavor.  As do rocks.  



Can you describe the flavour?


Both dirt and rocks taste and smell like the constituent minerals especially if wet. Sometimes irony, or sulphidey. Sometimes like limestone. Clay minerals definitely have a smell. Sometimes salty. Sometimes like quartz which is a really faint smell. Often like the organics, depending on how well degraded and anaerobic or aerobic the decomposition was. Sometimes like oil or gas or kerosene or other contamination.

As for stuff grown in the soil - yeah, it definitely affects the taste of produce especially leafy greens. Metallic tasting soil makes weird tasting greens and yucky carrots and beets.
 
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Catie George wrote:
Clay minerals definitely have a smell.  



There definitely is a lot of clay involved.
 
Catie George
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An interesting experiment might be to pick two dandelion leaves, or plant identical patches of lettuce. One in purchased potting soil or heavily ammended/mulched soil, one in native soil and see if both have the same taste to you.
 
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Catie George wrote:An interesting experiment might be to pick two dandelion leaves, or plant identical patches of lettuce. One in purchased potting soil or heavily ammended/mulched soil, one in native soil and see if both have the same taste to you.



That's a great idea!
 
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This is a great question.

I can definitely notice a difference in the flavour of the fruit and veg if the soil isn't good at retaining moisture.  Also, a difference in taste if they get a lot of sun vs mostly shade.  

I'm going to start paying more attention and see what I taste.
 
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r ranson wrote:This is a great question.

I can definitely notice a difference in the flavour of the fruit and veg if the soil isn't good at retaining moisture.  Also, a difference in taste if they get a lot of sun vs mostly shade.  

I'm going to start paying more attention and see what I taste.



I would say the soil is poor at retaining moisture (I guess, the ground is flooded a lot when it rains) and this is definitely a full sun situation.  Not that helps, really, since you don't know the flavour.  teehee
 
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Ok, not to be gross, but a big part of the soil from where the plants we eat grow is dependent on the fertilizer. I'd highly imagine that the diet of the various animals that leave their 'fertilizer' for the plants is greatly varied, not only regionally, but also very locally. For example, I intentionally move goat, chicken, and guinea pig manure around to specific spots. Guinea pigs are vegans, with a very narrow diet. Goats are 'browsers', preferring food that they must reach up for, but is (other than the hay) a very different diet, and their manure is a 'warm' compost. But, though they are still vegans,  I'd imagine them eating my mimosa trees, oaks, countless tall native plants, and their oats leaves their manure 'tasting' very different from the piggies' hay, hay-based pellets, bell pepper, and occasional bits of fruit diet,  which leaves them with a 'cold' manure. The chickens are omnivores, and eat oyster shells, egg shells, black soldiers fly larvae, laying mash, and any and all insects, spiders, lizards, mice, seeds, and plants they can get their fast little beaks onto. Their diet sounds like it would produce a much more volatile manure - and it does, because it's a 'hot' compost. Each of these creates a different chemical reaction in the soil, as much as in their guts. We have one dog who eats raw, and one on the bagged stuff - their manure looks, smells, and decomposes in vastly different ways from the other critters, and each other's.

Add in things like decomposing insects, plants, wildlife manure, e.t.c, and I've no doubt that the soil tastes vastly different, in different places, and also no doubt that the effect carries over into the foods produced, whether cultivated, wildcrafted/foraged, greenhoused, hydro- or aqua-ponic grown.
 
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I think it's called "terroir" (tare-wa) in France and Europe. Supposedly wine tasters can tell what region the grapes are from based on the flavor the soil imparts to it.
 
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Sorry, but I have to say it. Dirt tastes like... well... dirt.  I haven't consciously eaten any since I was a kid sampling mud pies, but I'd have to say it's a bit earthy.  

Seriously I assume that it tastes different depending on location.  My cousin's kid had extremely high lead levels because she constantly ate soil from their yard which was contaminated with lead, which led to several hospital stays.
 
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Cheese is dependent on terroir.  The animals who graze mountains of the Alps produce a different flavor of milk and ultimately cheese that is highly valued.
 
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I have no doubt the the flavor of the food we grow is impacted by the medium they are grown in.
 
Michelle Heath
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John F Dean wrote:I have no doubt the the flavor of the food we grow is impacted by the medium they are grown in.



In my opinion the quality is also influenced by the growing medium.
 
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Gamey to me is the flavour of over hung meat, a very specific taste that is independant of what type of meat it is, though people seem to overhang game (deer, pheasants etc) much more than pork or chicken, beef however is often hung way to long in my opinion, when someone says their 60 days matured beef tastes like cheese... yes of course it does it's rotten.

Back to soil, the soil you grow stuff in makes a huge difference, my last house had old lake bed sediments, fine silts and massive amounts of organic matter sitting on anoxic and waterlogged pottery clay. the vegetables that grew there tasted different to the ones that grow just 30minutes down the road where I am now, on a light sandy soil with many glacial stones overlying chalk. The soil here tastes like an indigestion tablet due to the very high chalk content. I notice the difference most with root vegetables, even when they are peeled.
 
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"Taste" is mostly smell plus chemical sensing (and the unknown of umami), isn't it?

You know you're a farmer / permie/ homesteader when you instinctively pick up a handful of living soil, roll it, compress it, crumble it, and smell it. Others find it charming, old-fashioned. But there are terragigaquads of subconscious processing going on in that simple act.
 
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Considering that many animals like to pass time in it, and many others live in it and eat it, I would say that probably has a taste... But I don't want to risk trying it.
 
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Dirt tastes like mushrooms!.....
 
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Someone in the thread already mentioned terror, the concept that soil can influence the flavor of wine.  The folks at Leaping Frog winery note that drip irrigation encourages shallow rooting in grape vines.  This, they say, produces a less complex flavor than if the vines are encouraged to grow deeper roots that pass though more mineral layers on their way to finding water.

A Wall Street Journal article reported on a study that correlated flavor with nutrition.  Albert Howard may have been right when he suggested that healthy soil leads to healthy plants and ultimately to healthy people.
 
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We've grown small patches of wheat for a number of years. Usually, it's been on relatively unimproved soil, but last fall I planted it on soil that I spent quite a bit of time on building. Not only were the wheat berry heads larger and fuller, but the flavor of my bread, pancakes, etc., is fantastic! The best wheat we've ever grown and I have no doubt it has to do with the soil.
 
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BIG yes to soil influencing flavor and nutritional content.  I eat mostly from my garden, and have for years.  I gravitate to lettuce out of certain beds more than others, and the animals have clear preferences too.  The goats make their opinion known--the flavor of food from improved remineralized beds is vastly superior to browse brought to them from elsewhere.  This is why I consider one of the best investments is to understand the soil I eat from and amend it appropriately.  Copper is known agronomically to be important for plant flavor.  Fred Provenza's recent book Nourishment is a fantastic look into the world of flavor and nutrition from an animal science viewpoint.

I make a point of nibbling soil when I feel like it.

 
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Soil composition including local mineral make-up certainly does affect the flavor expression in plants.

I have read that this played a big role in the original allure of Cuban cigars—regional producers could smuggle out Cuban tobacco strains but not the soil and climate that they grew in.
 
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Often when meat is full of flavor folks who are not used to it are apt to say they dislike it. Generally more flavor means more nutrients in it. True also with plants and fruits. Folks are used to blander flavors. The stronger flavors can be great if you get used to them. Also the opposite as some herbs and plants are not put in use much because of their subtlety. And it is fascinating to consider the cycling of nutrients from what you feed animals, which influence your plants and trees to you. I have noticed for example that kelp fed to my chickens ends up on and in my plants and trees ,for which it is also recommended, and in me when I eat both, which is also recommended in a human diet. So you are what they eat. What you feed them and yourself.
 
 
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Dandelions are a dynamic accumulator, right? So they especially would be concentrating the minerals, other constituents, and thereby flavors and aromas of the various layers of your soil, I'd think.

I feel like I've had vegetables that were relatively tasteless/watery when they grew in soil that probably had been over-fertilized, i.e. too much nitrogen, and maybe over-watered as well. It produced lots of growth, but not much flavor. Whereas a good, healthy balanced soil will produce healthy, vigorous plants with more taste, right?

Here's something else to think about: Herbalists, in my experience, say that medicinal herbs grown wild in the desert are very potent, and often smell and taste very strongly (think creosote, for example) because they've had to struggle; sort of like connoisseurs say the best wines are made from grapes from vines that have had to struggle, grow deep roots, etc. But although desert soils tend to be alkaline and very much lacking in moisture, most people say they're actually good soils, right? (I mean, I'm sure that varies a lot from place to place just like any soils, but I've heard that generally.) So hardy desert plants that grow good deep roots and are able to access all that the soil has to offer can accumulate a lot of interesting constituents and have very noticeable tastes, I'd bet.

I would think that the microbes play a large role in the scent and flavor, too; as well as the fungi and mycelia, as someone else noted.

I've been reading James Hamblin's recent book Clean: The New Science of Skin, and he talks a lot about all the things going on in the "volatolome" (the "sort of chemical fingerprint" unique to a living being, specifically each human in the context of the book) that human noses either aren't good enough to pick up on, have forgotten/gotten trained out of how to pick up on, or (he doesn't say this, but this is my theory) do in fact pick up on, informing things like what we call our instinct and intuition but tending not be processed consciously.

With scent being such an important part of flavor, I bet that a lot of components of the flavor of foods from our soils are giving us all sorts of information about the world in our immediate vicinity that we're not consciously aware of. But, with greater awareness and attention, I bet we could learn to read these messages!

We just had a conversation here (offline) about whether we can discern a common flavor to all our food, since almost all we eat comes from our land. We're going to try to pay more attention, but so far we think there's an "earthy bitterness" (less bitterness in some things, like our tepary beans; a little more in some things like our winter squash; more in things like mustard and other greens), in the plants as well as any game (which, yes, also tastes "gamey" -- especially any javelina -- although we only hang as long as it takes to butcher). It's pretty rare for the soil (which does occasionally get directly in our mouths -- there's a lot of wind out here sometimes, and also we tend to pick leaves and eat them while we garden, without running off to rinse them first) to taste mushroomy here, although we have started to observe mycelia in our heavily mulched garden beds, yay!
 
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It is not just true that the soil imparts flavor, but so true and recognized that there is a word for it, terroir, specifically regarding wine and encompassing not just the soil but the climate of the production site. Also, with some experience, you can directly taste the soil ph. Not with precision, but generally as to acidc or alkaline.
 
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My apologies, but I have nothing useful to add except an attempt at humor. I couldn’t help but be reminded of:

“But only Zathras have no-one to talk to. No-one manages poor Zathras, you see. So Zathras talks to dirt. Sometimes talks to walls, or talks to ceilings. But dirt is closer. Dirt is used, through everyone walking on it. Just like Zathras, but we've come to like it. It is our role. It is our destiny in the universe. So, you see, sometimes dirt has insects in it. And Zathras likes insects. Not so good for conversation, but much protein for diet. Ha! Zathras fix now, this way."

-Zathras, “Babylon 5” episode “Conflicts of Interest.”
 
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Here's a video that talks about terrior in the context of coffee beans.
If you've never watched James Hoffman do his thing, be prepared for full on coffee geekiness, the most soothing voice on youtube, and absolute mastery of his chosen craft.
He talks a lot about the difference that not only soil, but elevation and other environmental factors makes to the whole taste experience of food, in this case coffee.
 
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Yes it has a favor, and how it tastes tells you what is and isn't in the soil. When you eat "dirt" you are becoming the scientific instrument that says what is in the soil. Now it does take some training and experience to know what your taste of soil means. You could go buy a soil tester, or learn what different soils taste like.

Charlie Mgee from Formidable Vegetable Sound System even has a lyric about it "if your braver you can try the flavor" at 2:30 it talks about just that in a song about permaculture.

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