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Tasting colors

Unique ability gives Kuwaiti baker a sense of purpose

Hessa Al-Baroud

Ask Hessa Al-Baroud about color and her answers might surprise you: “Blue tastes sour.” Or “Orange and pink make me uncomfortable.”Most of us have a color palette or preferences when it comes to clothes and decor. But Hessa claims to experience colors in a way few can truly understand. “Sometimes when I try to explain food to other people, I say something like: ‘It tastes yellow, it tastes orange, or this bread tastes like a mother!’ The colors create a mood and give you certain feelings,” she told Kuwait Times.

The youthful Kuwaiti baker has found a way to transform her experiences of color into a colorful business, starting her own bakery to apply her intimate knowledge of color to cakes and decorating. “Personally, I can’t imagine myself eating something that is dull or not visually appealing. Brown tastes like chocolate and white is tasteless, which is the reason why I can’t eat vanilla cakes or bake them. You can tell from my decorations that my favorite colors are purple and blue, because purple is flowery while blue is fresh and tastes a little bit sour,” she explains.

Hessa experiences what is known as synesthesia, a perceptual phenomenon where one sensory or cognitive pathway can trigger secondary sense experiences. “We have five main senses: Hearing, sight, taste, touch and smell. Some people have links between these sensory brain organs signaling networks that lead to a crossing of the senses,” explains Dr Mohammad Alsuwaidan, assistant professor of psychiatry at both Kuwait University and the University of Toronto, and the Head of the Mental Health Unit at Mubarak Al-Kabeer Hospital. “For instance, some individuals may able to taste different colors, at least that’s what the brain processes, or they may be able to hear certain textures and what they touch,” he added.

New Passion

It’s unclear when Hessa first started ‘tasting’ and experiencing colors. In 2008, at the age of 15, she was diagnosed with a chronic illness that effectively killed her appetite. “I was literally in seclusion and was known as Hessa the ill person. But that wasn’t who I really am. I wanted to be more than that. So in 2010, I decided to find a hobby, something to match my personal interest in visual arts,” she told Kuwait Times.

Hessa started baking cookies and cakes, realizing this wasn’t only something she liked doing, but was something she excelled in. “My passion for baking and decorating cakes has revealed a whole new world of art. Moreover, it gave me a purpose, energy to heal and the excitement to get up and run to the kitchen to create something new,” she said.“It wasn’t, however, until recently that I noticed my ability to taste the colors of my cakes.”

Even if we cannot savor the flavor of colors as ordinary people, they certainly affect our mood. Our choice of colors reflects what we feel or need to feel. There’s nothing comparable to the color blue in the sense of calm and quiet, but who’d imagine that calm tastes sour!

By Athoob Al-Shuaibi

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