No one wants to taste a grimy subway station, but James Wannerton has no choice. Wannerton, 54, has a neurological condition known as taste synesthesia, where his senses are crossed so that spoken words evoke involuntary taste sensations in his mouth. When he was 4 years old, he first noticed that the station names on the London Underground had, to his mind, their own unique flavor profiles, many of which were actually delicious. Over the next 49 years he visited every stop on the Tube, taking detailed tasting notes as he went, and earlier this year he released his results in the form of a gustatory map called “Tastes of London: 1964-2013.” There, Underground stops are renamed for foods like “Spam Fritters,” “Warm Semolina,” and “Caramelised Lamb,” among many other tastes, many of which Wannerton first encountered as a child.
In an e-mail, Wannerton explained that his synesthetic experience of a name begins as a complex mix of taste, temperature, and texture. Over time he is able to take that experience and locate a specific food that explains it: