The Anatomy Of Taste
November 5, 2007 5:36 PM   Subscribe

Yummy Science. Researchers unravel the complex combination of physical and emotional reactions that influence our perceptions of what tastes good. Once upon a time, flavor research was a matter of asking housewives to munch a few potato chips... Now it's about providing an exceptional flavor "experience." And as scientists learn to exploit the ways we perceive flavor, food manufacturers will be able to refine their products to appeal to us as individuals. Welcome to the world of personally tailored mass-produced food.
posted by amyms (17 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Next stop:
Soylent green may be people, but it's DELICIOUS!
posted by kuujjuarapik at 6:14 PM on November 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

How many tastes can a person taste? Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter… and Umami.
posted by itchylick at 6:17 PM on November 5, 2007

I found the stuff about location-specific flavours particularly interesting. Growing up in Australia, I often wondered why grape-flavoured sweets and bubblegum and drinks were labelled as such. I'd never tasted a grape that was remotely similar in taste to that particular flavour (though I came to recognise it as "grape flavour"). When I was in my early twenties, on holiday in the US, I ate for the first time an actual grape which tasted the same as all that confectionery. It was, at the time, one of the most interesting things to have happened inside my mouth.
posted by bunglin jones at 7:34 PM on November 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

When I read Fast Food Nation, back when it came out, I remember the section of the book about IFF (International Flavors & Fragrances) freaked me out way more than the part about the slaughterhouses and e coli. There was a sentence in that book along the lines of "90 percent of the flavors that the average American encounters in a given day come from one of several laboratories in New Jersey. They go on to describe how prepackaged baked goods that have "blueberries" in them almost always just use purple-dyed, artificially-flavored freeze-dried apple bits, because it's cheaper. CREEPTOWN!
posted by SassHat at 8:19 PM on November 5, 2007 [2 favorites]

The "flavor" that confounds me out the most is "banana"... I love banana-flavored popsicles, for instance, but they taste nothing like real banana. It's amazing how we've been conditioned, since childhood really, to accept certain artificial flavors as being "okay-enough" approximations, even when they aren't.
posted by amyms at 8:35 PM on November 5, 2007

And in August, Senomyx announced that it is developing an enhancer to increase the perceived sweetness of sucralose that may allow food manufacturers to use up to 75 percent less of the sweetener in processed foods without any loss of the desired sugary hit.

Outstanding! Chemical leveraging is sorely needed, as 200 times as sweet as sucrose is simply not good enough.
posted by Tube at 8:39 PM on November 5, 2007

This discussion is incomplete without a mention of Givaudan, who've been in the business of artificial flavors and scents for over 200 years. Their catalog looks something like this.
posted by wanderingmind at 9:17 PM on November 5, 2007 [6 favorites]

wanderingmind, that catalogue is amazing. I like that they say Methyl 3-Nonenoate gives fatty-green and floral notes to the green part of fruit flavours. Mostly because I really, really want to know what a fatty-green note is.
posted by bunglin jones at 9:25 PM on November 5, 2007

That link is fascinating and nightmare-inducing, wanderingmind.

12-Methyltridecanal 10% in Myglyol
Description: Cooked meat, tallow, meat broth, sweat.

posted by SassHat at 9:28 PM on November 5, 2007

You know how I get food that appeals to me as an individual? By cooking it from ingredients or going to some place that does the same.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:33 PM on November 5, 2007

Fatty green = avocado?
posted by SassHat at 9:51 PM on November 5, 2007

This Popular Science, it does not refer to enough science for my taste. However, if you enjoy your taste perception in story form, Malcolm Gladwell has written about ketchup versus mustard.
posted by parudox at 10:28 PM on November 5, 2007

Also, there was a previous post on the physiology of taste.
posted by parudox at 10:40 PM on November 5, 2007

Intriguing post. Can't wait for the movie à la Perfume. Taste? Flavors? With a sexy savant who is gifted the powers of his tongue to bedazzle and intoxicate...

Related, madamjujujive's post, doctor delicious and molecular gastronomy with lots of links in the thread.

An old MeFi post on umami, Me So Goumet, a fascinating discovery. I decided to call the things, fruits, vegetables, which include a taste like flowers along with the sweetness, tartness, bitterness or umami, as having "bouquet".

Love some of the things Bath and Body Works has cooked up over the years, their nutmeg room fragrance, grapefruit handsoap, Bartlett Pear candles or coconut, lime, verbena shower gel...mmmm

Last week a customer gave me a leaf of fresh lemon verbena and when I sniffed it I truly got high on the delectable fragrance. The gentlest symphony of aromas. Exquisite!

I brought back from India a 100 bottle sampler of essential oils, including those of fruits, woods, flowers, grasses, from R-Expo. Once in a while I open the tiny bottles for slow, deep whiffs of bliss.
posted by nickyskye at 11:25 PM on November 5, 2007 [2 favorites]

Yay! More MSG!
posted by Reggie Digest at 12:43 AM on November 6, 2007

Dear Reggie Digest, less MSG, according to the article, The company's umami enhancer, capable of replacing or reducing MSG...
posted by nickyskye at 7:41 AM on November 6, 2007

MSG by any other name would taste as umami.
posted by Reggie Digest at 10:13 AM on November 6, 2007

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