A journey into the surprising science behind our flavor senses.
Can you describe how the flavor of halibut differs from that of red snapper? How the taste of a Fuji apple differs from a Spartan? For most of us, this is a difficult task: flavor remains a vague, undeveloped concept that we don’t know enough about to describe—or appreciate—fully. In this delightful and compelling exploration of our most neglected sense, veteran science reporter Bob Holmes shows us just how much we’re missing.
Considering every angle of flavor from our neurobiology to the science and practice of modern food production, Holmes takes readers on a journey to uncover the broad range of factors that can affect our appreciation of a fine meal or an exceptional glass of wine. He peers over the shoulders of some of the most fascinating food professionals working today, from cutting-edge chefs to food engineers to mathematicians investigating the perfect combination of pizza toppings. He talks with flavor and olfactory scientists, who describe why two people can experience remarkably different sensations from the same morsel of food, and how something as seemingly unrelated as cultural heritage can actually impact our sense of smell.
Along the way, even more surprising facts are revealed: that cake tastes sweetest on white plates; that wine experts’ eyes can fool their noses; and even that language can affect our sense of taste. Flavor expands our curiosity and understanding of one of our most intimate sensations, while ultimately revealing how we can all sharpen our senses and our enjoyment of the things we taste.
Certain to fascinate everyone from gourmands and scientists to home cooks and their guests, Flavor will open your mind—and palette—to a vast, exciting sensory world.
In this mouthwatering work, New Scientist correspondent Holmes turns the kitchen into a laboratory, probing the nature of gustatorial delight to find better ways to think and talk about the foods we enjoy (or don't). Holmes opens by carefully walking readers through what flavor actually is, which turns out to be much more than just the sense of taste. Taste is vital because it helps a person detect immediately what will supply carbohydrates (sweet), electrolytes (salt), and protein (umami) while avoiding poisons (bitter) and food that has gone bad (sour). Most people understand that scent is a component of flavor, but sight, sound, touch, and even mental states such as expectation play into the way we perceive our foods. Holmes also addresses the ways in which flavor potentially affects appetite, as scientists remain undecided on that question. He takes a fascinating and mildly disturbing foray into the industrial flavor industry and shares what gives certain foods their particular flavor. He concludes by taking a look at the way chefs and amateurs cooks combine flavors. He encourages gastronomic appreciation, since "almost anyone can get better at appreciating flavor." As Holmes runs through terrific experiments and describes strange technologies, he makes food science fun and approachable.