“A fascinating blend of culinary history and the science of taste” (Publishers Weekly, starred review), from the first bite taken by our ancestors to ongoing scientific advances in taste and today’s “foodie” revolution.
Can’t resist the creamy smoothness of butter? Blame Darwinian natural selection. Crave the immediate zing of sweets? They bathe your brain in a seductive high. Enjoy the savory flavors of grilled meat? So did your ancestor Homo erectus. Coffee? You had to overcome your hardwired aversion to its hint of bitterness and learn to like it. Taste is a whole-body experience, and breakthroughs in genetics and microbiology are casting light not only on the experience of french fries and foie gras, but on the mysterious interplay of body, brain, and mind.
Reporting from kitchens, supermarkets, farms, restaurants, huge food corporations, and science labs, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John McQuaid tells the story of the still-emerging concept of flavor and how our sense of taste will evolve in the coming decades. Tasty explains why children have bizarre and stubborn tastes, how the invention of cooking changed our brains and physiology, why artificial sweeteners never taste quite right, why name brands really do taste better, how a 100,000-year-old walkabout by early humans is responsible for George H.W. Bush’s broccoli-hatred, why “supertasters” like salt, and why “nontasters” are more likely to be alcoholics.
“A fascinating story with a beginning some half a billion years ago…McQuaid’s tale is about science, but also about culture, history and, one senses, our future” (Scientific American). Tasty offers a delicious smorgasbord of where taste originated and where it’s going—and why it changes by the day.
In this fascinating blend of culinary history and the science of taste, freelance writer McQuaid observes that "everyone lives in his own flavor world," and that taste is the most subjective of the senses. He smoothly and skillfully explains the layout of the neocortex and how flavor is perceived by the brain. He discusses the tongue and how its varied zones were once thought to correlate to sweet, salty, sour and bitter, imparting serious science with wildly rich prose. "Flavor is only the capstone of a vast, hidden system" that starts in the mouth with a "burst of deliciousness" and leads to "an infinite mesh of sensors furiously sending and receiving messages as the whole body marinates in the chemical flux of the world." Readers will savor his explanations of the science behind umami, the savory taste identified in 2007, and the description of sweetness as "a delicious and powerful motivator" given sugar's effect on the brain. McQuaid's lucid explanations of neuroscientific research on dopamine lay the groundwork for a keen analysis of industrial food production and flavor manipulation while addressing the health issues of the modern diet. When he concludes that "the mystery at the heart of flavor has never been truly cracked," he sets the stage for an eagerly anticipated second helping.