Flavor scientist Arielle Johnson discusses the creative side of culinary chemistry
By Arielle JohnsonPosted 06.13.2012 at 12:01 pm 1 Comment
Think you know the fresh, lemony taste of lemongrass, or the lush herbal taste of basil? Most of what we experience as "taste" actually comes from our sense of smell, not from our tastebuds. Volatile compounds -- molecules light enough to produce a vapor or gas -- play a key role in how we experience food and drink (as well as fragrances and scents). But the complex ways in which we perceive these molecules as flavor is not nearly as straightforward as pure chemistry, making understanding flavor partly, but not completely, a chemical question.
For all our knowledge about how the brain processes sight, sound, smell and touch, very little is understood about taste. Researchers have been unsure whether specific brain cell groups are devoted to the five main taste groups, just like there are specific, finely tuned taste receptors on your tongue.
Researchers from Columbia University now say they've identified these neuron groups, and have built a map of the "gustatory cortex." It's the first map showing how taste is represented in the mammalian brain.
Picking barbecue-flavor potato chips over salt-and-vinegar can be tough enough without having to choose between brands made with "natural flavors" and ones that are "artificially flavored." Natural flavors, you might think, are derived from the pure essence of a food's flavor, and as such are more authentic. But the term "natural" is misleading.