What makes a meal tasty?

Mar 03, 2010
Pete Barham in the kitchen. Photo by Jason Ingram

(PhysOrg.com) -- Why do some foods taste terrible when others are absolutely delicious? Is it the ingredients, the way they have been grown and cooked, or simply the mood we are in today?

Professor Pete Barham, from the University of Bristol, who has worked extensively with celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal, argues in a scientific paper published by the American Chemical Society, that the hot topic of ‘Molecular Gastronomy’ should not be considered a style of cooking but a new scientific discipline.

Several highly regarded chefs have had their cooking style described as ‘Molecular Gastronomy’; others claim to be bringing the use of scientific principles into the kitchen. The scientific community, however, has not really kept pace, despite individual scientists advising some of these chefs.

“To me a kitchen is just like a science laboratory and cooking is just another experimental science”, says Barham.

“To understand what it is that makes one dish delicious and another not, we need to consider not only the choice of ingredients and how they were grown; the manner in which the food was cooked and presented; but also the environment in which it was served and the mood of the diners.

“All play a part in our enjoyment of food and there are valid scientific reasons why each affects the final result.”

In this study, Barham and colleagues from Denmark and South Africa bring together the many strands of chemistry that are increasingly being used in the kitchen, in order to provide a sound basis for further developments in the area. Their basic premise is that the novel combinations of textures and flavours, developed through the application of chemical and physical techniques in some restaurant kitchens, has led to a new enjoyment and appreciation of food.

All this begs the fundamental question: why should these novel textures and flavours provide so much real pleasure for the diners?

To identify this will involve understanding many branches of the chemical sciences: agrochemicals are involved in the way food is produced; chemical changes occur during harvesting, packaging and transport to market, and subsequently during processing and cooking; finally, an understanding of neurochemistry will be required in order to discover how the brain reacts to the presentation and taste of the food.

The aims of this new science of Molecular Gastronomy should be to elucidate what the minimal conditions are that make food taste good, in order to find ways in which they can be met - through the production of raw materials, in the cooking process, and in the way in which the food is presented.

“Taken to its extreme”, Barham argues, “It should be possible to quantify just how delicious a particular dish will be to a particular individual. Thus, in the future, it may be possible to serve different variations of the same dish to your dinner party guests so that each has their own uniquely enjoyable experience”.

Explore further: New technique reveals immune cell motion through variety of tissues

More information: Paper: pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/cr900105w

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recipe for healthy garlic: Crush before cooking

Feb 15, 2007

"Stop and smell the garlic — that's all you have to do," advised William Shatner, whose starring roles ranged from Captain Kirk in Star Trek to himself in Iron Chef USA. New scientific research is editing Shatner's advice ...

When the chips are down -- soak them

Mar 06, 2008

Good news for chips lovers everywhere – new research in SCI’s Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture shows that pre-soaking potatoes in water before frying can reduce levels of acrylamide.

Microwave your foods safely

Apr 01, 2008

For many consumers, microwaving has become the primary method of heating food, providing convenience and time savings. But a food-safety expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences says recent outbreaks of foodborne ...

Food peptides activate bitter taste receptors

Jan 22, 2008

Researchers from the Monell Center and Tokyo University of Agriculture have used a novel molecular method to identify chemical compounds from common foods that activate human bitter taste receptors.

Fishing for a better bit of batter

Sep 24, 2007

Good news for lovers of fish and chips, Japanese scientists have come up with the perfect recipe to make a crispy batter which is also lower in fat, reports Joanna Harries in Chemistry & Industry ...

Recommended for you

'Global positioning' for molecules

Dec 19, 2014

In everyday life, the global positioning system (GPS) can be employed to reliably determine the momentary location of one en route to the desired destination. Scientists from the Institute of Physical and ...

Cells build 'cupboards' to store metals

Dec 17, 2014

Lawrence Livermore researchers in conjunction with collaborators at University of California (link is external), Los Angeles have found that some cells build intracellular compartments that allow the cell ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.