Keeping Up With Food Research

Even in modern society, where so many people are doing research about so many things, there are surprisingly many things we still don’t know about food. The Maillard reaction– important in browning of foods- wasn’t really understood until 1948, later than atomic bombs were launched. Nicholas Kurti famously said in 1969 that “it is a sad reflection on our civilization that while we can and do measure the temperature in the atmosphere of Venus we do not know what goes on inside our soufflés.” We don’t know that much about what role food played in human evolution, or what tannins in wine really are. That’s why it’s fun to keep up with food research.

Of course, there are many books to read from which you can learn. The Kitchen As Laboratory, for example, has many up-to-date examples of food research. But these are usually a few years out of date, and most books of these types are summaries of research, not the actual results themselves. On the other hand, there are academic food journals. Many are designed for people in industry- those actually dealing with food science in their jobs- and some articles can be rather technical. However, don’t get put off by this, as often just reading the title or paper abstract will give you the knowledge you want. Example of journals include Food Biophysics (some open-access) or Meat Science (no open access), and every now and then Science or Nature does a food article. Just to show that research articles are accessible, I’ll give some example papers from a new journal called Flavour, a journal I particularly like because it is entirely open access, meaning you don’t need to pay to read it.

The edible cocktail: the effect of sugar and alcohol impregnation on the crunchiness of fruit.
This paper looks at what happens to the crunchiness of fruit when you inject alcohol into it, with applications to cocktail making. Unfortunately, in all their tests, it doesn’t look like there is a way to keep fruit crunchy, and alcoholic.

Heritable differences in chemosensory ability among humans.
This review paper looks at the genetic underpinnings of why we form flavours differently, with examples of genes involved in sweet and umami tastes.

Q&A: The Nordic food lab.
An interview with Lars Williams, head of the Nordic food lab, who talks about trends of scientific techniques in restaurants and some of his current areas of research into food, particularly de-bittering, that is, making foods taste less bitter.

Assessing the shape symbolism of the taste, flavour, and texture of foods and beverages.
This review paper looks at how we perceive foods and drinks, based on their shape. “For example, [people] typically match more rounded forms such as circles with sweet tastes and more angular shapes such as triangles and stars with bitter and/or carbonated foods and beverages…. Given that consumers normally prefer those food and beverage products that meet their sensory expectations, as compared to those that give rise to a ‘disconfirmation of expectation’, we believe that the targeted use of such shape symbolism may provide a means for companies to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.” Some interesting applications to food presentation here.

Discrimination of roast and ground coffee aroma.
This paper looks at evaluating the different aroma profiles for different stages in the coffee brewing process.

Review of ‘Educated tastes: food, drink, and connoisseur culture’ edited by Jeremy Strong.
A book review of a recent book to come out, on socio-economic food tastes.

Interesting stuff, in my opinion.