National Geographic : 2015 Dec
science of delicious 75 very little flavor, and nothing that made me want to reach for a second piece. “That’s what every meal is like for her now—pizza, lobster, whatev- er,” Stuckey said. “Can you imagine?” The wom- an won her case. Remarkably, people who’ve lost just their sense of taste take even less pleasure in eating, even though taste buds make a relatively small contribution to flavor. The main reason seems to be that if the taste receptors on the tongue aren’t functioning, the brain mostly ignores input from retronasal olfaction. Stuckey thinks the basic tastes also create a flavor’s “structure.” “I think of these as the girders, the steel beams,” she said. “There are foods out there that, without the bitterness that occurs in them naturally, would taste really flabby and flat and one-dimensional. Tomatoes, for example.” In addition to her duties at Mattson, Stuckey teaches a course at the San Francisco Cooking School called “The Fundamentals of Taste.” “Most culinary schools don’t teach students how to taste before they start to cook,” she said. “They jump right in with, like, knife skills. But how can you possibly start an education around food without the building blocks of flavor?” She and her students do an exercise in which they make barbecue sauce. Most of the ingredients she provides are ones you would guess: tomato sauce, tomato paste, sugar, honey, liquid smoke, paprika. But there’s also a tray of ingredients whose predominant taste is bitter: coffee, cocoa, tea, bitters. “It’s not really intuitive, because you don’t think of barbecue sauce as bitter, but if you taste it before and after you add a bitter ingre- dient, you realize that bitter changes the whole gestalt. It adds a complexifying note.” At home Stuckey uses soluble espresso—instant coffee—as a bitter complexifier for many dishes, and espe- cially for sweet or sweetish sauces. Toiling on a new frontier of culinary science, a student at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, grinds cheese solids—after having centrifuged them out of molten cheese and frozen them with liquid nitrogen. The goal: a fancy, food-truck-ready cheese sauce, reduced to a powder.