Matters of taste

Strangely enough, in just this past week I've seen two very different books on the scientific basis of taste.

One looks at taste from a human-centered point of view. Barb Stuckey's a professional food developer.  Taste What You're Missing is a popular-science romp through the five senses, with lots of fun experiments to try at home (dye your tongue blue and count how many taste buds you have! do an "official" sensory evaluation of milk chocolate bars!) and memorable bits of phraseology "Umami is the beer goggles of taste."

The other book, Taste Buds & Molecules, looks at taste from what can only be described as the food's point of view.  Written by French wine and food critic François Chartier, the book breaks down the chemical elements present in various ingredients.  It catalogues their volatile compounds, maps our complementary foods and wines and offers some rather formidable recipes ("Large scallop warmed in an oil of bitter almonds, accompanied by a warm fennel salad with imperial mandarins and mirin, salted, dried corn power, and osmanthus flower mousse.")

Needless to say, the second book has some strongly modernist (as in "modernist cuisine") or, if you like, molecular (as in "molecular gastronomy") leanings.

Although neither volume is likely to earn a place on the "favorites" cookbook shelf in the kitchen, both offer interesting glimpses into the world we take for granted, right inside our mouths.  And they may be just slightly more engaging bedside reading than the stack of cookbooks you've had piled on your night table for months. 

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