The cultural diversity of culinary practice, as illustrated by the variety of regional cuisines, raises the question of whether there are any general patterns that determine the ingredient combinations used in food today or principles that transcend individual tastes and recipes. We introduce a flavor network that captures the flavor compounds shared by culinary ingredients. Western cuisines show a tendency to use ingredient pairs that share many flavor compounds, supporting the so-called food pairing hypothesis. By contrast, East Asian cuisines tend to avoid compound sharing ingredients. Given the increasing availability of information on food preparation, our data-driven investigation opens new avenues towards a systematic understanding of culinary practice.
Flowers of the hop plant provide both bitterness and “hoppy” flavor to beer. Hops are, however, both a water and energy intensive crop and vary considerably in essential oil content, making it challenging to achieve a consistent hoppy taste in beer. Here, we report that brewer’s yeast can be engineered to biosynthesize aromatic monoterpene molecules that impart hoppy flavor to beer by incorporating recombinant DNA derived from yeast, mint, and basil. Whereas metabolic engineering of biosynthetic pathways is commonly enlisted to maximize product titers, tuning expression of pathway enzymes to affect target production levels of multiple commercially important metabolites without major collateral metabolic changes represents a unique challenge. By applying state-of-the-art engineering techniques and a framework to guide iterative improvement, strains are generated with target performance characteristics. Beers produced using these strains are perceived as hoppier than traditionally hopped beers by a sensory panel in a double-blind tasting.
Here we present evidence of phytoliths preserved in carbonised food deposits on prehistoric pottery from the western Baltic dating from 6,100 cal BP to 5750 cal BP. Based on comparisons to over 120 European and Asian species, our observations are consistent with phytolith morphologies observed in modern garlic mustard seed (Alliaria petiolata (M. Bieb) Cavara & Grande). As this seed has a strong flavour, little nutritional value, and the phytoliths are found in pots along with terrestrial and marine animal residues, these findings are the first direct evidence for the spicing of food in European prehistoric cuisine. Our evidence suggests a much greater antiquity to the spicing of foods than is evident from the macrofossil record, and challenges the view that plants were exploited by hunter-gatherers and early agriculturalists solely for energy requirements, rather than taste.
Considerable mechanistic data indicate there may be a sixth basic taste: fat. However, evidence demonstrating that the sensation of nonesterified fatty acids (NEFA, the proposed stimuli for “fat taste”) differs qualitatively from other tastes is lacking. Using perceptual mapping, we demonstrate that medium and long-chain NEFA have a taste sensation that is distinct from other basic tastes (sweet, sour, salty, and bitter). Although some overlap was observed between these NEFA and umami taste, this overlap is likely due to unfamiliarity with umami sensations rather than true similarity. Shorter chain fatty acids stimulate a sensation similar to sour, but as chain length increases this sensation changes. Fat taste oral signaling, and the different signals caused by different alkyl chain lengths, may hold implications for food product development, clinical practice, and public health policy.
Despite evidence that the ability to taste is weakened by obesity and can be rescued with weight loss intervention, few studies have investigated the molecular effects of obesity on the taste system. Taste bud cells undergo continual turnover even in adulthood, exhibiting an average life span of only a few weeks, tightly controlled by a balance of proliferation and cell death. Recent data reveal that an acute inflammation event can alter this balance. We demonstrate that chronic low-grade inflammation brought on by obesity reduces the number of taste buds in gustatory tissues of mice-and is likely the cause of taste dysfunction seen in obese populations-by upsetting this balance of renewal and cell death.
Food tastes better and people eat more of it when eaten with company than alone. Although several explanations have been proposed for this social facilitation of eating, they share the basic assumption that this phenomenon is achieved by the existence of co-eating others. Here, we demonstrate a similar “social” facilitation of eating in the absence of other individuals. Elderly participants tasted a piece of popcorn alone while in front of a mirror (which reflects the participant themselves eating popcorn) or in front of a wall-reflecting monitor, and were found to eat more popcorn and rate it better tasting in the self-reflecting condition than in the monitor condition. Similar results were found for younger adults. The results suggest that the social facilitation of eating does not necessarily require the presence of another individual. Furthermore, we observed a similar “social” facilitation of eating even when participants ate a piece of popcorn in front of a static picture of themselves eating, suggesting that static visual information of “someone” eating food is sufficient to produce the “social” facilitation of eating.
In chickens, the sensory organs for taste are the taste buds in the oral cavity, of which there are ~240-360 in total number as estimated by scanning electron microscopy (SEM). There is not an easy way to visualize all taste buds in chickens. Here, we report a highly efficient method for labeling chicken taste buds in oral epithelial sheets using the molecular markers Vimentin and α-Gustducin. Immediate tissue fixation following incubation with sub-epithelially injected proteases enabled us to peel off whole epithelial sheets, leaving the shape and integrity of the tissue intact. In the peeled epithelial sheets, taste buds labeled with antibodies against Vimentin and α-Gustducin were easily identified and counted under a light microscope and many more taste buds, patterned in rosette-like clusters, were found than previously reported with SEM. Broiler-type, female-line males have more taste buds than other groups and continue to increase the number of taste buds over stages after hatch. In addition to ovoid-shaped taste buds, big tube-shaped taste buds were observed in the chicken using 2-photon microscopy. Our protocol for labeling taste buds with molecular markers will factilitate future mechanistic studies on the development of chicken taste buds in association with their feeding behaviors.
Humans can discriminate several million different colors and almost half a million different tones, but the number of discriminable olfactory stimuli remains unknown. The lay and scientific literature typically claims that humans can discriminate 10,000 odors, but this number has never been empirically validated. We determined the resolution of the human sense of smell by testing the capacity of humans to discriminate odor mixtures with varying numbers of shared components. On the basis of the results of psychophysical testing, we calculated that humans can discriminate at least 1 trillion olfactory stimuli. This is far more than previous estimates of distinguishable olfactory stimuli. It demonstrates that the human olfactory system, with its hundreds of different olfactory receptors, far outperforms the other senses in the number of physically different stimuli it can discriminate.
In two studies, we investigated how bitter taste preferences might be associated with antisocial personality traits. Two US American community samples (total N = 953; mean age = 35.65 years; 48% females) self-reported their taste preferences using two complementary preference measures and answered a number of personality questionnaires assessing Machiavellianism, psychopathy, narcissism, everyday sadism, trait aggression, and the Big Five factors of personality. The results of both studies confirmed the hypothesis that bitter taste preferences are positively associated with malevolent personality traits, with the most robust relation to everyday sadism and psychopathy. Regression analyses confirmed that this association holds when controlling for sweet, sour, and salty taste preferences and that bitter taste preferences are the overall strongest predictor compared to the other taste preferences. The data thereby provide novel insights into the relationship between personality and the ubiquitous behaviors of eating and drinking by consistently demonstrating a robust relation between increased enjoyment of bitter foods and heightened sadistic proclivities.
Shearwaters deprived of their olfactory sense before being displaced to distant sites have impaired homing ability but it is unknown what the role of olfaction is when birds navigate freely without their sense of smell. Furthermore, treatments used to induce anosmia and to disrupt magneto-reception in displacement experiments might influence non-specific factors not directly related to navigation and, as a consequence, the results of displacement experiments can have multiple interpretations. To address this, we GPS-tracked the free-ranging foraging trips of incubating Scopoli’s shearwaters within the Mediterranean Sea. As in previous experiments, shearwaters were either made anosmic with 4% zinc sulphate solution, magnetically impaired by attachment of a strong neodymium magnet or were controls. We found that birds from all three treatments embarked on foraging trips, had indistinguishable at-sea schedules of behaviour and returned to the colony having gained mass. However, we found that in the pelagic return stage of their foraging trips, anosmic birds were not oriented towards the colony though coastal navigation was unaffected. These results support the case for zinc sulphate having a specific effect on the navigational ability of shearwaters and thus the view that seabirds consult an olfactory map to guide them across seascapes.