It’s summertime and everybody is going to the beach, which I despise. Not only do I hate taking my shirt off, but sand gets everywhere—especially the food. By Lucien Formichella
The beach is no place for anything truly delicious; catastrophe can happen at any moment. I’d rather drink soup from a thermos on a 100-degree day at the beach before I risk destroying a perfectly good rotisserie chicken there.
I think Bob Dylan put it best:
How many roasts must be destroyed, on a child’s sprint through the sand?/ How many fries does the grey gull steal, from an unsuspecting hand?/ Yes, ‘n how much mayo has gone bad in the sun, while the owner goes to tan?
The answer, my friend, is too much to frickin’ count.
In order to get the most out of your meal, here are some helpful tips for safe beach eating:
Wash your hands like you’re about to do surgery
This is less about—actually not at all about—cleanliness, and more about the fact that a couple loose grains of sand, no matter how small, can ruin an entire meal. Heck, if you want to wear a hazmat suit, know you have my full support
Don’t bring chips, grapes, or anything in a big bag
Sand always seems to show up uninvited–the proverbial inlaws of the mineral family. You walk home one day, and they’re sitting 90s sitcom style in your living room, and then they stay for weeks, nagging your every move. The next time I go to the beach I’m bringing one of those TV trays to eat off of, to keep my food high and away from the ground.
Keep your food locked down
Get a cooler with a lid seal, or maybe even one with a lock. If you need to rope off an eight-square-foot buffer around it to deter people from getting too close, nobody will judge you. In fact, I’ll even recommend this stanchion and red velvet rope set. “It’s so expensive!” you may say. I say: too many coolers have been kicked over by kids running to and from the water to risk it. What happens when some jerk walks by with his nose in his phone and knocks all your meticulously prepared BLTs into the sand? Get the damn rope.
By the way, invest in a good cooler
Mayonnaise is in everything, and few things are grosser than hot mayo. Don’t go overboard with the ice in the cooler, though, since the only thing worse than hot mayo is soggy bread. You need to achieve absolute balance with this step. Some people do yoga to align their chakras and whatnot. I find inner peace by obtaining the perfect cooler temperature.
Always, always, always eat before you go in the water
I remember hanging out at my friend’s pool when I was a young lad. I hopped out of the water to eat a couple crackers, and before I could cannonball back in, his mom set an egg timer for 30 minutes and told me to sit in a chair so I didn’t drown from the stomach cramps. So, in an attempt to spread my spite for her throughout the entire world, I recommend you just get in there.
Very Important Special Section About Seagulls
Sand might be annoying, but it doesn’t come close to the flying pestilences that are seagulls. The dirty thieves are the worst of all food ruiners because they seem so pleasant at first, like a bully who knows a teacher is near. They sit and hang out calmly for a minute. Then, as soon as you get used to their presence, they start grabbing food out of your goddamn hand, usually right in front of one of those “don’t feed the seagulls” signs.
The worst part is gulls keep the same cold, unblinking, expression the entire time they’re fleecing you. They are the Botox people of the animal kingdom. You can’t tell if they’re excited to be eating, or if stealing your food is fulfilling some sort of obligation they have to Satan.
Luckily for all of us, I have spent years studying this unholy foe, and have come up with some foolproof ways to combat them:
Antarctic krill fishing companies have announced that they will voluntarily stop operating in key areas around the Antarctic Peninsula. By Greeen Peace
Krill are small crustaceans that are a keystone species in the Antarctic, forming a crucial part of the food web. They are a vital food source for animals including whales, seals and penguins.
They also help sequester carbon from the atmosphere, which can help to mitigate the effects of climate change.
There are huge numbers of krill in Antarctic waters, but some studies show that their numbers have declined in recent decades, which has prompted groups like Greenpeace to campaign for the krill fishing industry to stop operations in sensitive areas.
Teddy accompanied Greenpeace to Antarctica in March, for the last month of its campaign to raise awareness about the need to protect the Antarctic's waters.
'Taking the first step'
The five companies that have made the commitment together form the Association of Responsible Krill Harvesting Companies (ARK), and represent 85% of the Antarctic krill fishing industry, according to Greenpeace. They will cease fishing in certain ecologically sensitive areas around the Antarctic Peninsula by 2020.
Kristine Hartmann, of Norwegian company Aker Biomarine, said: "We believe it's important that the industry show that we are able to take the first step and show that we can take care of the ecosystem in which we operate."
She added: "This is a historic agreement in that companies in China, Chile, Korea and Norway are able to agree and make the first move."
She said Aker would now only fish 30 - 40km beyond coastal areas around penguin colonies on the Western Antarctic Peninsula, to protect penguins during the breeding season.
The announcement was made at Greenpeace's Antarctic 360° event in Cambridge, UK. Frida Bengtsson, of the Greenpeace Nordic Protect the Antarctic campaign, said: "This is a bold and progressive move from these krill fishing companies, and we hope to see the remainder of the krill industry follow suit."
Chris Johnson, WWF Antarctica program lead, said: "WWF welcomes the initiative ... A comprehensive and effective network of marine protected areas surrounding the continent -- which must include no-take marine sanctuaries -- is essential for safeguarding biodiversity and improving sustainable fisheries. The accelerating impact of humanity on fragile ocean ecosystems, including from climate change, makes this commitment to Antarctic protection all the more timely."
Fishing for Antarctic krill has fallen since its peak in the 1980s, but there's been a recent revival to service a growing demand for dietary supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids, and to provide feed for fish farms.
The ARK companies also pledged support for the creation of a network of marine protected areas, including a protective area spanning 1.8 million square kilometers in the oceans around Antarctica, a proposal put forward by the EU.
In October, the Antarctic Ocean Commission will decide whether to adopt that proposal, which would become the world's largest ocean sanctuary.
All citrus fruits can trace their roots to the southeast foothills of the Himalayas, according to DNA evidence.
By Helen Briggs @hbriggs
The first citrus trees appeared about eight million years ago, before spreading around the world, say international scientists.
The trees eventually gave rise to the fruit on our kitchen tables, from sweet oranges to bitter lemons.
Citrus trees are among the most widely cultivated fruit trees in the world, but their history has been unclear.
To get a better understanding of where citrus trees came from, scientists in the US and Spain analysed the genomes of over 50 varieties of citrus fruit, from the Chinese mandarin to the Seville orange.
The study, published in Nature journal, found that modern citrus trees derive from several natural species found in a region that includes the eastern area of Assam, northern Myanmar, and western Yunnan.
When the climate changed millions of years ago, bringing weaker monsoons and drier weather, the plants were able to spread out of the Himalayas, and throughout southeast Asia.
From there, they spread to the rest of the world, including to Australia about four million years ago.
The analysis shows that today's citrus fruits are the result of millions of years of evolution, followed by thousands of years of human plant breeding.
Genetic maps of the different citrus varieties found today may help scientists find out which fruits can withstand pests, and perhaps develop new citrus fruits.
"Understanding the species diversity and genetic relatedness is the first step towards breeding new varieties of citrus fruits, both with desirable flavour and disease-resistance," said lead researcher Guohong Albert Wu of the US Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute.
Commenting on the study, Dr Ilia Leitch of the Jodrell Laboratory at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, said the research could lead to better tasting citrus fruits.
"It highlights how the fruits we take for granted have had a complicated history involving migration, cross breeding and swapping DNA between different populations," she said.
"A greater understanding helps to inform future breeding programmes, helping the crops to meet challenges such as climate change and disease, and breed characteristics desired by the consumer."
The fossil record of citrus fruits is poor. However, a fossil citrus leaf found in southwestern China dating to about eight million years ago supports the data from genetic studies.
The world of condiments by Erin Cullum
Fact: not all condiments belong in the fridge. To make sure you're getting the longest shelf life (and the most flavour) out of common condiments like ketchup, maple syrup, and hot sauce, be sure to refer to this list of products you should — and shouldn't — store in a cold fridge. Some of them might surprise you and remind you to check yours to see if they're in the right place!
The Surprising Truth About Keeping Butter in Your Fridge Don't Refrigerate
A large diet Mountain Dew, a cafe latte, and some kind of energy drink—that's the caffeine cocktail that apparently killed 16-year-old Davis Allan Cripe last month in South Carolina, according to news reports. By Kendra Pierre-Louis
We don’t ordinarily think of caffeine as toxic because if you’re healthy (i.e. don’t have an underlying heart disorder) and stick to naturally occurring caffeine sources like chocolate, coffee, or tea, it’s pretty difficult to consume a toxic dose. Experts say that a lethal dose is between 5 and 10 grams of caffeine, for your average healthy adult. A 20-ounce cup of Starbucks dark roast has 340mg of caffeine in it, so you’d have to drink between 15 and 30 of them before you died. That's a lot of coffee—your bladder would likely give up before you did.
But increasingly, more of us are turning to denser sources of caffeine. Instead of just knocking back coffee or tea, we're chugging energy drinks, chewing caffeinated gummy candies, and even cramming straight caffeine powder into our beverages. These products make it easier to consume a lot of caffeine in a short amount of time—with fatal results. The South Carolina coroner who examined Cripe stated that it wasn’t the amount of caffeine that Cripe consumed that likely killed him, but the speed with which he consumed it. The unfortunate teen drank that laundry list of caffeine-containing products in under two hours.
If you still have trouble wrapping your head around the idea of overdosing on caffeine, just take a look at some of the products now available for purchase: Redline Xtreme is an energy drink that promises to “improve reaction time” and “increase reaction time,” and is sold at health food stores with the tempting promise of zero calories and 316mg of caffeine in an eight-ounce bottle. Ounce for ounce, it has almost two and a half times the caffeine as that Starbucks cup of coffee. The label warns that it’s not recommended for use by children under the age of 18, but it also says that one serving has less caffeine than two cups of coffee. One serving, it should be noted, is four ounces—half the small bottle. Point being, it's pretty easy to throw those things back and lose track. A 2015 Mayo Clinic study found that a single energy drink could increase the risk of heart disease in young adults. Caffeine causes short-term increases in blood pressure and nervous system activity that can trigger a heart attack, which is what killed Cripe—and his death isn’t the first.
The Centers for Disease Control doesn’t track death by caffeine as its own category—these deaths are lumped in with other drug use data—but in 2014, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning around powdered caffeine after a series of heart attack deaths were linked to its use. Those killed include 18-year-old Logan Stiner of LaGrange Ohio, and 24-year-old James Wade Sweatt from Georgia. Sweatt allegedly mixed the caffeine with water as a ‘healthier’ alternative to diet sodas, but drastically miscalculated the dose. A single teaspoon of caffeine is equivalent to between 16 and 25 cups of coffee.
Given that caffeine can have such deadly consequences, what’s a person to do? The answer here is pretty simple: stick to traditional sources of caffeine for your buzz. Coffee, tea, and even colas all tend to be (relatively) safe, with low enough densities of caffeine that it would be difficult to dangerously over-indulge. But it's still a good idea to spread out your consumption, and pay attention to how much you're drinking—recommended guidelines say not to exceed more than 400mg a day. Definitely don’t consume your caffeine with other drugs like cocaine, which can magnify the worst heart effects of both substances. Or you could just quit caffeine altogether.
Great for lunch, a barbecue or picnic, these wings have a hint of chilli but are warmly smoky rather than a flaming firecracker. Chicken wings consisting of just the wing joint without the tip are best for this dish. You’ll need to marinate this dish for at least 2 hours before cooking. By Koko Chanel & Teddy
If bought fresh, the chicken wings can be left to marinate, covered and chilled in the fridge, up to a day ahead.
Once marinated, the chicken wings can be covered and frozen. Simply defrost in the fridge before roasting.
Marinating the chicken wings gives depth of flavour and prevents them from drying out. You could use a resealable freezer bag instead of a bowl, if you prefer.
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Fish, Celeriac Chips & Tartare Sauce by Hemsley & Hemsley
Good old fish and chips. A traditionally deep-fried dish that dates back to around 1860 when the first fish and chip shop opened in London.
Here's our version - instead of the refined vegetable oil or sunflower oil used for frying and the glutinous batter, we crumb our fish with ground almonds and shallow fry it in ghee or coconut oil - two fats that are great for your health and remain unaltered when cooked at high temperatures.
You can always make a light and crispy gluten-free batter for your fish but then you'll need to properly deep fry it. Cod is the traditional choice for fish and chips, but the problem nowadays is that cod and even haddock are two of the most endangered species in British waters and fishing grounds. Sustainable fish, in season now and much cheaper, include pollock, pouting, hake and whiting.
Our oven-baked chips are made from the ugly duckling of the vegetable world - celeriac. Despite its knobbled and gnarled looks, celeriac has a lovely flavour, can be eaten raw, and in this instance makes a great chip. Unlike potatoes, and other root vegetables, it is very low in starch (which affects blood sugar levels) and higher in fibre, as well as being a good source of potassium.
It makes a great accompaniment to the fish as the protein from fish and the high starch from regular potatoes can be very difficult to digest together. Home-made tartare sauce is well worth it - and actually good for you. Originally from France this creamy sauce was created to accompany steak tartare. Raw, free-range, organic egg yolks and cold, pressed avocado or sunflower oil provides the mayonnaise base - lemon juice and any variety of pickles and herbs provide the tang.
We serve it with the deliciously salty and nutritious samphire - a succulent marsh plant native to the UK and currently in season - or go for classic peas, mushy if you like. Alternatively, try a pea and watercress salad.
Fish and celeriac Ingredients
(use organic ingredients where possible) Serves 2 people
2 x 150g fillets of firm white fish
1 egg, beaten
¾ cup of ground almonds (almond flour)
Sea salt and black pepper
1 medium celeriac
2 teaspoons of ghee (or even tastier beef fat!)
2.5 tablespoons of coconut flour helps the egg to stick for a better coating
2 large organic egg yolks
½ -1 cup of cold pressed/unrefined avocado or sunflower oil (olive oil is too strong)
The juice of half a lemon 2 teaspoons of capers
Roughly chopped 2 tablespoons of cornichons or gherkins,
1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
Sea salt and pepper, to taste
large pinch of roughly chopped tarragon or dill, or a clove of garlic, crushed
Instructions Celeriac chips -
Preheat the oven to 190C. - Wash and peel the celeriac (you might need to use a knife as the skin is thick). - Slice off the top and bottom and cut the celeriac into thumb-thick slices and then into fat chip shapes. - Spread the chips out onto a large baking tray and season with sea salt. - Dot the 2 tablespoons of ghee around the baking tray and pop the tray into the oven. - After 15 minutes, remove the tray and use two spatulas to toss the chips and coat them in the melted ghee. - Return the tray to the oven and cook for another 25 minutes, or until golden brown.
Tartare Sauce -
Start by making a mayonnaise - use a blender or hand whisk to beat the eggs. - Blend or whisk in the oil, a teaspoon at a time, making sure that the oil is thoroughly incorporated before adding the next teaspoon. - Once you start to see the yolk thickening, you can add the oil at a slightly faster rate. - Pour the mayonnaise into a bowl and stir in the other ingredients. - Leave to chill.
Set out a bowl of beaten egg, a plate of coconut flour and another plate of ground almonds. - Rinse each fillet and pat dry with kitchen towel before seasoning with sea salt - it is important that the fish is dry for the coating to stick. - Dip the fillet in coconut flour, shaking off the excess, then into the beaten egg. - Press the fillet firmly onto the plate of ground almonds. Turn to coat the other side in the same way, patting the ground almonds on so that they form an even layer. - Heat up a frying pan with your ghee or coconut oil until some ground almond sizzles when dropped in. - Fry the fish for 3 minutes (you might need to cook them in 2 batches) until crisp on the underside. - Carefully turn the fish to fry the other side for 2-3 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through. - Serve with the celeriac chips, tartare sauce and some samphire sauteed in butter (don't add salt!) or a bowl of peas.
Most all have fun making it www.hemsleyandhemsley.com
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The science behind it goes back to our caveman roots
By Ella Alexander
In the least surprising news of the day, it's been confirmed that yo-yo dieting leads to inevitable weight gain.
A study, published in the journal Evolution, Medicine and Public Health, found that repeated diets trigger a caveman response to famine that causes the brain to send out signals of food scarcity – telling the body to store more fat in case there are future food shortages.
According to the Telegraph Reporters, the research was based on observations of nature. Scientists devised a mathematical model in a simulated animal that doesn't know when to expect its next meal. They found that when food is low on the ground, animals seize any opportunity to put on weight.
"Surprisingly, our model predicts that the average weight gain for dieters will actually be greater than those who never diet," said the lead researcher Dr Andrew Higginson, from the University of Exeter.
"This happens because non-dieters learn that the food supply is reliable so there is less need for the insurance of fat stores."
He added that the best way to lose weight was via the traditional route – exercise regularly and eat in moderation.
"The best thing for weight loss is to take it steady," said Dr Higginson. "Our work suggests that eating only slightly less than you should, all the time, and doing physical exercise is much more likely to help you reach a healthy weight than going on low-calorie diets."
So put that juice down and enjoy the indulgences of Christmas and then the next holiday...
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This creamy avocado banana smoothie is "the perfect natural pick-me-up," says Rich Goldstein, owner of the Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts. By Leta Shy
It's also a delicious way to protect your heart: the monosaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) in avocados and potassium in bananas all offer cardiovascular support, while cinnamon can help lower LDL cholesterol levels. Even better if you're watching your waistline: MUFAs have been shown to target belly fat, so sipping on this frosty low-calorie smoothie when the temperatures rise is a good idea.
Enjoy this creamy, dairy-free smoothie in the morning for breakfast or as part of a cooling lunch.
Tweaking texture could give us healthy versions of our favorite junk foods—and that's just the beginning By Kendra Pierre-Louis
The list of foods that I refuse to eat is extensive: tofu, okra, stirred yogurt (yes, it's the stirring that gets me), and mashed potatoes, to name a few. Condiments are prominently featured: mayonnaise, butter, cream sauces, and ranch dressings are big no-nos.
Friends call me picky, but that word feels inadequate—it evokes a realm of virulent food neophobes who subsist on a steady diet of pale, bland consumables and balk at the notion of trying anything new.
I, however, embrace culinary novelties: glass potato chips, grilled whale, musk ox in yellow curry sauce. I’ve eaten harkl, the Icelandic delicacy where a poisonous Greenlandic shark is left to rot, then fermented for an extra kick. The chef Anthony Bourdain described harkl, whose redolent bouquet is not dissimilar from the acrid sensation of huffing a bottle of nail polish remover, as “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing.” Trash-talking chef Gordon Ramsey allegedly threw up after eating it. But I’d rather subsist on a steady diet of harkl than eat anything covered in hollandaise sauce.
Compared to our rich vocabulary for foods’ flavor, America’s culinary glossary for food tactility is thin. A lemon, for example, might be described as acidic, tangy, citrusy, or sour—but how does that lemon feel?citrus
As eaters, we tend to downplay texture’s importance. A 2002 study in the Journal of Sensory Studies found that texture lagged behind taste and smell—and only occasionally beat out temperature—in terms of the perceived impact on flavor. But you only have to look at pasta to see how strongly texture impacts our perception of taste. We’ll eat macaroni and cheese in the form of spirals, shells, and noodles shaped like Spongebob Squarepants, but spaghetti mixed with florescent "cheese" powder seems anathema—it’s the texture that makes the difference.
For the longest time, food scientists downplayed texture’s importance as well. “When I was a student pursuing a degree in food science, I was taught that flavor was a combination of mainly taste and smell," recalls Jeannine Delwiche, one of the authors of the 2002 study.
But how a food feels affects our enjoyment of the thing. There is, of course, the actual texture of the food, which scientists call rheology. Rheology focuses on consistency and flow. For example, it’s fairly evident that cotton candy has a different texture than plain sugar, even though sugar is its only ingredient. But the perception of a food’s rheology—what scientists call psychorheology—is another thing entirely. If you’ve ever wondered why sour candy always seems to come coated in rough sugar, the reason is simple: We perceive rougher foods as being more sour. Psychorheology is why we like gummy bears in solid but not liquid form, why we enjoy carbonated soda but balk at its flavor when it goes flat. It’s why we perceive gelato as creamier than ice cream—even though the latter has more fat.
Texture is an important indicator of a food's fat content. If we can figure out how to trick our tongues into sensing more fat than is actually present in a food, we can increase satiation while decreasing a food’s calorie count. That's why some researchers are finally turning their attention to these taste-making sensations.
Chewing The FatSince the emergence of the “obesity epidemic,” the food industry has found itself under pressure to deliver healthier foods. Early on, they dealt with the pressure simply by removing whatever ingredient was currently in contention. An obsession with low-calorie foods lead to the rise of artificial sweeteners, while the low-fat fad of the '80s stripped foods of their richness but packed them with as much as 20 percent more sugar. The resurgence of low-carb diets in the '90s made sugar passé, so fat and artificial sweeteners were back on the menu. But these days, we want it all: People look for foods with moderate amounts of fat, little to no added sugar, and whole, "natural" ingredients—but with the same flavor as the fatty, sugary, artificially-flavored stuff they grew up with.
Companies are responding to this consumer chatter by offering products like reduced-salt potato chips. But once they’re on the shelves, “Nobody buys it,” said Simon Harrison, a researcher at Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIR). “Because when you’re going to buy chips, you’re going to go for the yummy ones, not the ones that are salt reduced.”
A low-salt, low-fat potato chip with all the flavor of the ones we go for now would obviously be a huge coup. But the key to creating such a chip might not have anything to do with flavor.
“Texture is a hugely important to what we do,” said Kristopher Bronner. Bronner is a co-founder of the candy company UnReal, along with his brother and his dad.
“My parents are huge health nuts,” said Bronner. One Halloween, his younger brother Nicky—upset at having his Halloween candy taken away—exclaimed, “Why does something I love have to be so bad for me?” And thus UnReal was born. The Bronners take some of our beloved favorites—M&M’s, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups—and reimagine them with at least 30 percent less sugar and 60 percent more protein, all without leaning on artificial sweeteners. That means paying attention to every detail, including texture. Take their rumination on the peanut butter cup, for instance: should it be one solid piece of chocolate with peanut butter filling pumped in, or should it be made in three layers? This apparently has a huge impact on how customers perceive the finished product.
Harrison is trying to systematize what the Bronners are learning by trial-and-error. The computational fluid dynamics researcher and his team use computers to see how liquids behave (how the water in a tsunami acts when it hits a city, for example). He was initially brought on to model how the Australian Olympic diving team moves through the air and hits the water in order to help reduce injury and improve performance.
CSIR is public-private partnership, and both the Australian government and the Australian food industry were facing complementary problems: how can the government improve eating habits to enhance public health, and how can companies can make healthy foods the public wants to eat? To solve that problem, they turned to Harrison, who put his biomechanics background to another use—modeling what happens to food when it enters our mouths.
Harrison uses modified versions of the same models his team uses to predict tsunamis to make computer models of the mouth. The models represent all of the aspects of anatomy—the shape of the teeth, the gums, the palate, the cheek, and the throat—and how it all moves when eating a given substance.
“We take our best available representation of the food structure, previous knowledge of how the structure relates to the mechanics of the food, how sticky is it, how strong is it, if you crush it, how many pieces does it break into it,” said Harrison.
The Tsunami Inside Our Mouths
A lot happens inside of our mouths between the first bite and the final swallow. The tongue may gently nudge the morsel towards the central incisors—whether to the left or on the right is a matter of unconscious preference—to break food down to even smaller pieces. The pieces may linger there, or get shunted to the back molars, or the tongue may shift them wholly to the other side. Alternatively, pieces may rest chipmunk-style in the cheek sacs along both sides of the mouth while the molars get to work. Or, depending on the person and the food, the piece may linger on the tongue, where salivary acids let it soften a bit before chewing even begins.
Food sensory researchers from The Understanding & Insight Group, a consortium of scientists from the U.S. and New Zealand, break these chewing preferences into four categories. Chewers prefer foods that can be chewed for a long time, like gummy candy. Crunchers prefer foods that respond with a resounding crunch, like potato chips. Suckers prefer foods, like hard candy, that dissolve slowly over time. And smooshers, the laziest of all eaters, prefer soft creamy foods that spread across the mouth with minimal effort—like puddings.
Modeling this turbulent behavior isn’t easy—traditional imaging devices don’t work so well when the subject is moving—but it’s important. “Where we put food in our mouth will affect our perception of its texture,” says Harrison. The way our mouths interact with foods affects how enjoyable we find different formulations of ingredients. Adults, for example, enjoy a complex textural experience, which is why many chocolate bars come with nuts—the texture just adds a certain something.
Flavor Of The Week
Why does crunch change our flavor perception? Although we tend to use the words "taste" and "flavor" interchangeably, taste is related to our chemical senses—the sweet, sour and bitter notes that we register from chemical sensors on the tongue.
“Flavor,” said Michael Barnett-Cowan, an assistant professor of neuroscience at the University of Waterloo, “is the entire experience of the taste, the smell, and the textural properties. When you play with texture, you're playing with flavor.”
Barnett-Cowan’s work focuses on how the brain takes discrete sensory inputs like taste, touch, and smell and cobbles them together into a single, holistic impression. Flavor is why a dash of vanilla extract seems so delicious in a moist cupcake or in creamy scoop of vanilla ice cream. Taste is why, as many have learned in a fit of childish curiosity, drinking vanilla extract is an exercise in repugnance—the extract is little more than vanilla bean soaked in cheap vodka.
“One interesting experiment that you can do in terms of flavor,” said Harrison, “if you have chewing gum like spearmint or something like that, chew it for ten minutes, and notice how the flavor disappears.”
Even though the menthol—the taste—is still present, the dwindling sugar content robs the gum of its flavor.
“If you put sugar onto the chewing gum you'll start to taste the menthol again,” Harrison said.
But while we tend to think of flavor exclusively in terms of taste, texture matters too. Gummy bears, for instance, are basically just a combination of sugar and thickening agents.
“If you were to liquefy it, it becomes so sour and so sweet that people couldn’t bear it,” said Harold Bult a Senior Sensory Scientist with the Netherlands-based company NIZO. Bult has found that the thicker a food is, the less we taste it.
But while texture may be relatively new to food scientists, most agree that chefs have been tackling the issue—albeit from a different perspective—since time immemorial.
“The building blocks of the eating experience are flavor and texture,” said Tesi Wei Lim, who runs the Somerville, Massachusetts based restaurant Journeyman with his wife Dinana Kudayarova. Journeyman is noted for playing with food texture.
“If everything on the plate is mushy,” said Kudayarova, “it begins to feel like baby food. And if everything on the plate is crispy, crispy, crispy, it begins to feel dry.”
And the reason why every sandwich seems to be covered with mayonnaise? Moist foods carry taste better, according to Wei Lim. Mayonnaise is a (supposedly) neutral form of moisture.
A Crunch Heard 'Round The World
Attention to texture may also vary from culture to culture.
“My family speaks a dialect of Chinese for which there are a huge number of words for texture,” noted Wei Lim. “There’s a word for the texture of thoroughly cooked squid, and a word for a squid when it’s lightly stir-fried and still bouncy.” QQ in some Chinese dialects describes the texture of food that when you first bite into pushes back for a moment before relaxing. It's a word that describes the texture when you bite into the balls at the bottom of a boba or bubble tea, or of Udon noodles. It's hard to think of an American food that has it.
And even though Americans tend to rank taste as more important than texture, there is one exception: desserts.
"When we talk about desserts, we talk about their feel in the mouth, not their appearance, smell, taste, or sound,” writes Dan Jurafsky in his book "The Language of Food."
Susan Strauss, a linguist at Penn State University, found that when Americans talk about dessert we lean toward words like moist, dense, creamy, sticky, gooey, oozing, and dripping—textural words.
“That makes sense," said Kudayarova. "You know how a dessert tastes. It tastes sweet. Texture is especially important with dessert, because the flavor range is narrower than the flavor range of savory foods.”
But the rest of our food remains pretty flat.
“If you look at western cooking, there’s very little textural manipulation,” said Wei Lim, noting that potatoes—which we fry, roast, hash, mash, and boil—represent the most elaborate textural variations in Western food. “Basically, a vegetable is a vegetable. You can overcook it or undercook it, but they’re not trying to do a lot with the texture of peas.”
In contrast, Chinese dishes such as sea cucumber, various types of fungi, and even the controversial shark fin soup all have mild to minimal flavors that are determined by what they’re cooked in. Traditionally, they’re braised for a long time in richly-flavored stocks, rendering them textural vehicles for the flavor of the broth
Not that the stock itself isn't a delicious textural enigma.
In the 1950s, Dr. Emily Wick—who would eventually go on to become the first fully tenured professor at MIT—was trying to figure out how to get the beef broth in Campbell’s soup to match the taste and mouthfeel of the homemade variety. In research notes at the time, Wick wrote, “You know beef broth feels more viscous in your mouth than just a glass of water. But if you measure the viscosity it’s no more viscous than a glass of water.”
Wick never did solve that riddle. Identifying the requisite compounds was impossible with the technology of the time. Here’s to hoping that food scientists of the current era have better luck.