When you start reading The Taste of Tomorrow seven days from now (yes – that’s seven days!), you’ll come to an intriguing passage in Chapter 12, in which our protagonist visits a food research and development lab south of San Francisco.
We have journeyed to this lab, in an innocuous office complex near SFO, to gain insight into one of the food future’s burning questions. (A whole section of book is devoted to the question: What could be the Next Thai food – ie: breakthrough world cuisine – in the United States.) The purpose of our trip is clear: get ethnic food insights. Get some leads. (Which we do) Eat.
During this visit, there’s a collateral intrigue. Trying to glean insights from the guru of the firm, Mattson, we get a chance to observe some real-time food invention– a “protocept” of a new pickle. A potentially novel approach to the pickle. (Teaser: not your ordinary kosher dill or sweet-n-sour)
What was fascinating to observe was how the food developer nearly-instantly — within a handful of chews — assessed the pickle and offered specific suggestions for taste modification. What was also curious was the language used by the food inventor— this is the land of the food industry (xanthan gum and soy protein isolate and flash pasteurizer). It’s not typical kitchen speak. In brief, it became clear, observing that pickle protocept exchange, that it would have been fascinating to spend a week at this lab, Mattson, observing the process, learning food R&D speak, learning how research chefs and culinoligsts (that’s what they’re called) think.
I didn’t do that in the ToT. It’s a mere drive-by.
BUT BUT BUT… when you read the ToT and think “Damn.. I’d like to learn more about that place” – there’s good news:
Barb Stuckey, one of Mattson leading food gurus, who I had the pleasure of meeting, has written a fascinating new book called Taste What You’re Missing: The Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Food Tastes Good, which will introduce you to the mindset of the food inventors.
Specifically, Barb’s book explores the science of taste – why people love some foods, and don’t like others. It’s an analytical, technical look at taste for the lay reader – for instance, you’ll learn about the technical difference between orthonasal olfaction (nose-smelling taste) versus retronasal olfaction (mouth-smelling taste).
I just picked it up last night (loved the prologue) and am especially excited about trying a series of experiments that will help me discover my “taster type.” (I’ve always wondered why I have such an aversion to cultured dairy products) One exercise is designed to determine the number of taste buds on one’s tongue. (I’ll let you know as soon as the data is in., If you’re interested in learning about the science of taste, definitely check it out