Posts

How We Taste

How We Taste

Featuring Dr. Dana Small, Chef Wylie Dufresne, & Peter Meehan

May 14, 2014 

As part of our 2014 public lecture series, we explored the concept of taste from the perspectives of a scientist, a chef, and a food writer. Dr. Dana Small described how our brains respond to flavors. Chef Wylie Dufresne of Wd~50 presented his creative approach to generating surprising food flavors and textures.  Peter Meehan shared his experiences with food and taste and how they have shaped his writing, both as a cookbook author and former writer for The New York Times.

Check out the highlights or watch the full lecture below

Wylie Dufresne on Science in the Kitchen and It’s Impact on WD~50

“Cooking is a lot of things and one of the things we discovered was that cooking is a science. There’s certainly some biology. There’s certainly some physics. There’s an awful lot of chemistry at play all the time when you’re cooking… One of the main reasons I opened up WD~50 … was to create a space where I could continue my culinary education, where my staff could continue their culinary education, and where you as a diner, if you so choose, could continue your culinary education.”

Wylie Dufresne on his Aerated Foie Gras 

“How could we, using some very modern technology, walk the idea of a mousse down the road? … Part of the problem with a mousse is that it usually has a lot of stuff in it besides the main ingredient… So what we wanted to do was to figure out if we could create a mousse of foie gras, or if we could aerate foie gras without adding or taking too much away from the flavor.”

Peter Meehan on Developing Taste and Eating Everything

“The first step in developing the taste to become a restaurant critic: Eat … I tried to just each everything… the more I ate the more I understood about food and the more I could draw connections about one thing and another… You start to make these mental points on a map of where flavors are in relation to each other.”

Dr. Dana Small Defines Taste

“There’s molecules and ions in the foods that we eat and they bind to cells on these elongated taste receptors [tastebuds]. When enough binds, the cells get excited. They send a signal to the brain that the brain then interprets as a taste … Taste evolved to detect the presence of nutrients and toxics … You’re born knowing that you like sweet and dislike bitter … because you don’t want to have to learn that sweet is energy and bitter is toxin.”

Dr. Dana Small Defines Flavor and How It’s Different from Taste

“Flavor, on the other hand, preferences and liking for flavors is entirely learned. This has the advantage of allowing us to learn to like available energy sources and learn to avoid particular food items … The flavor allows us to identify a particular item that was associated with a particular consequence that we need to remember… whereas the taste provides just a signal about whether an energy source as in the case of sweet is present.”

Watch the Entire Lecture

Baking Science & Tasting Colors

Science of Baking Infographic

The folks over at Shari’s Berries were kind enough to send us a detailed infographic on baking science. Meanwhile, there are some folks  who can actually taste colors.
Read more

10 Things About Sushi

At our 2014 Science of Sushi event, Dr. Ole Mouritsen and Chef Morihiro Onodera illuminated the science underlying some of our favorite components of sushi. In case you still haven’t had your fill, here are 10 scientific facts related to sushi: Read more

The Science of Sushi

The Science of Sushi
Featuring Dr. Ole Mouritsen and Morihiro Onodera
April 23, 2014

To kick off our 2014 public lecture series, Dr. Ole Mouritsen joined Chef Morihiro Onodera to satisfy our craving for sushi-related science. The duo explained everything from sushi’s early history to the starchy science of sushi rice. Watch the entire lecture or check out some of the shorter highlights below.

Ole Mouritsen on the history of sushi

“The history of sushi is really the history of preservation of food. . . . Throughout Asia, in particular in China and later in Japan, people discovered that you can ferment fish – that is, you can preserve fish – by taking fresh fish and putting it in layers of cooked rice. . . . After some time the fish changes texture, it changes taste, it changes odor, but it’s still edible and it’s nutritious. And maybe after half a year you could then pull out the fish and eat the fish. That is the original sushi.”

Ole Mouritsen on the science of rice

“If you look inside the rice, you have little [starch] granules that are only three to eight microns, or three t0 eight thousandths of a millimeter, big. . . . When you cook the rice, you add some water and the water is absorbed by the rice and [the granules] swell. And the real secret behind the sushi rice is that when they swell, these little grains are not supposed to break.”

Morihiro Onodera on examining the quality of sushi rice

“First what I do is I soak uncooked rice in water. . . . Sometime after 20 minutes it will start to break. . . . I take a sample to check to see if there are any cracks. . . . With good rice, which has less cracks or breaks, you’re able to feel the texture of each of the grains in your mouth, whereas with the lower quality rice you’re just going to get the stickiness [from the starch].”

Cooking Wines & Cultured Meats

21wine190.1

One ambitious cook aims to settle if wine quality affects wine dishes, while an equally ambitious researcher attempts to create a lab-grown hamburger.
Read more

Lena Kwak

A graduate of Rhode Island’s Johnson & Wales Culinary Institute, Cup4Cup President and Co-Founder Lena Kwak began her culinary career as a private chef and caterer. While serving as Research & Development Chef for The French Laundry, Kwak was tasked with testing edible innovations. She excelled quickly and was assigned to devise a gluten-free version of Chef Thomas Keller’s famed Salmon Cornet. The result, which garnered a tearful response from a dinner guest with gluten intolerance, was the genesis of “Cup4Cup.” Since Cup4Cup’s release in 2011, Lena has been honored as one of Forbes’ “30 Under 30” in 2011 and garnered a Zagat “30 Under 30” award in 2012.

See Lena Kwak June 1, 2014 at “Harnessing Creativity (and the Science of Pie)”

Lena-Kwak_C4C

What hooked you on cooking?
It was my mother, who is the quintessential Asian tiger mom. When it came to food, this is how she expressed her love for her family through her cooking. Around meals, I would see how her tough as nails exterior would melt as she watched her family eat the dishes she poured her love into. I would say that is how I learned what I loved about cooking even to this day—it is a way to express care and love and a way to strengthen human connections.
The coolest example of science in your food?
As a chef, I believe the coolest part about cooking is to recognize the series of chemical reactions that occur when you execute a certain recipe. When you begin to understand the technicality behind certain reactions, you are able to hone in on how to make improvements, or for that matter, also innovate a dish based on the science.
The food you find most fascinating?
Funny enough, it’s wheat flour as it’s something I’ve researched heavily over the years. I’ve grown an appreciation for how complex the ingredient is for being made up of a single composition. It provides structure, flavor, coloring, and a wide range of different textures. I’d say it’s the admiration for the ingredient that pushes me to continue the product development of gluten free products, as it would be truly a shame to not be able to experience those wonderful qualities for someone who couldn’t have gluten.
What scientific concept—food related or otherwisedo you find most fascinating?
That’s a tough question as I have always been fascinated with innovation in medical science, but as it related to my profession, I am also thoroughly interested in human science. For consumer product goods companies, such as Cup4Cup, there is a heavy consideration of human eating behaviors. The success of any product is not just based on a perception of a single individual, but the perception of millions of people. so, it is important to understand the average consumer perception within different target categories. What people choose to buy provides us with key insight into what influences human perception.
Your best example of a food that is better because of science?
Chocolate has come a long way from the first records of consumption by the Aztecs and Mayans. Over centuries, it has only been improved by the further understanding of the cacao bean itself. Through science, we’ve been able to figure out processes to improve texture, taste, and performance of chocolate. For example, the improvements that are made through tempering or conching.
How do you think science will impact your world of food in the next 5 years?
Finding solutions to keep up with the supply and demand as populations of the world increase every year and life span of individuals grows longer. It will be interesting and necessary to see what solutions there are to be able to sustain the growing public. To that same point, finding ways to improve the yield of food sources while being sustainable and not destructive to the environment.
One kitchen tool you could not live without?
A spoon.
Five things most likely to be found in your fridge?
Eggs, almond milk, at least one type of hearty greens, hummus, and chocolate covered pretzels (yes, cold).
Your all-time favorite ingredient?
Hands down my favorite ingredient is eggs.
Favorite cookbook?
For favorite cookbook (similar to picking your favorite child) I’d say as of this moment it’d have to be Jerusalem.
Your standard breakfast?
Eggs, sunny side up or a six minute boil, plus starch, vegetable, or grain, plus sautéed greens. (What can I say, I wake up hungry…)

5 Things About Apples

Our third and final lecture, Harnessing Creativity (and the Science of Pie), is coming up fast! At the event, students from the Science & Food undergraduate course will be serving up science and apple pies. To get ready, here are 5 fun facts related to apples:

Apples3


Apples5


Apples1


Apples2


Apples4


Liz Roth-JohnsonAbout the author: Liz Roth-Johnson is a Ph.D. candidate in Molecular Biology at UCLA. If she’s not in the lab, you can usually find her experimenting in the kitchen.

Read more by Liz Roth-Johnson


Morihiro Onodera

Morihiro-Onodera-400

Chef Morihiro Onodera trained as a sushi chef in Tokyo, and at seminal Los Angeles restaurants including Katsu, R-23, Matsuhisa, and Takao as well as Hatsuhana in NY. By the time he opened his first restaurant, Mori Sushi in Los Angeles, he was preparing many of the same handmade ingredients, harvesting his own locally grown rice and creating handmade pottery to be used in the restaurant. After selling Mori Sushi in 2011, Mori began creating handmade pottery for several Michelin Guide restaurants in Los Angeles and established a partnership with rice farmer, Ichiro Tamaki. Tamaki farms in Uruguay will harvest its first crop in May of 2013 and will be available for distribution world-wide.

See Morihiro Onodera April 23, 2014 at “The Science of Sushi”

What hooked you on cooking?
The desire to want to eat and taste delicious food.
The coolest example of science in your food?
My basic approach to cooking is to think about the natural ingredients and the climate (seasons) of its origin, ingredients that are kind to the body and to earth—a very simple-minded attempt with natural science at its core.
The food you find most fascinating?
I’m always seeking the true flavor of a given ingredient—that’s what fascinates me.
What scientific concept–food related or otherwise–do you find most fascinating?
Natural science.
Your best example of a food that is better because of science?
Konbu and natural salt.
How do you think science will impact your world of food in the next 5 years?
It will be interesting to see how the true flavors of ingredients change over time—how natural science will affect that change. Simultaneously, I will continue my studies in discovering and knowing what’s kind for the human body and our earth.
One kitchen tool you could not live without?
Rice cooker, including donabe (Japanese clay pot).
Five things most likely to be found in your fridge?
Fresh local vegetables, miso, umeboshi (pickled plum), homemade yuzu kosho (pepper), and leftover cooked brown rice. Outside of the fridge: dry goods, salted bran (used for pickling), rice, oil (sesame and olive), salt, konbu.
Your all-time favorite ingredient?
Rice.
Favorite cookbook?
Book series by Rosanjin (Kitaoji Rosanjin, Japanese artist and epicure).
Your standard breakfast?
Black tea (straight). Seasonal, local fruits. Bread or hot rice cereal. Sometimes eggs (steamed) cooked with sautéed spinach.

Ole G. Mouritsen

ole-mouritsen

Ole G. Mouritsen is a professor of molecular biophysics at the University of Southern Denmark. His research concentrates on basic science and its practical applications to biotechnology, biomedicine, gastrophysics, and gastronomy. He is an elected member of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, The Danish Academy of Technical Sciences, and the Danish Gastronomical Academy. His books include Life: As a Matter of FatSushi: Food for the Eye, the Body, and the SoulSeaweeds: Edible, Available, and Sustainable and Umami. Unlocking the Secrets of the Fifth Taste.

 

See Ole G. Mouritsen April 23, 2014 at “The Science of Sushi”

What hooked you on science? On food?
Science: Curiosity, in particular in the history of natural sciences (thermodynamics, statistical physics). Food: A combination of a continuously growing interest in cooking, a liking to eat good and challenging food (in particular Japanese food), a challenge to apply science principles to food and cooking, as well a deep interest in using food and taste as a vehicle for science communication.
The coolest example of science in your food?
Access to foodstuff from the ocean as a prime source for unsaturated essential fatty acids together with the invention of cooking for producing soft food as key driving forces for human evolution. Next to that, dairy products have a wonderful science content.
The food you find most fascinating?
Almost all traditional Japanese food, because of the combination of its cultural history, deliciousness, aesthetic looks, freshness, and bounty of good stuff from the ocean.
What scientific concept–food related or otherwise–do you find most fascinating?
Self-assembly and interface-active compounds.
Are there any analogies you like to use to explain difficult or counter-intuitive  food science concepts?
I have found that a pacman analogy is a great way of making people understand the secrets of the synergy in the umami taste sensation. Not really counter-intuitive, but somewhat surprising and good to understand better what you already know.
How does your scientific knowledge or training impact the way you cook? Do you conduct science experiments in the kitchen?
I am an intuitive cook in my own kitchen and I have no patience for recipes, and hence never use cookbooks. Sometimes I ask science questions, but in most cases cooking to me is more like performing music (not that I know since I am not a musician). Also, the kitchen for me is a place for mental repair and relaxation, the foreplay being shopping at food markets.
One kitchen tool you could not live without?
My Japanese all-purpose kitchen knife.
Five things most likely to be found in your fridge?
Skyr (or yoghurt), a selection of tsukemono, marinated herring, miso, yuzu juice, and dried/smoked/aged sausages.
Your all-time favorite ingredient?
Avocado.
Favorite cookbook?
I have no favorite cookbook (don’t care much for cookbooks). My favorite food-related book is no doubt McGee’s On Food and Cooking.
Your standard breakfast?
At home, always skyr (or yoghurt), home-mixed basis muesli with no dried fruit but always with roasted buckwheat, topped with a sip of fresh orange juice and possibly some fresh blueberries, if in season. To drink, fresh orange juice with as much pulp I can get and black tea. When traveling, I am an omnivore and prefer to eat like the locals.

Science & Food 2014 Undergraduate Course

2014 Course Lecturers

This week marks the beginning of UCLA’s Spring Quarter, which can only mean one thing… It’s time for the Science & Food undergraduate course! We have a stellar lineup of chefs and farmers slated for our third annual offering of Science & Food: The Physical and Molecular Origins of What We Eat. Although the course is only open to current UCLA students, we will be posting highlights from the course right here on the blog. Until then, check out this year’s course speakers and brush up on some of the great science we’ve learned in past courses.

And don’t forget: the Science & Food 2014 Public Lecture Series is fast approaching, so be sure to get your tickets before they sell out. Hope to see you all there!


2014 Science & Food Course Lecturers

The Molecules of Food
Eve Lahijani, UCLA School of Public Health

Why Carrots Taste Sweeter in the Winter
Ashleigh Parsons, alma
Ari Taymor, alma
Brian D. Maynard, alma
Courtney Guerra, Courtney Guerra Farms

Molecules from Soil to Plants
Ernest Miller, Master Food Preservers of Los Angeles County

Self-Assembly: From Proteins and Lipids to Cheese
Ole Mouritsen, University of Southern Denmark

Apple Pie 101
Daryl Ansel, UCLA Dining Services

Why Lettuce is Crispy
Andrea Crawford, Kenter Canyon Farms

Meat Texture and Elasticity
Ari Rosenson, CUT

Viscosity: From Physiology to Pie Filling
Nicole Rucker, Gjelina Take Away

Microbes in Food
Alex Brown, Gourmet Imports

The Physiology of Taste
Juliet Han, Espresso Republic


Highlights From Past Science & Food Courses

Why Are Root Vegetables Sweeter in Cold Weather? – Alex Weiser, Weiser Family Farms

Milk: From Breast to Cheese  Dan Drake, Drake Family Farms

The Molecules of Food and Nutrition  Dr. Dena Herman, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health

Viscosity in French Sauces  Josiah Citrin, Mélisse

It’s All About Sugar  Barbara Spencer, Windrose Farm

The Molecules of Food Jordan Kahn, Red Medicine