Flavour: A User’s Guide to Our Most Neglected Sense
by Bob Holmes
A favourite put-down of a former chef I know is to describe someone as having no taste buds. If she were to read this book, she’d realise genes are the reason we taste things differently, and that “supertasters” – those able to detect the bitter compound propylthiouracil – tend to be boring eaters because they prefer to avoid the intense sensations accompanying highly flavoured foods. Of course, readers wanting more from their meals could always use a nasal dilator strip (as worn by some athletes), which would improve airflow to the olfactory epithelium, thus heightening flavours. Jokes aside, this book, by New Scientist correspondent Bob Holmes, will make readers reassess food and what draws or repels them. Interesting is how sound, language and touch affect flavour; what’s behind chilli burn; and why soft drinks lose their “bite” at high altitudes. For those perpetually disappointed by tomatoes and strawberries, Holmes examines the work being done to make them tastier. Also exciting is research into MSG: there’s no real reason to avoid it, Holmes writes, especially “when a dish needs a boost of pure umami”.