The Science of Sustainability

Producer's Notes: The Science Of Taste

  • share this article
  • Facebook
  • Email

Who knew that 95 percent of what we think is taste is actually smell?

I love producing QUEST stories because there’s so much I learn in the process. Who knew that 95 percent of what we think is taste is actually smell? Or that flavor is really a complex combination of all the senses mixed with our feelings and perceptions?

One element of the story that especially resonates for me is the piece about smell memories. I’ve always found smell to be very evocative, and so I asked our experts about smell and memory and emotion. Hildegard Heymann, the UC Davis sensory scientist who we feature in the piece had wonderful things to say about smell memories and why they can be so powerful. Our favorite smells may not be pleasant in the typical sense, but they can have a true therapeutic effect.

For example, one of Dr. Heymann’s favorite smells is the odor of skunk. In her interview she described it this way: “For me, the smell of skunks makes me intensely happy. I know, intellectually, exactly what is happening, but even though I know that, emotionally it never ceases to work. My husband will literally drive around to try and find the smell of skunk when I’m depressed. He gets me in the car and takes me there. Because it immediately makes me happy. Why? I grew up in South Africa where going to the beach at Christmas time, which is in the middle of the summer, we had to cross the sand dunes. And they had these little plants that when you break them, smell like skunk. So to me, skunk means Christmas, happy, vacation—all those things. And even 35, 40, 50 years later, it still works that way. So we all have them. You just need to figure out what your aromatherapy odorants are, and then hopefully they’re purchasable. Skunks aren’t!”

Personally. I love the smell of Italian delicatessens. My father had a passion for salty Italian meats, cheeses and olives, and I have distinct childhood memories of deli cases full of colorful antipasti, burlap sacks full of dried beans, and shelves lined with bottles of wine. My odor memory is a wonderful blend of ripe gorgonzola, fat rounds of parmesan, salty prosciutto, briny olives. This mélange also probably contains hints of burlap, cardboard, oil and vinegar infused wood floor, wine cork, and who knows what else. It’s a pretty pungent aroma, but I find it enormously comforting, not unlike Hildegard Heymann’s skunk.
On a final, flavorful note I want to share a wonderful poem by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. I found it in a book of food poems called O Taste and See. Even if you’re don’t like tomatoes, I think you’ll enjoy this evocative, colorful, delicious poem.

Ode to The Tomato

The street filled up with tomatoes, noon, summer, the light splits in two tomato halves and the juice runs down the streets. In December the tomato breaks loose, invading kitchens, stealing into lunches, lounging on sideboards and in between glasses, butter dishes, blue salt-shakers. It has its own light, benign majesty. We must, unfortunately, murder it: the knife sinks into its living flesh, it’s a red viscera, a cool sun, deep, limitless, it fills the salads of Chile, marrying happily the bright onion, and to celebrate, we let oil, child and essence of the olive, pour down over its open hemispheres, pepper adds its fragrance, salt its magnetism: these are the weddings of the day, parsley raises its flags, potatoes boil vigorously, roasting meat bangs on the door with its aroma, it’s time! let’s eat! and on the table, on the waist of summer the tomato, astro of the earth, fertile, ever multiplying star, reveals to us its orbits, its canals, the distinguished plenitude and boneless, heartless, armorless abundance, brings to us the gift of its fiery color and the integrity of its freshness.


Watch The Science Of Taste tv story online.

38.305251 -122.290564

Related

Explore: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Category: Biology, Chemistry, Television

  • share this article
  • Facebook
  • Email
Sarah Kass

About the Author ()

Sarah Kass is a writer, director, and producer whose specialty is long-format documentaries, primarily for broadcast television. Among her credits are many one and two hour specials for the DCI networks and the History Channel. She was the Senior Writer on the 27-hour, award winning THC series Man Moment Machine, which combined biography, historical event, and technology. Sarah has written on diverse subjects: from Mardi Gras in New Orleans to Mark Twain's travels through the Holy Land; from combat veteran reunions to tales of women warriors. A recent independent film that she wrote on the restoration of Tibetan Buddhist Monasteries in the Himalayas has been featured in film festivals internationally. Sarah's shows have won Cine Golden Eagle Awards, Tele Awards, and have been nominated for national Emmys.
  • Pingback: QUEST: Science of Taste & City Egg, Country Egg | Bay Area Bites

  • Enriqueta Talan

    Hi,

    I recently saw and enjoyed the KQED Quest program about taste and I believe the parmesan ravioli preparation was with an ingredient whose spelling was incomprehensible to me. It sounded like gelon or jelon or helon which is a bacteria. The chef used "gelanga, galanga, golanga, jolanga, etc." What is the correct spelling, please? I like to know what I am eating and how it is spelled.

    Thanks,
    Harriet

  • http://www.kqed.org/quest Jenny Oh

    Dear Harriet,

    Thanks for your question. The chef used a thickener called "gellan gum"; you can learn more about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gellan_gum

    Best,

    Jenny