Part of the enjoyment of eating is indulging in the sensory experience of food. Whether we like a food depends on the texture, consistency, temperature (both physical and perceived, as in cool mints or hot peppers), smell, taste, and even its appearance. Flavor is primarily determined by our sense of taste and smell, and is often a main deciding factor in whether we like a food. Here are just a few links related to the chemistry of flavors.
- People may be shocked to learn that MSG, the infamous food additive that's supposedly responsible for "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome," is the essence of umami, the now trendy "savory" taste. The flavor-enhancing additive MSG, or monosodium glutamate, resulted from an attempt to mass produce the key chemical compound responsible for that delicious meaty flavor in foods. In case you're wondering how much glutamate might be found in an original Umami Burger from Adam Fleischman's chain of umami restaurants, the answer is almost 2.2 grams. [url]
- Why do people torture themselves by eating tongue-scorching chili peppers? Probably because the capsaicin in the peppers triggers the release of endorphins, which not only help to relieve the burning pain, but also give people a natural high. Check out this video about the chemistry of Sriracha sauce, which also includes an interesting bit on how the Scoville scale was established to measure how spicy a pepper is. [url]
- Here's a blast from the past: an article about the chemistry of flavor as it was understood in the 1960s. This was a time when the now widely used Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS) technique was heralded as a "major breakthrough in instrumental analysis in aroma chemistry." The article also includes photos of old school chemical analysis equipment, as well as ads from that era for chemicals and equipment, from Morton Purex Salt to stainless steel tanks. [url]
If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post