A spry book of cutting-edge food science.
We taste sweet at the front of the tongue and bitter at the back, right? Wrong. Thanks to what Spence (co-author: The Perfect Meal: The Multisensory Science of Food and Dining, 2014) characterizes as “the general neglect of the ‘lower’ senses by research scientists,” we’re brought up on all kinds of misinformation about food and the way our bodies respond to it. Enter “gastrophysics,” a new blend of various sciences with cultural and psychological elements of food preparation and presentation, which, in Spence’s hands, yields all sorts of aha moments—e.g., if they’re playing fast music in the restaurant you enter, it means they’re trying to get you out of there quickly. Part of this book seems an extended advertisement for Oxford’s Crossmodal Research Laboratory, which Spence, an experimental psychologist, directs and which conducts probes and disquisitions in what he calls “neurogastronomy.” But part is a disinterested—and highly interesting—examination of the widely diverse food domains we inhabit, the recognition of which should help chefs put aside the notion that anyone who tinkers with their spicing by adding salt at the table is an evil creature. They’re not, and seasoning a dish differently from how the chef prepared it is not an insult but, instead, “a form of customization that recognizes the very different taste worlds in which we all live.” Spence has a light touch and a knack for framing research questions in provocative headings: “What’s the link,” he asks, “between the humble tomato and aircraft noise?” It’s a question worth pondering should you have the dubious pleasure of being served an in-flight meal, just as you’ll learn here why the barista at Starbucks puts your name on the cup (hint: it’s not really a memory aid for said barista).
A sharp, engaging education for food consumers and a font of ideas for restaurateurs and chefs as well.