Tasty: The Art and Science of What We Eat

Tasty: The Art and Science of What We Eat

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by John McQuaid
     
 

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“A fascinating blend of culinary history and the science of taste” (Publishers Weekly, starred review), from the first bite taken by our ancestors to ongoing scientific advances in taste and today’s “foodie” revolution.

Can’t resist the creamy smoothness of butter? Blame Darwinian natural selection. Crave the immediate

Overview

“A fascinating blend of culinary history and the science of taste” (Publishers Weekly, starred review), from the first bite taken by our ancestors to ongoing scientific advances in taste and today’s “foodie” revolution.

Can’t resist the creamy smoothness of butter? Blame Darwinian natural selection. Crave the immediate zing of sweets? They bathe your brain in a seductive high. Enjoy the savory flavors of grilled meat? So did your ancestor Homo erectus. Coffee? You had to overcome your hardwired aversion to its hint of bitterness and learn to like it. Taste is a whole-body experience, and breakthroughs in genetics and microbiology are casting light not only on the experience of french fries and foie gras, but on the mysterious interplay of body, brain, and mind.

Reporting from kitchens, supermarkets, farms, restaurants, huge food corporations, and science labs, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John McQuaid tells the story of the still-emerging concept of flavor and how our sense of taste will evolve in the coming decades. Tasty explains why children have bizarre and stubborn tastes, how the invention of cooking changed our brains and physiology, why artificial sweeteners never taste quite right, why name brands really do taste better, how a 100,000-year-old walkabout by early humans is responsible for George H.W. Bush’s broccoli-hatred, why “supertasters” like salt, and why “nontasters” are more likely to be alcoholics.

“A fascinating story with a beginning some half a billion years ago…McQuaid’s tale is about science, but also about culture, history and, one senses, our future” (Scientific American). Tasty offers a delicious smorgasbord of where taste originated and where it’s going—and why it changes by the day.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 11/10/2014
In this fascinating blend of culinary history and the science of taste, freelance writer McQuaid observes that “everyone lives in his own flavor world,” and that taste is the most subjective of the senses. He smoothly and skillfully explains the layout of the neocortex and how flavor is perceived by the brain. He discusses the tongue and how its varied zones were once thought to correlate to sweet, salty, sour and bitter, imparting serious science with wildly rich prose. “Flavor is only the capstone of a vast, hidden system” that starts in the mouth with a “burst of deliciousness” and leads to “an infinite mesh of sensors furiously sending and receiving messages as the whole body marinates in the chemical flux of the world.” Readers will savor his explanations of the science behind umami, the savory taste identified in 2007, and the description of sweetness as “a delicious and powerful motivator” given sugar’s effect on the brain. McQuaid’s lucid explanations of neuroscientific research on dopamine lay the groundwork for a keen analysis of industrial food production and flavor manipulation while addressing the health issues of the modern diet. When he concludes that “the mystery at the heart of flavor has never been truly cracked,” he sets the stage for an eagerly anticipated second helping. (Jan.)
Library Journal
01/01/2015
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist McQuaid (Path of Destruction) offers up with gusto this fascinating and meticulously researched consideration of flavor and the sense of taste. His narrative draws from chemistry, psychology, genetics, evolutionary biology, geopolitics, human exploration, cultural history, and the art and science of food preparation—an array of disciplines appropriate to the surprising complexity of taste. This multidisciplinary approach enlivens and renders delightful—like a sample of some surprisingly delicious food—stories of the dangerous rise of refined sugar, the wonders of fermentation, the contrary human fascination with chili heat, the biology of bitterness, and the manifestation of disgust. McQuaid's narrative doesn't conclude so much as stop, fairly abruptly, at the end of a chapter on cutting-edge culinary science; but perhaps appropriately so as he notes that flavor continues to pose many mysteries to science. VERDICT This work is an appetizing and satisfying chronicle of what we know of taste, so far. An excellent (and relatively agenda-neutral) choice for those who enjoy Michael Pollan and Gary Paul Nabhan, it is recommended for professional and amateur culinarians, foodies, and all curious reader/eaters, as well as researchers and students across interested disciplines. [See Prepub Alert, 7/14/14.]—Janet Ingraham Dwyer, State Lib. of Ohio, Columbus
Kirkus Reviews
2014-10-22
"Pleasure is never very far from aversion; this is a feature of our anatomy and behavior. In the brain, the two closely overlap." So writes Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist McQuaid (Path of Destruction: The Devastation of New Orleans and the Coming Age of Superstorms, 2006, etc.) in this provocative investigatory foray into the nature of taste.The author begins with a debunking of the still-practiced basic geography of the tongue that identifies—spuriously—zones for the five basic tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami. As he notes, every taste bud has five receptors waiting to be tickled and "detect molecules of one of the basic tastes." Though eating is as important as reproducing, it has been significantly less studied in the scientific community, from isolating taste receptors to finding the genes in the genome that play critical roles. "Like other senses," writes the author, "[flavor is] programmed by genes; unlike them, it is also protean, molded by experience and social cues, changing over the course of a lifetime. This plasticity is wild and unpredictable." McQuaid examines flavor chemistry and perception, and he notes that our fields of taste are oddly individual, both within and without our communities—though availability obviously plays a role in diet. The author is especially interesting when noting certain oddments and curios: the berry that turns the tastes around in our mouth; the sugar trap; the creepy, brave new world of the bland milkshakelike drink that does it all, "Soylent" (created through research into "the human body's nutritional needs" to create "the perfect food, building it from first principles"); the advent of cooking; and the arrival of alcohol. McQuaid is an enthusiastic writer undisturbed by dead ends, and he provides an entertaining exploration of "the mystery at the heart of flavor," which "has never truly been cracked."
From the Publisher
"McQuaid is an enthusiastic writer undisturbed by dead ends, and he provides an entertaining exploration of 'the mystery at the heart of flavor,' which 'has never truly been cracked.'" —Kirkus
Booklist
“[A] thoroughly investigated work. . .McQuaid unpacks with appealing gusto the reasons for the wide variety of human reactions to taste...Tasty offers a full meal.”
David Perlmutter
"McQuaid explores how deliberate manipulation of flavor influences virtually every aspect of the human experience, from pleasure to pain, from joy to sorrow. This is an awe inspiring landmark book, one that clearly deserves several readings."
Melanie Warner
“A delightful and eye-opening romp through the evolutionary story of one of the least understood drivers of human behavior. Taste has defined our migration across continents and propelled us to set sail for foreign lands. It even determines whether we can digest milk or are more likely to become alcoholics. John McQuaid packs this ripe and succulent account with one revealing detail after another, leaving readers with a greater understanding of what it means to be human.”
Paul Jaminet
“Our tastes evolved to help us: delicious food nourishes us and makes us healthy. John McQuaid, in teaching us about taste, engagingly shows how our food can be more pleasing and our lives more healthful. The only thing better than a delicious meal, is a delicious meal eaten after reading Tasty!”
Scientific American
“A fascinating story with a beginning some half a billion years ago…McQuaid’s tale is about science, but also about culture, history and, one senses, our future.”
Boston Globe
"An excellent and absorbing investigation into the origin and nature of taste..[McQuaid] distills and presents in lively and entertaining prose a dizzying amount of scientific and cultural research throughout.”
Business Week
“An exploration of taste in all its complexity and contradiction…McQuaid is a deft writer with a talent for vivid metaphors.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781451685008
Publisher:
Scribner
Publication date:
01/13/2015
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
751,980
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author

John McQuaid is the author of Tasty: The Art and Science of What We Eat and his journalism has appeared in Smithsonian magazine, The Washington Post, Wired, Forbes.com, and Eating Well magazine. His science and environment reporting for The Times-Picayune anticipated Hurricane Katrina, explored the global fisheries crisis and the problems of invasive species. His work has won a Pulitzer Prize, as well as awards from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Institute for Biological Sciences, and the International Association of Culinary Professionals. McQuaid is a graduate of Yale. He lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, with his wife and two children.

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Tasty: The Art and Science of What We Eat 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
DCinDC More than 1 year ago
A engaging look at what may be our most under appreciated sense. John McQuaid's accessible writing makes the topic as enjoyable as (insert your favorite food). A great read for foodies or anyone who likes to eat. Well worth reading, I highly recommend this book.