Edit (6:15pm PST): Looks like that about wraps things up folks. Thanks so much for everyone's contributions and questions today! Happy to answer questions in the future, feel free to PM me or continue to add questions to the thread.

Edit (3:15pm PST): Thanks for the Silver and Helpful, kind Redditors!

Edit (2:30pm PST): Okay, I'm back! Thanks for waiting, all!

Hi Reddit! I am Bryan Quoc Le, Ph.D. and I'm a food scientist who authored the book 150 Food Science Questions Answered.

During graduate school, I helped manage the award-winning blog, Science Meets Food, as the VP of Digital and Social Media for the Institute of Food Technologists Student Association.

You can read my previous IAmA back in 2020 here:

2020 IAmA - Bryan Quoc Le, Ph.D.

Ever since I started on this career path, I have been absolutely fascinated by the science behind taste and flavor. For years, I've been collecting research articles about all things delicious and I wanted to share these amazing scientific tidbits with the world.

This past year, I tried to find a literary agent who could connect me to a publisher for my second book on this topic. After many, many rejections, I took a short break from my search to focus on my consulting.

Coincidentally, I got in touch with the founders of The Science Says platform last month, who have given me the perfect home for all my thoughts and ideas about the future of flavor science and technology.

So now I'll have a chance to deep-dive into my obsession with taste and flavor on The Science Says.

Join me here!

Link: Science Says

Why does the science of taste and flavor matter?

The world of food touches so many important domains in life, whether it's economic, social, religious, artistic, medical, scientific, or political.

Food is intricately tied to the past, present, and future of human civilization as well as our survival on this planet. From the ancient origins of fire and cooking to our post-industrial age of cellular agriculture and synthetic biology, food continues to evolve alongside us.

Regardless, in surveys about what drives people to eat, taste consistently leads the way.

Taste and flavor remain at the heart of our challenges with food. My hope is that with more people understanding the scientific realities that drive taste and flavor, we can all work together to design, refine, and enjoy new foods for a more sustainable future.

Verification: https://www.instagram.com/p/CTVZK8-BMMh/?utm_medium=copy_link

Ask me anything!

Currently Playing - Hello - Adele

Comments: 271 • Responses: 100  • Date: 

MarcWiz1669 karma

Why does the title say you are a vagabond?

UpSaltOS129 karma

I once walked 2,000 miles from California to Louisiana for 6 months. It's part of the reason why I went into food science (I really had a hard time eating the food I got along the road), and how I ended up meeting my wife. I kind of still think of myself as a wanderer - I feel more at home in the woods and mountains than in cities.

-stayHard-42 karma

Last year I travelled 1000+ in two weeks. It's a long sad story but we got a lot in common. Have a great life ahead fellow traveler.

UpSaltOS33 karma

Wow! Would love to hear that story one day - it's crazy the things that drive us to do such things. You have a great life yourself, traveler.

voxicity62 karma

Why do spicy hurt mouth but make brain feel good?

UpSaltOS86 karma

The work by Paul Rozin from University of Pennsylvania is particularly interesting on this topic:

npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/01/13/376963730/how-do-we-grow-to-like-the-foods-we-once-hated

Basically, it's like why we love rollercoasters or scary movies - because the human brain is super complex and can connect pain with pleasure with enough habituation. He calls it hedonic reversal. It's wild.

Kunglee342 karma

If you could add anything to an everyday food nutrition label, what would it be and why?

UpSaltOS108 karma

I'm really happy they added "Added sugar" to the label, so that's actually been a boon for me personally. I know this one might be impractical, but it'd be amazing if they could add the amino acid composition, or at least the difference between protein and free amino acids. They have different properties, so it'd be helpful because I'm 100% certain when it says 3 g of protein per serving on my soy sauce bottle, it's not intact proteins.

303017 karma

How do you feel about limitations or mandates on sodium? A lot of products have insane amounts of it.

UpSaltOS46 karma

Agreed, but there's really not a good solution to this because sodium salts are very soluble. Anything from actual salt (sodium chloride), to sodium glutamate, to sodium benzoate. Potassium has too much of a metallic flavor that impacts the taste perception of foods. I personally eat a lot of salt despite the fact that my family has a history of cardiovascular disease, and I'll probably bite the bullet for it. Salt is very good at what it does, which is reduce bitterness in foods.

But I agree, an upper limit on salt would be good to have. I think we need to solve the technology behind salt reduction, and one solution has been to apply umami taste to these issues, which reduces the amount of salt needed to experience the perception of saltiness. It's still a challenge. Unfortunately, if a food isn't tasty people won't eat it.

Mark72411 karma

Future generations with their bland fries will curse us for not eating more delicious salt until we evolve 😂

UpSaltOS17 karma

It's going to be a while before we have enough evolution stones though.

miss_tee1439 karma

Hello! As a recent food science graduate, it's so cool to see something food science related on here! When I took my sensory evaluation class, I learned so much. We tried the miracle berry pill and then bit into a lemon. It was like I was eating sweet candy. My mind was blown! What is your favorite thing about being a food scientist?

UpSaltOS35 karma

I like being able to eat my client's free food products. I also hate eating my client's free food products. I'm sure you can understand what I mean :)

No but seriously, what I love is that I can help people trying to make a living in this business. The food industry is tough, and what I discovered as a consultant is that most small food businesses can't afford a full-time food scientist. So there's actually a lot of opportunity to help people on a contract basis.

And trust me, they need a lot of help. What we take for granted as food scientists, most people actually don't know or understand, especially if they're non-technical people focused on business or marketing. Translating the science to these people is crucial for getting food products out the door.

Drewbus5 karma

How do you become a food scientist?

UpSaltOS3 karma

If you have a science degree and work in the food industry, that works pretty easily. But formally, there are about 50 universities in the US and a good number in Europe and Asia with food science degree programs, from bachelors to PhD level. There are also certifications available such as the Certified Food Scientist program through the Institute of Food Technologists for those with or without a food science degree. Allied fields include microbiology, chemistry, biochemistry, general biology, and chemical engineering.

Passe_Myse29 karma

How come beer taste bitter, not good at all the first time. Then after a while beer tastes great! Is it because of alcohol and it's effect on me?

UpSaltOS58 karma

Part of the reason is that our bitter receptors get overloaded with stimuli, so the bitterness actually loses its strength. What's leftover is the remaining flavors that shine through. Also, yes, getting drunk is a great way for your brain to get excited about beer.

Passe_Myse9 karma

Quick follow up question: are my bitterness receptors permanently overloaded now? Not that I drink that much or that often.

UpSaltOS19 karma

Not at all. Bitterness overload dies down as soon as the molecules have washed away with the saliva and your brain resets a bit.

Passe_Myse9 karma

Thanks. Now my significant other will let me continue to drink beer. Have a great AMA!

UpSaltOS9 karma

You're welcome! Thanks for the questions! Enjoy the beer :)

Evilution60228 karma

I lost my taste to covid, I didn't like this so I began raw dogging seasonings and Sriracha to Jumpstart my tastebuds. My taste returned faster than the rest of the household. How dumb am I? And how many ways was my wife correct in making fun of me? Thanks.

UpSaltOS28 karma

I believe there's definitely slower ways to re-introduce flavors into your life, but man sounds like you either go big or go home. Way to fight the power! Here's a less severe of having gone about that:

https://abscent.org/learn-us/smell-training

maxoakland4 karma

Are there any theories about how people are losing their taste due to covid? And how these solutions help bring it back?

UpSaltOS7 karma

Like /u/dvocado99 said below, it appears the virus may invade the central nervous system and gets transported to the olfactory system where it damaged the cells there.

Link: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jnc.15197

The effect appears to be reversible, and training the nose buds helps rebuild that connection.

lynxerious27 karma

How does milk cure a spicy 🔥 tongue? Are there better alternatives than milk?

UpSaltOS49 karma

The combination of lactose and milk fat help reduce the level of capsaicin on the tongue, and its perception. Interestingly enough, I've read some research that suggests sugar actually helps reduce the intensity of spiciness, so anything with sugar and fat is the perfect go-to.

baltinerdist40 karma

Ghost pepper and then a milkshake, got it.

UpSaltOS48 karma

Get ready for flavor town.

subll10 karma

Banana split. TRUST.

UpSaltOS10 karma

100%

nuocmam12 karma

Somehow I learned about the sugar thing recently. Had some Laos food and had to sip sweetened tea between bites.

UpSaltOS17 karma

I can't believe your username is nuoc mam. That's amazing.

nuocmam11 karma

I should had gone with mamruoc. LOL. I got on before reddit became really popular with the Vietnamese.

UpSaltOS7 karma

Lol, gotta love that shrimp paste. I had no idea Reddit was a thing in the Vietnamese community.

phoninja4 karma

I don’t know man, he seems fishy to me.

UpSaltOS5 karma

I came back just for this one. 👌

umquhilespecter20 karma

If scent and taste are so closely related, and supposedly scent makes up a big portion of taste, then why can some foods smell good/awful and taste opposite?

UpSaltOS26 karma

Ah, you mean like durian or limburger? That's a tough one - the best explanation I've heard is that there's two ways we 'smell' food, one is through the front of the nose and the other is retronasally, or through the back side from the back of our tongue. Researchers say that our brains integrate the retronasal scents much better with taste, so there's more a fusion between the two since the tongue picks up completely different molecules from the nose - versus if we were to just smell the food on its own, there's no combination between taste and odor.

umquhilespecter7 karma

So that brings up a secondary question. I had learned that "scent" was essentially small particulates of the scent source, but is it just the fact that your nasal cavity interacts with the particulates differently than the tongue or that the nasal cavity and tongue don't interact with certain things in general?

Such as capsaicin, (hypothetical to express my question) you rub it on the inside of you nose and it has no affect, rub it on your tongue and it burns OR rub it inside your nose and smells sweet, rub it on tongue and it burns

One doesn't interact, one interacts differently

UpSaltOS17 karma

Well, certainly we cannot 'smell' sugar but we can pick on 'sweet' tones like vanilla. So my understanding is that the two are not overlapping in terms of what they can and cannot perceive. For example, salt is only picked up by the tongue, and not the nose.

But of course, capsaicin is unique in that it burns every mucus membrane to the ground.

rab777hp6 karma

...i can definitely smell sugar

UpSaltOS2 karma

You’re the outlier and I’d love to experience your sensory world! 😁

rab777hp3 karma

...you smell nothing when you stick your nose in a baking size package of sugar?

No I think you're the outlier

UpSaltOS2 karma

Ah, I meant no offense.

The truth is that when you smell sugar or sugary products, what you’re actually picking up on are volatile decomposition products from the refining process. Molecular sugar itself has no odor. Flavorists collect the sweet odors into what’s known as cane sugar distillates to mimic the taste of sugar in low calorie foods or drinks.

quickanswertothat19 karma

Fats. What is your take on the subject? I stopped eating vegetable fats in favor of reclaiming bacon fat to cook with, using butter and other animal fats and cutting sugar. My cholesterol went from not a good balance to being great. Animal fats taste better to me and I can use the by products of cooking instead of buying veg oil.

UpSaltOS15 karma

Interesting! I think fats are complicated, and again I'm no nutritionist, so nutrition is all byzantine to me (surprisingly, given that I work with food). There's a lot of genetics, microbiome, and external factors involved such as the quality of the fat, so honestly, if it works for you, I don't see the problem (again, not a recommendation, just an observation).

Cholesterol biochemistry is already pretty complicated, and from what I understand, your body manufactures its own cholesterol so that always adds a factor in the equation.

I eat more bacon and bacon fat than I sometimes think I should. My cholesterol is not great, so go figure. Glad to hear your cholesterol came back into balance!

thebuoyantcitrus5 karma

Apparently the type of fat is quite important and polyunsaturated is not better after all. And ya, nutrition is all over the place and I'm not surprised that it's not part of your purview since your focus is making things tasty and sellable.

Ran into this recently, maybe tasty means healthy after all because croissants are delicious. Besides, if I can read every possible thing is good bad or indifferent to my health I'm going to go for the one telling me butter is awesome because I'm not a masochist:

https://arcove.substack.com/p/bear-nation

UpSaltOS3 karma

That's very interesting. I imagine that there's more to personalized nutrition than we believe, and it's not a perfect strategy to create 'one' set of nutrition for everyone. My wife and I eat differently, and it's been challenging to merge our cuisines together since what works for her definitely doesn't work for me and vice versa.

I used to be a food masochist. I was actually worse off until I just said I'd eat whatever I feel like. Not perfect, but I don't stress about food like I used to.

And thanks for the link, I'll definitely read through it. Seems fascinating.

I'm all for butter. I don't leave home without it.

pastapastas18 karma

Do you have any advice for someone who had covid almost a year ago and their taste and smell is still at about 25% of what it used to be? Any scientifically studied ways to get it back, or what kind of foods would be better than others now? My SO lost his taste and was already a picky eater, I'm wondering if there's a science behind what kind of foods I could try to steer him towards now to get him excited about food again.

UpSaltOS32 karma

I'm so sorry to hear that you're experiencing those symptoms for the past year. That must be very challenging. I couldn't imagine how that would be personally.

Gosh, I know my colleague does research on this at the Monell Chemical Senses Center. It's a big issue right now, and I think researchers are scrambling to solve this because it's a major impact on quality of life.

I would look up smell training as a research-backed method of regaining smell:

https://www.fifthsense.org.uk/smell-training/

scubasue16 karma

"Everyone" knows that some people can taste cilantro as soapy and some can't, but are there any other tastes whose subjective experience varies between individuals?

I'm pretty sure that my daughter tastes artificial sweeteners as bitter: she HATES that delicious bubblegum-flavored amoxicillin.

UpSaltOS32 karma

Me too! I grew up with too many antibiotics as a kid who got sick a lot...

Yes, there's a lot of variation in our genetics in terms of what taste and odor receptors are expressed, as well as how we perceive them. Sulfur-based foods are a big one, like the taste of brussel sprouts or broccolli. Age also plays a factor - young children experience sweetness and bitterness many times higher in intensity than adults. The belief is that we evolved such that children could detect poisons better, because they would be more susceptible to smaller levels of toxins than human adults.

MarijnBerg15 karma

Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking is quite famous and I enjoyed reading it a lot but it's been quite a while since it was written.

What do you think are the most interesting or important developments made in food science since that came out that are either relevant for the home cook or you are just really excited about?

And do you have any book recommendations on the topic?

UpSaltOS41 karma

I think the biggest push in food science has been the development of plant-based meats and products from cellular agriculture. From the standpoint of taste and flavor, it's amazing that we know so much about the intricacies of the way these systems work, so much so that we can almost mimic these foods. That said, we have a long ways to go.

What's most exciting to me is the exploration of the possible sixth taste, kokumi. It's like umami, in the sense that it accentuates and amplifies other flavors, but there are molecules capable of extending, intensifying, and accelerating the way we perceive flavor. It's really quite wild. There isn't a whole lot written about it for the general audience just yet, but I'd recommend Umami: Unlocking the Secrets of the Fifth Taste by Ole Mouritsen which I think touches on it.

thesnowpup3 karma

Hasn't the idea of Kokumi been around for decades though? Yeast extracts as an additive have been around since the late 80s, and the peptide γ-EVG was isolated over 10 years ago

UpSaltOS3 karma

Sure, absolutely. The trouble has been that it’s not as thoroughly developed as umami, which has been well-quantified and characterized. We are still learning more about kokumi potentiators and their role in intensifying flavors in cheese and fermented sauces, but it is still a black box in terms of how to use them in product development, versus the intensity of umami molecules can be easily calculated.

DonkeymanPicklebutt11 karma

What food websites do you enjoy?

UpSaltOS38 karma

Big fan of Serious Eats. But I do like to peruse Allrecipes and Food Network quite a bit. Genius Kitchen has my all time favorite nuoc cham (fish sauce) recipe that I use all the time.

AssDimple7 karma

On a related note, who do you think that Ads on food websites so disgustingly obnoxious compared to other websites?

Its as if food authors and bloggers want to punish us but I don't know what I did wrong.

UpSaltOS18 karma

Lol, I know right? I'm just thinking in the back of head, "Do you really think people want to visit your ad-encrusted nightmare of a site?" And yet there's always that one recipe that you need to x out seventeen different pop-ups just to know. Just to know!

It's that weird phenomenon where there must have been some food blogging influencer who slung "how to make money as a food blogger" courses (by putting ads in all the wrong places), and that somehow became the zeitgeist for how you build an online income as a food blogger. We can all blame that one original creator for that one.

photokeith6 karma

When I go to geniuskitchen.com it forwards me to a beef recipe on food.com for some reason

UpSaltOS7 karma

Ahhh, Food.com must have purchased Genius Kitchen at some point recently. Hadn't noticed that until now.

BlackFenrir2 karma

Related question (if you're still answering any): Favorite food-related YouTube channels? Babish doesn't count

UpSaltOS2 karma

My colleague does a YouTube series on food science called Abbey the Food Scientist! She’s great!

agriimony10 karma

Hey! Do you think there are basic smell percepts in the same way that they are basic tastes (eg sweet sour salty bitter umami).

Going further, would you qualify everything which has a receptor pair as a flavour? For example fatty acid receptors on the tongue suggest that there might be a fatty taste

UpSaltOS10 karma

From my understanding, the olfactory system is a lot more complicated than taste receptors. There's only a good handful of receptors that we know are found on our tongue, all variations on sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami, kokumi, and oleogustus, while there's hundreds of olfactory receptors, which gives us all the complex nuance of perfume, odors, and flavors.

There does appear to be evidence of fatty acids receptors connected to fatty taste, but my understanding it's still a question mark because how we perceive fatty acids is something between sourness and bitterness - we humans don't particularly love the taste of fatty acids vs intact fats. My bet is that fat degradation products are more our jam - Maillard reaction products interact with fat to form savory aromatic compounds.

wankerbot8 karma

..., all variations on sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami, kokumi, and oleogustus,...

what's your take on the metallic sensation/taste? is it a taste or mouthfeel? i've seen it considered as both over the years.

UpSaltOS11 karma

I'll say it's a taste, perhaps not an official one, but simply because there's an actual taste receptor that picks up metallic ions, and separately, calcium ions:

Link: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31066447/

poulain_poulain9 karma

Why are runny yolks so much tastier than hard yolks?

UpSaltOS19 karma

I love my hard yolks, but my wife loves runny. I tend to disagree with my wife, pretty much on everything. Questionable... :P

No, the truth is that I believe your tongue can perceive more flavors and taste molecules when the eggs are runnier because they're actively dissolved in water and can transfer quickly to the tongue. When the hard yolks are hardened, there's not as much movement of taste molecules towards the tongue so you don't quite get the entire bouquet of flavor.

baltinerdist8 karma

Hey there!

Is there any truth to the concept of "supertasters?" I've always been a picky eater with an aversion to new foods because a lot of foods just taste awful to me, and when I discovered the supertaster concept, it seemed like it was the logical answer to why. But I've never seen any studies or real science behind it.

UpSaltOS14 karma

Hello! Yes, there is research on the concept of supertasters in the literature. There is a test to determine if you're a supertaster, which depends on your perception of a specific bitter compound called 6-n-propylthiouracil:

https://academic.oup.com/chemse/article/33/6/489/324068?login=true

https://cpb-us-w2.wpmucdn.com/sites.wustl.edu/dist/2/2249/files/2019/11/FindOutifYoureaSupertaster.pdf

bobsport338 karma

Have you ever heard of somebody not eating meat and vegetables in their diet? My diet mostly consists of peanut butter, pizza, and french fries. Not kidding. I have sensory issues to some foods like noodles (they make me gag), but other foods just dont have great taste to me. I am 28 years old and been this way my entire life. Wondering if I'm just a weird example or if there's other people you've come across with this same issue.

UpSaltOS19 karma

There's something to be said about other factors like gut microbiome. It's all speculative right now, but some conditions in the stomach can exacerbate your perception of foods. If your gut microbiome contains bacteria that have a strong penchant for starch, you might be earning neurotransmitter points from them (because they can produce and release serotonin and other happy neurotransmitters to your gut, which gets picked up in the brain). There's certainly research studies that have shown these can play a role in how you enjoy or not enjoy foods, including sensory issues. But that can also be a function of your past experiences with these textures when you were a child, where we get imprinted from our food preferences and experiences.

bobsport3311 karma

Interesting. Makes sense, as meat doesnt always sit well when I eat it.

Follow up question if you're able to: What can a person in my situation do to explore new foods? Such as find what sensations and flavors I do enjoy (or don't so I know to avoid them). I'll be honest, at this point trying new foods scares the hell out of me. People telling me "go into it with an open mind" is just about the only suggestion I get. I know it's more psychological to me at this point, but I can't keep eating the same 3-5 foods my entire life, so I am looking for where to start exploring.

UpSaltOS17 karma

It's actually been an important aspect of counseling (my wife is a counselor), since pickiness can stem from many psychological factors. There's a body of literature that explores the challenges of picky eaters. How you feel about food is quite important and I believe it's essential to listen to your inner experience and feelings. I think this could be a potential first step here:

https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/family-meals-focus/91-picky-eating-in-adults-how-to-help/

bobsport339 karma

Thank you very much for your time!

UpSaltOS12 karma

You bet! Hope you find a good way to slowly explore more cuisine.

Sarkos8 karma

Any pet peeves with food discussion in the media or by bloggers / youtubers?

UpSaltOS30 karma

I tend to stay off anything like that. Keeps my blood pressure at a healthy level.

Honestly, it's misinformation that bugs me quite a bit. Sometimes I think it can be a losing battle - people will believe what they will. My biggest pet peeve is the discussions around MSG - much of the research literature is filled with evidence that MSG has little to no effect if eaten at quantities within physiological limits.

If the test subjects aren't told what they're eating/drinking, no effect. But when the test subjects hear that they've eaten or drank MSG, they experience their allergic effects. It's scary how strong the placebo effect can be.

Now I admit, we use MSG to make poor quality food taste good. That's true, and I can see that having impacts on diet. And certainly, if you eat TOO much MSG, just like anything else, that can be a problem. But I use it to cook since it's originally produced by a Japanese company, Ajinomoto, and used quite a bit in Asian cuisine.

The other thing is the belief that MSG is synthetically manufactured from petrochemicals. It's actually fermented using a bacteria, so that's not quite correct either.

ShapeFoxk7 karma

As a redditor do you follow our tradition of hating reddit but staying on it regardless?

UpSaltOS11 karma

Yes. 16 years later and I'm still baffled that I come back. :)

OneQuadrillionOwls7 karma

Hi there. What do you believe are the prospects for AI / Machine Learning in the food science space? Any exciting efforts going on now that you're watching?

UpSaltOS5 karma

There's some fascinating work being done on the overlap of machine learning and flavor pairing. In flavor pairing, food ingredients with a high degree of shared flavor molecules enhances one another, producing foods that work more complementary than other ingredients.

Here are a few examples of programs and neural networks being applied in the arena:

FlavorDB

RecipeDB

FlavorGraph

KitcheNette

Flavor Network and Food Pairing

biophysical_boy7 karma

I'm entering my senior year and graduating with a biochem degree and also have a deep passion for cooking. Is there any recommendation on how I could get into the food science industry and what the job outlook is like for something like that?

I saw you said being a consultant is pretty common but what other directions can you take in food science?

UpSaltOS9 karma

Congrats! Must have been a pain through this whole Covid-19 ordeal, sorry that you had to go through it in college. I'm grateful I graduated right after Covid-19 hit. Good luck to you.

Food science is pretty broad - you can work in a microbiological laboratory, food testing laboratory, you can work at a company doing flavors (flavorists tend to come from a lot of disciplines, and not necessarily food science), or product formulation. There's also the pathway of the research chef, which has always been interesting - if you have a degree in the sciences and training as a chef, you can get a certification that allows you to work in food companies and restaurant chains doing product development and R&D. There's a lot of pathways.

topwaterpar6 karma

I host bourbon/whiskey tasting events.. during the event, we use coffee grounds as a "cleanser" for our nose between spirits. To clean our palate, sometimes crackers or nuts/almonds.

Would you have another alternative to "clean" our noses or palates between tasting different spirits?

THANKS!

UpSaltOS8 karma

There was a study back 2011 that suggested coffee was no better than lemon peels or air at reducing olfactory fatigue. While flavor isn't 100% smell, it does play a role, so my guess is that lemon or another scent wouldn't be any different.

Link: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21667761/

jaminsk16 karma

Hi there. What are the reasons for different people liking / disliking the same flavours? I can’t stand peanuts but my wife loves them? In some flavours this is even more polar - for example Marmite that even advertises as “you live it or you hate it?”

Assuming per taste is evolutionary - what changes to our diet over the last century or so, have most affected our taste perceptions?

UpSaltOS11 karma

A lot of that has to do with genetics, experiences, and emotional memories associated with a flavor. If you grew up with a flavor, even if it's disagreeable at first, and ate it during happy times in your life, you'll grow to love it. And vice versa. But the way your receptors are expressed via your genes plays a strong role here.

The rise of the food industry is a gigantic factor. Most of the foods we eat are derived from flavors developed by flavorists, and how those flavorists perceive the flavor shapes what we get down the road.

For example, strawberry flavor is developed in the laboratory, whether natural or synthetic. Someone had to sit there and figure out if a certain combination of molecules is close enough to natural strawberry to be used in food products. But that flavor has become the standard flavor that we experience in candies, desserts, and treats. So as a society, we have come to tie 'strawberry' flavor to that particular experience.

Over time, as we eat fewer and fewer fresh fruits and vegetables, and most of our crops become a single crop, we will have lower levels of flavor varieties in our diet. What we experience as flavors is actually quite narrow compared to what was available to us before the rise of industry, and especially the food industry. As much as I appreciate the value of the food industry, this particular aspect saddens me the most.

Evolutionarily speaking, over thousands of years, I suspect we will lose our ability to taste many flavors as our foods become uniform. Probably going to be exacerbated by space travel, since it's already so hard to transport, grow, and process food in space.

jrriojase3 karma

Do we truly eat a less varied array of fruits and vegetables compared to the past? Many people in Europe, for example, didn't taste a banana for the first time until after WWII, some of them two decades after. What is your benchmark when making this comparison? I mean, what region and timeframe?

UpSaltOS5 karma

I agree that there's more opportunity to exposure to novel foods with global trade and availability. So there's definitely that going for it. I agree that me, as a person in the 21st century, can taste a whole lot more than a Civil War-era person. The trouble is that, like in your example, there's really only one type of banana that Western culture eats and it's horribly monoclonal. The same goes for most of our crops (corn, wheat, tomatoes, fruits, etc.) which all have their own specific taste profile. It's very hard for me to find and taste the many varieties of tomatoes that exist.

That said, it's less about the produce and fresh foods themselves, and more so about the fact that we use the same 'grape' flavoring because it's stable and resistant to decomposition during heat treatment, or that we've homogenized all bread to be a specific taste because it's easier to manufacture in bulk. So what we're exposed to as a culture is going to be different from "all sets of possible flavors".

Flavor companies work very hard to discover new flavors around the world, but there's only so many that make it to the benchtop and become successful flavors that's used commercially at large scale.

It's probably safe to say this is a phenomenon of the United States food industry. I can't speak to the international world of food.

Link: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10460-009-9213-x

Onepopcornman6 karma

What's up Doc?

My perception is that the public idea of nutrition (I'm not sure of the intersection with food science) tends to be very low quality, and that has had some bleed into nutritional science.

Is that your perception? Does food science have similar problems? Most importantly if you could recommend 1 thing to help the public sniff out bad food science in popular culture what would it be? (PS mine would get people to shut up about antioxidants--a claim you see everywhere on packaging that I think often has very little substance).

UpSaltOS8 karma

Hello! I agree that the public realm and the scientific realm can become murky with nutrition and nutrition science.

The fact that clean-label can sometimes just be a sleight of hand. We food scientists really hate having to formulate around clean-label, when typically the components are nearly the same chemically. If I get my nitrites from a chemical supplier versus extracted from celery root powder, I'm not sure how that makes the food any safer or healthier.

So just be wary of clean label. I formulate around it all the time, it can sometimes feel like I'm personally defeating the purpose of its intent. Perhaps if people better understand how and why food is manufactured the way it is, we could come to a better agreement on what's good and what's not with our food. But the misperception of food science can hurt that discussion.

Romaine2k5 karma

Should I believe the hype about resistant starch? And, if so, if I'm counting carbs or calories how should I count both/either in cooled starchy foods?

UpSaltOS5 karma

Resistant starches are an interesting concept. They certainly have been shown to reduce glucose levels in the body and are not converted actively into sugar. There’s studies that show they improve the colon by providing fermentable carbohydrates.

It’s a little tricky since it’s not clear what concentration of resistant starch are in a food, which is dependent on how it’s heated, processed, and cooled even at home. Unfortunately, I can’t say there’s a good way to count it in food prepared at home. Usually it just falls under fiber when added to food products.

Romaine2k3 karma

Thank you very much for your reply!

UpSaltOS2 karma

You bet!

Deacon-Doe4 karma

I am a medicine student and recently I've been studying a lot of topics related to cardiovascular risk, coronary disease and metabolic syndrome.

High density lipoprotein and low density lipoprotein are two things that get brought up a lot, will the consumption of HDL decrease the chances of suffering atherosclerosis? Is HDL a thing that is preferable over LDL to prevent atherosclerosis or is it a shield against it that will activity prevent the disease?

UpSaltOS3 karma

Hi /u/Deacon-Doe, you’re probably more qualified to speak to this than me as a medical student! But from my limited knowledge of the topic, my understanding is that consumption of HDL will help transport fats out of plaque build ups and actively reduce the probability of a cardiovascular event. From what little I’ve read, clinical trials of statins demonstrate that patients with high levels of HDL consistently have an inverse correlation to cardiovascular events, attributed to the ability to remove fat blockages.

A few interesting papers:

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1586/14779072.6.9.1203

https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa064278

https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1409065

Deacon-Doe2 karma

Hey! Thanks a lot for the reply and thanks for answering my question, I'll be reading the articles you sent me. And you are qualified my guy, you seem like a knowledgeable person!

UpSaltOS4 karma

My dad was a physician and it always amazed me how quick he could assess a patient situation with so few diagnostic tools. As a food scientist, I need a lot more analytical equipment :)

Best of luck to you on your medical journey. I have a lot of respect for my friends and family who ended up in the medical profession. Not my cup of tea (pun intended).

CarletonMah4 karma

I've been working as an R&D Food Technologist for the past 3 years. I currently have my Bachelor's in both Food Science & Nutrition. Is it worth going back to school to pick up a Master's? Would it make a difference in career growth at this point?

UpSaltOS3 karma

It depends. What are you looking to get into or do after your Master's? Perhaps seeing if the Master's is aligned with your goals would be a good first step, as sometimes you can end up in graduate school and not really have a clear sense of where you're going. The research in a master's degree can be grueling if you end up in something you realize wasn't what you thought it would be.

-stayHard-3 karma

Could you tell me the connection between smell and taste? I've heard apples and oranges taste differently if we aren't able to smell them. Could you tell me why it happens?

UpSaltOS4 karma

Taste only factors in non-volatile molecules (like sugar or acid) dissolved in the saliva on the tongue, so that just includes the basic taste of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami (savory #1), and kokumi (savory #2). But it doesn't pick up anything that's volatile.

On the other hand, the nose and nasal passages pick up many more combinations of scent from its nearly 400 receptors. Together, these are integrated to form the perception of 'flavor' - the combination of sweet, sour, and bitter and the molecules that give oranges and apples their smell are perceived as a holistic combination in the brain. Without taste, you'd only have half the equation, and vice versa.

EGOtyst3 karma

I thought Umami WAS savory.

UpSaltOS2 karma

Yes, that's true - both umami and kokumi are integrated as savory. Thanks for that catch!

EGOtyst2 karma

No worries. Next question : are eggs good for you?

UpSaltOS3 karma

Hah, I'm a die-hard eggs are good for you type of guy. My wife and I go back and forth on this - I think a few eggs a day in the morning aren't a big deal. But of course, I'm eating myself to an early grave if it turns out the bad cholesterol overrides the good cholesterol.

Warning: Not a nutritionist. Also, I like food too much to consider nutrition seriously.

-stayHard-2 karma

I get it. Thanks

UpSaltOS2 karma

Excellent, glad that was helpful!

jadbronson3 karma

How to neutralize capsaicin!? Is there a way to stop the burning of spicy food quickly?

UpSaltOS4 karma

This research found that the burn from capsaicin was just as effectively reduced by sugary drinks as milk:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/003193849090067E

They suggest that sugar helps reduce the effect of the burn.

SoConfuseddddd23443 karma

Why does everyone who is not an MD always write Dr. in front of their name without mentioning the degree they have? Seems like a very fraudulent way of passing yourself off as a doctor. It's always chiropractors, dentists, psychologists, whatever you are. Only non-MDs do this.

UpSaltOS4 karma

From my understanding, it tends to not be good practice in writing to go: Dr. Bryan Quoc Le, Ph.D. - usually you do one or the other. That's fair, and I guess we all feel a little disheartened that our fields are not as well known or respected as the equivalent of a medical degree. I suppose in the future I'll consider putting Ph.D., but I somehow thought it was sufficient to write in the title that I was a food scientist, which isn't categorically a physician's field.

30303 karma

How feasible would it be to release "flavor tablets" to curb calorie intake? Example: you want to lose weight but you love pepperoni pizza, so you take a tablet to taste pizza (and maybe a harmless cube to chew) and your craving is satisfied.

UpSaltOS10 karma

The trouble is that your cravings are controlled by more than just flavor. There's factors like the body and volume of the food, your emotional and subjective perception of 'eating', and your stomach releasing molecules from the food to feed the intestinal cells that trigger satiety.

That's said, possibly a tablet that addresses the umami of the food could be a potential, which would include all the compounds in the food that elicit umami taste. One all of the tastes, there's evidence that umami molecules actually increase satiety. That includes glutamic acid, aspartic acid, and ribonucleotides.

https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/100/2/532/4576469?login=true

JenkinsRedditt2 karma

Serious question! Will taste buds change when flavors become less palatable and how long does that process take?

UpSaltOS2 karma

Good question. I haven't dived into this quite as much, but I believe over time if you're eating foods with fewer flavors or lower palatability, you will eventually lose sensitivity to flavors over time. I'm not sure how long it takes, but I know that the process can bounce back relatively quickly over the course of a few weeks.

snapemiken2 karma

What is your take on the Asian "Yeet hay" (or chiness 热气) food?

UpSaltOS2 karma

Interesting! I've never heard of the concept before. I'll have to dig in and see what's there. I'm sure my mom could express something similar in Vietnamese culture and cuisine, it seems familiar to me.

PM-ME_UR-SMILES2 karma

What's an ingredient that you think more people should use when cooking? And also, what's the most useful thing you've learned in your career that has made you a better cook?

UpSaltOS5 karma

The secret sauce:

90 parts salt | 9 parts MSG | 1 part inosinate/guanylate (I:G)

This is the umami bomb that I love putting in my food. I:G is kind of expensive, but a little goes a long way. Also, more fish sauce please. I put it in nearly everything.

I also love high-end soy sauces. The one's that have been fermented +3 years in Japan are on a whole different level.

I think understanding umami, and its importance to making food taste good and make you feel full. I now put umami molecules in all my food, whether using soy sauce, fish sauce, miso, tomatoes, Worchestershire sauce, yeast extract, Parmesan cheese, oyster sauce, fish paste, etc. It's made a difference.

2QuarterDollar2 karma

Hi Bryan. Who do you agree with more when it comes to nutrition intake (balance, taste, calories, micronutrients macronutrients) dietians, bodybuilders, chefs.

So in other words, with regards to the people who make it their life works to find the ultimate perfect way of eating which group is doing it right according to you?

UpSaltOS2 karma

Hey there u/2QuarterDollar, I would say that dieticians are going to be the better go-to when it comes to nutritional knowledge. My friend studied for his dietician's certificate and went on to do his PhD in Food Science, and he was always so precise about his nutrition and lifestyle (eating dark chocolate, black coffee, working out, etc.) and he definitely looked like he knew what he was doing. AKA, super swole.

We joked that he should start a gym-chocolatarian-coffee bar after graduating.

Nutella_Flyers2 karma

Any good rule of thumb on preparing meals from different parts of the world that would pair together well?

UpSaltOS10 karma

Yes! I was waiting for this question (thanks for asking it!)

Okay, so I found these really nifty free websites developed by IIIT-Delhi that take all of the data and research known about flavors, recipes, and ingredients, and jam them all together with fancy AI to help you figure out how to pair different ingredients from different cuisines:

RecipeDB

FlavorDB

They're incredible and so powerful, because they are actually using the scientific principles of flavor pairing to develop these algorithms.

CricFan6192 karma

Is your name pronounced "Cook" Le???

If is is that would be epic.

UpSaltOS2 karma

Lol! My wife have made that comment before. It's not quite (there's an accent mark over the o) but it's definitely been said that way :)

wardnoire2 karma

Do all people taste things the same and some people just enjoy (or don't enjoy) certain tastes or does the way something tastes to one person differ from how it may taste to the next?

UpSaltOS2 karma

You're asking the million-dollar question. How do the robots know how chicken tastes in the Matrix? Bold philosophical questions.

In all seriousness, there's a branch of food science called sensory science where evaluators assess the enjoyment of a food based on many, many parameters, from texture, to taste, to color. This information is then quantified.

While that doesn't exclude the possibility of subjective and genetic differences in terms of tongue receptor expression, it appears that there's enough statistical significance that humans have little variation between one another.

There's cultural, individual, and environmental aspects, for sure, but there's enough similarity that they can take 1,000 people, taste test products, then release them onto the world and they'll actually be enjoyed by a large majority of them. It's a little scary how well that works.

KGartzzz2 karma

Best healthy foods for bulking?

UpSaltOS2 karma

I’d have to ask my friend on that one - he’s a food scientist, nutritionist, and bodybuilder. Probably more qualified to speak to that than me - I’m a long distance runner. I saw him eat a lot of chicken and lean ground meat.

TalynRahl2 karma

Years of French history have told us that wine and cheese are the best combo (I've put extensive research in, and my results support this claim).

But apparently, food science says the two don't go together...

What's up with that?

UpSaltOS2 karma

Really? Where did you read or who told you food science says they don’t go together? I’d like to chat with them… :p

In all seriousness, there’s a few papers on the taste pairing phenomenon, and generally from what I’ve read, they do go together pretty damn well:

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09571264.2017.1284655

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0308814620328557

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-77107-w

https://www.nature.com/articles/srep00196?fbclid=IwAR3RKRRduloGMhl9ua0mHWevypUhqzGxXMM5DdHgmzyOUspUIMI4GiI2EMM

TalynRahl2 karma

It was an article I saw a while back. Did the rounds on social media, all the usual nonsense. I’ll try and dig it up!

Glad to see it’s since been refuted. Because, ya know, wine and cheese ❤️.

UpSaltOS2 karma

💯

climbthemountainnow2 karma

What kind of food can I eat to reduce the pain in my joints?

UpSaltOS2 karma

Foods rich in sulfur and omega 3 fatty acids. That includes cruciferous vegetables, fish, garlic, onion, beans, seeds and nuts.

Warning Label: Not a nutritionist.

SewerRanger2 karma

Why is it certain beverages are considered good only after "you get used to them"? It seems (quite anecdotally, I know) that most people don't like beer or wine the first time they try them, but after a while we come to enjoy them and are able to pick out the more nuanced flavors? What is happening here? Are we just fooling ourselves, or can we start to really pick out the more nuanced flavors in something after being exposed to it often?

UpSaltOS2 karma

Scent and flavor are strongly connected to memory. When you're experiencing foods that you have some happy connection with, even if it's bitter or poor tasting, your body integrates the experience as positive. So if you're out drinking with your friends or having a nice wine with a partner, these positive experiences can interact with your perception of taste and flavor. The same is true the other way - really emotionally horrible experiences can make even the tastiest foods off-putting.

pastapastas2 karma

Another question - if you could take one dish that isn't very popular in the US and make it well-loved overnight, what would it be?

UpSaltOS4 karma

Chicken feet. My wife hates it, I love it. It's a weird texture, but eating those feet are so satisfying.

privated1ck2 karma

What should Big Food do to make healthy food as addictive as junk food?

UpSaltOS2 karma

Taste and flavor are big drivers. I would say understanding and properly using umami to be applied to healthy food is a huge one. The Japanese seemed to have found a good balance using umami flavors, as they were the original inventors/developers of umami in cuisine. I think the fact that we just slap umami molecules onto whatever comes our way (chips, dip, cheese, etc.) and call it day speaks to this issue. There isn't a discussion of how we can use these technologies to improve healthy food because there's lack of market share there. But that, of course is changing with people wanting more healthy foods and losing trust in Big Food.

BreaDKatka2 karma

What's your take on antioxidants? Are they just a fad?

UpSaltOS5 karma

They do have some roots in science. I personally did research on the antioxidant properties of certain flavor compounds in garlic and onion. But saying that antioxidants can cure diseases is a stretch. At best, they are metabolized by your gut microbiome to form certain molecules that can support health over time. That doesn't mean taking a ton of vitamin C is going to cure your cold. It's an ongoing debate how much antioxidants play a role in our long-term health and I'll leave that to the nutritionists to wade through. :)

Hieucd972 karma

Where do humans stand on the tasting capability hierarchy? Which species has the most advanced and complex tastebuds?

UpSaltOS3 karma

Herbivores tend to have more taste buds, probably because most plants taste like garbage to us humans. Cows have about 25,000 taste buds, so they can keep on munching that grass (okay, that turned out dirtier than I wanted).

Catfish are the kings of taste buds with over 100,000 taste buds. The trouble is that it's challenging to know subjective how those are perceived. As a human being, I'd like to think while we have few taste buds, we're very good at messing around with them so our brains integrate a lot of interesting experiences.

But I don't know what a catfish or cow experiences. Could be amazing and rich.

TikkiTakiTomtom2 karma

Not many brand name foods are as cracked up to be, are they? Smart waters, random “organic” labels on food items shams or glams, where does the line draw for companies marketing their products?

UpSaltOS5 karma

It's getting worse. With the rise of plant-based foods and alternative proteins, the question of what is what is just leveling the food landscape. Miyoko's recently won the landslide court decision that they can use dairy-based terms in their marketing and advertising despite being plant-based. They called on the First Amendment to make their case. I actually appreciate that because I'm excited about plant-based foods, but if you run the other direction (i.e. I can call this food whatever I want even if it doesn't inherently contain those ingredients), that can be a problem for the consumer who might be misled.

I'm somewhat concerned that means a food producer can call a synthetic mixture of ingredients that mimic tomato paste, as tomato paste. In short, I don't know. It's an ongoing debate within the food industry.

Link: https://www.petaluma360.com/article/news/petaluma-based-miyokos-creamery-prevails-in-first-amendment-lawsuit-center/

FriendlyCraig2 karma

What's your favorite brand of fish sauce?

UpSaltOS2 karma

Red Boat Fish Sauce. It can be a little strong (especially the highest grade of N 50), but I love the flavor. But it's pricey.

The next one that's inexpensive is Flying Lion brand. It's not super 'natural' but I think it makes really good nuoc cham (Vietnamese vinagrette).

insert_random_string2 karma

how do you like your steak?

UpSaltOS1 karma

Well-done. I'm a germophobe and don't trust how meat is slaughtered and processed (ironic, isn't it?).

Mark7242 karma

Do taste buds exist in any form anywhere else in the body?

UpSaltOS2 karma

Taste buds exist in your intestines. There are sweet and umami taste receptors that help detect the presence of these molecules after digestion and signal to your brain and body to absorb them.

Sometimes I wonder if the taste system was just a natural evolution of the gastrointestinal system trying to figure out what was going inside.