“You know, friends get a little scared the first time you go, ooh, there’s anchovies in this, and they’ll go, how’d you know that? That’s my grandmother’s special recipe! And I’m like, oh, it’s very obvious to me. Oh, you didn’t want me to know? Sorry!”
Well inviting Joan Harvey to dinner is one good way to divulge a secret family recipe. Welcome to Pulse of the Planet’s Science Diaries, a glimpse of the world of science from the inside. Joan is a chemist who develops new flavors for candies and chewing gums. Her ability to distinguish subtle flavors and aromas results from years of on-the-job tasting.
“You know, in chemistry classes, organic chemistry, it’s always, don’t eat anything from the lab, don’t eat in the lab, because this is like, chemicals. Now I’m in a food chemistry lab, and they want me to taste thousands of chemicals. How can you be a supertaster but not know what you’re tasting? And so that’s part of the training is you have to come up with the vocabulary and the recall of what it is you’re tasting. So if I tasted a chemical, I would dilute it down to the point where I couldn’t taste it. So I would start out at 100 parts per million, and I could go down to parts per trillion. When I found the threshold that I couldn’t taste it, I was like, alright, if I ever use this chemical at less than this, it will be useless. Then I go up to 10 parts per million, and go, okay, I taste something, it’s sweet, and it’s creamy, but when I go to 50 it’s like, wow, this is banana. So if I go all the way up to 100 parts per million, does the profile change, or does it always stay banana? That’s how I could look at my chemicals, I could smell them, and I can go, okay, this is how much I need.”
If there a budding young flavor scientist in your household, be sure to have them check out kidsciencechallenge.com, that’s kidsciencechallenge.com.
Pulse of the Planet’s Science Diaries are made possible by the National Science Foundation.