Image Source: Robyn Beck/Getty Images
Are you familiar with Scandinavian salt licorice? Only a little sweet, this pitch-black candy has a taste that's somewhere between sour, salty, and bitter. Some call it an acquired taste, but researchers from the University of Southern California Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences say it's a basic human taste that should join the ranks of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. Ammonium chloride, a.k.a. salmiak salt, is the key component in Scandinavian salt licorice, and scientists say this compound activates our taste receptors as a survival mechanism. Who knows? Maybe chefs will soon be using salmiak salt to push flavor boundaries in their most avant garde dishes.
Image Source: filo/Getty Images
Research has already shown that the weight, color and shape of utensils can change our perception of a food's taste, including its sweetness, saltiness, and fattiness. In an attempt to produce the sensations of sugar without the calories, a team of scientists from Cornell and New York University has designed a a spoon with several bumps on its underside, creating a greater surface area to press against the tongue. Dubbed "Sugarware," the bumpy spoon is covered with ligands, molecules that bind with taste receptor proteins on the tongue, triggering a cascade of nerve signals that cause the brain to register a sensation of sweetness. A promising development for diabetics.
Image Source: Tiago Lopes/Sketchfab
Compared to hot brewed coffee, cold brew is less acidic, less bitter, and higher in caffeine, all thanks to the lower water temperature and longer brewing time. We're talking 12-36 hours. To get the same smooth taste in less time, German scientist Anna Rosa Ziefuss uses laser beams, stirring, and a finer grind of coffee, all of which increase the contact area of the coffee powder with water. Boom! Cold-brewed coffee in just 3 minutes. Chromatography and spectrometry data showed no significant difference between traditional cold-brew and Ziefuss's faster method. Get ready for Laser Brew coming to a coffee shop near you.
Image Source: Puppa Fromm/Getty Images
Our reactions to spicy food are caused by chemesthesis, "a chemical sense that perceives spiciness in general," says Frederica Genovese, a neuroscientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. Capsaicin, the chemical in hot chile peppers that's responsible for those reactions, binds to receptors on the tongue which send signals to your brain saying you’ve encountered something burning. Even though the body is not harmed, it responds by sweating, sneezing, coughing and/or crying. “Sweating is literally to wash out whatever got in contact with your mouth, your skin, and everything else,” says Genovese. Since the neurons perceive an increase in temperature, sweating is also an attempt to cool the body down. Genovese says you can train your body to temper these reactions. How? By eating spicy food more often. Time to gorge on those spicy wings.
More Science News
Image Source: Harry Knight/Unsplash
Grilling is a simple way cook, right? Actually, there's a lot going on under the hood. Chemistry professor Kristine Nolin explains how cooking with open flame – whether gas, charcoal, or wood – amplifies the "Maillard reaction" and "caramelization," two chemical processes that transform proteins and sugars on the surface of meat, vegetables, and/or fruits, making them taste more meaty, savory, toasty, and/or caramel-like. Nolin also reveals how dry heat creates delectable char and how smoke "seasons" food with alluring aromas. No wonder barbecue tastes so good.