Taste, what you're missing - Barb Stuckey

7 Jun 2012

A confession. I've actually just curled up on the chair in the lounge that's catching some of the afternoon sun's rays, to start rereading this book. It is so loaded with information that I've decided my initial read was maybe a bit prefunctory, and that it wouldn't do me any harm to go thru again.

A task made easy by the fact that its written in an approachable and light style, even though there's a fair amount of science getting discussed. The writer Barb Stuckey is a food developer, some one who works in that world that we tend to regard with deep suspicion. The one where food is analysed and then developed and perfected so that food manufacturers can produce prodigious quantities that will store well and travel far, and sit in shiny packets on supermarket shelves.

The sort of food that the back to nature purists like myself tend to get ever so slightly precious about, becos we believe that good food is all about natural food. But of course life isn't ever quite that clear cut and uncomplicated, and as with most things, it comes down to the question of degree with which you feel personally comfortable.

I don't eat much preprocessed food becos I prefer to cook my own. And I prefer to cook my own  primarily becos I enjoy the process of preparing food, and also becos I prefer the flavours. Processed food has a commonality of flavours that gets boring, so I don't tend to go there. But  having read this book I am looking at the process of what such companies do, in a whole new light.

Science has entered the world of restaurant cooking to a very large degree whether we want to admit it or not, and a fair amount of what I research in terms of the food we do in cookschools especially, relates to why certain things may happen with a cooking technique. In todays world I don't feel it is enough just to palm people of by saying thats what  always happens, we now need to be prepared to explain why that certain thing occurs. Not only becos its invariably fascinating ( or at least I think so!), but also becos knowledge allows you to avoid undesirable outcomes. It prepares and forewarns you.

So many chefs cook in a certain way becos that was how they were trained, and they know the result they will end up with, so they continue to make things in that fashion, and have possibly never stopped to question why the reactions occur.

Science explains - someone like Harold McGee brings it all alive and gives rationale to what you may have known intuitively, and in doing so dimystifies the whole cooking process. I find it all quite fascinating even though I've never been a lover of science by any stretch of the imagination.

I wasn't expecting so much scientific background from this book. I expected it to be about ways to improve our sense of taste so as to more fully be able to enjoy the food that we choose to eat, and in doing so  to follow similar lines to what I've read about wine appreciation. But it was so much more. To fully understand taste we need to come to grips with the physical and pyschological mechanisms that are actually behind the composite idea of flavour. What is its component parts?

There are whole seperate ranches of scientific study now that emcompasse aspects of taste and flavour, dietary habits, and why our bodies react to foods the way they do. Its a massive area of study, and this book cherry picks the most relevant information to explain why food tastes diffferently to different folk, and what is behind our reactions.

And most importantly for me, it explains why 'good' food tastes 'good'.

And for that reason, and becos I definitly got information overload the first time round ( in part becos my brain is distinctly frazzled at the moment that is true!), I'll head back to that chair and start all over again...

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