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Neurogastronomy, When Science Meets Taste

Neurogastronomy, When Science Meets Taste

A double interview with scientist Dan Han and chef Fred Morin, founders of the International Society of Neurogastronomy.

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Can we make our food healthier by making broccoli taste like chocolate? The answer, apparently, lies in neurogastronomy, the interdisciplinary field of exploration of brain­ behavior relationships in the context of gastronomy.  To understand more about this interesting science we collected the perspectives of Dan Han, Chief of University of Kentucky Neuropsychology Service’s clinical section and chef Fred Morin, who is behind the internationally renowned Joe Beef, last year at number 81 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. They are both founders of the International Society of Neurogastronomy, which held its first international symposium at the end of last year and they both have some interesting things to say about the subject.

What is neurogastronomy?

Dan: Per Gordon Shepherd (professor of Neurobiology at Yale Medical School and one of the key scientists in the Society, ndr), Neurogastronomy is the study of how the brain creates the perception of flavor, and how it matters for human culture. It includes all the disciplines relevant to eating, including chefs and the culinary arts, molecular biology, neuroscience, psychology, human evolution, and child development, especially brain mechanisms involved in learning and memory, emotions, motivation, and reward.

Fred: We are wrong so often, whether when making nutritional statements or when defining our trade through a scientific lens, physics and chemistry and biology manage to figure why flour clumps turn into dough, but Neurogastronomy tells us why that dough is delicious, to us, at least. without the imposed philosophies of dietetics. I'm not seeking in a self loathing, gastro­onanistic way to know why people like our food, but more to figure out why they won't, why appetite switches in an instant!

Which are the main outcomes of the first Symposium ?

Dan: The inaugural symposium showed the strength of interdisciplinary collaboration between four independent fields: neuroscience, culinary arts, food and agricultural technology, and clinical medicine. Issues at stake include flavor perception at the individual level, including those suffering from a disease, to the macro level involving flavor production in sustainable mass production of goods, local agricultural balance, and subsequent effects on culinary outcomes. The challenges include maintaining the growth of such interdisciplinary collaboration to create a unique harmony in production of goods involving desired flavor perception.

Fred: The dice were thrown against the wall and that's what came out of it, its a shot in the dark, so many outcomes, sport medicine, healthcare food service, education pure and simple amongst culinary professionals and the awareness of taste and smell as catalysts of life, crucial in their role of maintaining life and evolution.

How can neurogastronomy apply in the everyday life of culinary professionals and fine dining lovers?

Dan: Application has already been in place in the service industry for a long time. Every time plating, lighting, and terroir are considered for culinary perfection, neurologic mechanisms are already at play. The science of Neurogastronomy attempts to approach this in a scientific manner with structured hypothesis testing, in order to proliferate outcome for all aspects of individual flavor perception, be it for mass production or for an individual with disease that causes diminished taste and related deficit in nutrition.

Fred: It's enacted daily, instinctively by the restaurant world, but enhanced knowledge of wine pairing thru neurological view can plainly make you just more happy. Just look at Francois Chartier work on pairing food and wine at a molecular level. Just think for one instant that the role of a cook extends beyond the making of canapés for a fund raiser but to be part of the treatment!

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