Thursday, 24 December 2009


A perfect flavour, that’s what all cooks are looking for. But modern food production is indeed a hungry beast with an insatiable appetite for raw materials. Flavours are big business. As we sit down to Christmas dinner to try to understand even the simplest meal requires a grasp of many disciplines. This year’s food issue of the New Yorker contains an exciting essay on flavour called the Taste Makers by Raffi Khatchadourian.
I recommend spending the few dollars needed to download it if you haven’t seen it yet. Our tweetened web attention spans rarely give us research and writing like this.
Raffi takes us on a trip into the world of the taste makers, the corporations and scientists that dictate the way we taste and how we will taste in the future.
Rory our new apprentice joined us a couple of months ago and constantly reminds me how important learning to taste is to the cook.
As we introduce new flavours to this young man, [who was born in the same year as we opened Sunnybrae, now thats scary] I am very pleased to see that he has an open palate. He is willing to try everything, leaving cultural prejudice behind, while absorbing tastes he has never tried before with enthusiasm and joy. But he has a secret pleasure Red Bull. Raffi, in the New Yorker story casts a light on just how that particular flavour was created as he explains how Deitrich Mateschitz the co-founder of Red Bull went out of his way to create a deliberately unbalanced flavour that would signify the oomph that these rather dubious energy drinks are selling and how every energy drink after that had to now also contain these unbalanced notes that subversibly signify energy .
When Rory first tasted Morello Cherries he said that they tasted like Doctor Pepper.
Now, the scary thing about the New Yorker story to me, is how these flavour scientists now also relate new natural flavours while tasting rare exotic fruit [from the world’s largest heritage citrus orchard in California] to branded products like Snapple. So the dialogue has come full circle. But the Doctor Pepper taste that Rory loves is of course also found naturally in Morello Cherries [benzaldahyde] and also in the pips of the white peaches that we picked today. To understand the flavour compounds that make up this simple wonder of nature that is a ripe white peach is one thing, but to taste the ripe fruit warmed by the sun is to be alive.

Happy whatever you want to call it....

In response another link  from Ms Bliss
For more on the taste trekkers in Vietnam go to


steve said...

Interesting point George. I have always marvelled at the mystique of flavours & their unique interpretations of the individual. I despair but am not surprised by the scientific unravelling of their secrets no doubt funded by Big Food to 'harness' & in some case trademark flavours.
Stripping the wonder from a sun ripened piece of stone fruit & breaking it down to componants might make us feel clever but I'd prefer just to enjoy its ripeness & be satisfied with that

Happy Festivus

Thermomixer said...

Thanks George - will have to download when I have some spare time. Good luck with Rory's education. It reminds me of the late Dr Max Lake's works. I think you may have one on the shelves?

I have Food on the Plate, Wine in the Glass - according to the workings and principles of flavour; and, Taste, The Shared Table, Cooking, Wine (which I bought and had him dedicate on 31 Jan 2004 at a Janni K cooking class in Sydney).

Max was certainly passioante about the science behind taste, but the foreward to his book highlights that his wife wasn't !

"Science and passion are turbulent bedmates. It is not easy to explore a field where one is both experienced and passionate, and at the same time preserve a semblance of scientific detachment. Anyhow, science often mistakes one thing for another; the pleasure of flavour never masquerades. This work is an opportunity to see if science can inform flavour while giving it seasoning.

Joy Lake's influence on me has been incalculable. During a recent breakfast exchange on the complexities of a shared coffee, I threw in "You don't want to learn, you only want to have fun." She shot back "Yes, and it's taken you sixty years to realise it!"

If you don't have them and wish to peruse just let me know.

Have a good New Year - good luck and a massive thanks for all you do.