Food Friday: thinking about taste (or should I say smell?)

I never understood how people could eat cheddar cheese on top of their apple pies. But the other day I was making myself a grilled cheese sandwich and warming up some apple cider and something about the way the smells combined made me think, “oh, that fits perfectly.” I wonder if anyone’s done a study of the volatile compounds in various food combinations and whether they share chemical structures in common. All over the world, different cuisines seem to end up with the same kinds of food pairings in dishes, and certain things just seem perfect together to the human palate. I wonder if it has primarily to do with smell, which is actually most of what we use when we think we taste something.

If you want proof of that fact, I saw a recent Nova episode on PBS called Can I Eat That that had a neat segment on how, even when food is in your mouth with your mouth closed, your sense of taste is really mostly your sense of smell. The video’s online (at least for those of us in the US, dunno if it’s limited otherwise) – fast-forward to about 30 minutes in for the segment with the food taster and the taped-shut noses.

Among the many (many!) books on my to-be-read pile right now are two newish ones on food and cooking. Bee Wilson’s Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat is a “history of the technologies of food and cooking,” which is so in my wheelhouse that when I picked it up at the bookstore my husband was sure I’d read it already. Also on the stack is The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffrey Steingarten. I am really hoping for some less-busy times during the holidays so I’ll get a chance to get stuck in.

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