cover image Tasty: The Art and Science of What We Eat

Tasty: The Art and Science of What We Eat

John McQuaid. Scribner, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4516-8500-8

In this fascinating blend of culinary history and the science of taste, freelance writer McQuaid observes that “everyone lives in his own flavor world,” and that taste is the most subjective of the senses. He smoothly and skillfully explains the layout of the neocortex and how flavor is perceived by the brain. He discusses the tongue and how its varied zones were once thought to correlate to sweet, salty, sour and bitter, imparting serious science with wildly rich prose. “Flavor is only the capstone of a vast, hidden system” that starts in the mouth with a “burst of deliciousness” and leads to “an infinite mesh of sensors furiously sending and receiving messages as the whole body marinates in the chemical flux of the world.” Readers will savor his explanations of the science behind umami, the savory taste identified in 2007, and the description of sweetness as “a delicious and powerful motivator” given sugar’s effect on the brain. McQuaid’s lucid explanations of neuroscientific research on dopamine lay the groundwork for a keen analysis of industrial food production and flavor manipulation while addressing the health issues of the modern diet. When he concludes that “the mystery at the heart of flavor has never been truly cracked,” he sets the stage for an eagerly anticipated second helping. [em](Jan.) [/em]