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Monday, February 16, 2009


I've been having great fun introducing people to the wonders of miraculin - as reminder, it's a glycoprotein found in the fruit of the miracle berry bush which somehow messes up tastebuds, so that sour and bitter things taste sweet. There's nothing like the facial expression of someone on miraculin for the first time biting into a lime wedge - it's like a revelation to them. The subsequent orgy of tasting often called flavor tripping.

Granted that the effects of miraculin is rather variable -- some of it depends on people's initial preference to begin with -- but among the over 30 people I have introduced to flavor tripping, I've met one person on whom miraculin has no effect whatsover. This was so curious that I had to test it out three times, and definitely no effect.

While curious, this is by no means surprising. After all, we've always known that there is a genetic component to how people taste things. For example, some people are "supertasters", with readily measurable markers, to whom vegetables taste particularly bitter (kids, this is no excuse to be picky - supertasting is a legitimate genetic phenomenon, and most people are not superstasters). But as I peruse the literature, I find that there is remarkably little research into the genetics of taste perception. Which is a tremendous shortcoming, because how one tastes food directly affects the health of the person. After all, that is perhaps why it's easier to eat chocolate cake than broccoli, although perhaps derivatives of miraculin can make broccoli taste like chocolate :).

So, I am inventing a new term: genomakase. I dub it the future of molecular gastronomy. The word is a fusion of the word genome (the sum of genetic information in an organism), and omakase, the Japanese word for "let the chef decide". Ever heard of personalized medicine? That is the dream of having medical treatments so precise that they can be tailored according to each person's genomic information. Likewise, if such genomic information is available, there is no reason why we cannot understand how the person's taste receptors are populated, and even more, what particular nutritional deficiencies their physical makeup is likely to be prone to. Thus, to a very talented chef, armed with the computational power and the right kitchen, can make the most exact fusion of flavors and textures for a meal tailor made for a specific diner. Never mind foams, gelees, colloids, and deconstructions - this will bring dining back to the diner.


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