Olfactory & Gustatory Experiences, Better Understood

Butyric acid gives some cheeses their distinctively strong scent. Alexander Spatari/Getty Images

I had been putting off listening to this interview until I had the proper attention span. During the last two years I have worked to improve my understanding of the relationship between tastes and aromas (aka smells) of coffees, mirroring the work I did to better understand wines back in the day.  My patience was rewarded with a clear conversation that neither dumbed down nor over-complicated the relationship between olfactory and gustatory experiences. It made me think the book will be worth more than the purchase price:

…On why grass-fed beef tastes different than grain-fed beef

It’s absolutely true that the foods that animals eat in order to grow affect the way they taste when we, in turn, eat them as food. And in the case of grass and grain-fed animals, the difference is in the kinds of fat that they take in. So it’s not that we’re actually tasting grass or tasting grain when we detect the difference between the two. It’s actually the fact that the fats — the oils in grass — are very irregular molecules, and they tend to be broken down in the animal into particular fragments that are very characteristic of those original fats and oils.

When we feed animals with grain, we give them a very different diet. The fats and oils in grains are very different from the fats and oils in the grass. The other thing about a grain diet is that it’s a much richer diet, of course, than pasture feeding. And so the tissue is much fattier, the meat is much fattier, and we’re tasting predominantly the fats from the grains. When we have grass-fed beef, it’s much leaner. They’re just different, and different people in different countries have different preferences. We in America tend to prefer the flavor of grain-fed beef because that’s what we’ve been used to for decades now. But in other parts of the world, in South America, where a lot of beef is raised, and in Europe, the flavor of grass-fed beef is much preferred.

On fisheries experimenting on what to feed fish

They are, in fact, trying out better ways to make fish, in a sense, taste fishier because aquaculture is becoming more and more important for sparing the wild populations in the oceans. Many of the animals — many of the fish — in the oceans eat other fish. And so it doesn’t really do that much good if you’re going to culture fish, raise fish outside of the oceans or in confined areas in the oceans, but then go ahead and feed them all the fish that they would have been eating from the rest of the ocean. So they’re trying to find feeds that will be more sustainable in aquaculture, and that usually means plant-based materials. So the trick is to feed the fish with materials that will end up giving the fish the same fragments that we can smell and taste that having a wild diet would — and that turns out to be a challenge…

Listen to the whole interview here.

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