BIOL 190: Delicious! How the Brain Creates Flavor

In Class

Bryan Meltz

Course description: This course explores the biology of deliciousness, focusing on the brain systems that allow us to taste and smell, and how the chemical, physical, and cultural properties of different foods affect our experience of eating.

Faculty CV: Sam Sober is assistant professor of neurobiology at Emory College. Kathryn MacPherson is a fifth-year PhD student in neuroscience.

Today’s class: In the Few Hall Demonstration Kitchen, Sober shows how freezing different foods—including bacon, blue cheese, and prosciutto—with liquid nitrogen, then pulverizing them in a coffee grinder, profoundly influenced students’ perceptions of the food by removing the expected texture. MacPherson mixed agar, a seaweed extract, with liquids—including tomato soup and apple juice—to demonstrate how food textures can be manipulated to change how they are experienced. Sober also discussed the concept of umami—a category of taste in food (besides sweet, sour, salt, and bitter), corresponding to the flavor of glutamic acid, or glutamate, a naturally occurring amino acid that produces flavor in some foods.

Students say: “Ever since I was little I have wanted to become a chef. In middle school I became fascinated by the human brain’s capacity to control everything. This class is a really good way to combine those to learn about food and science.”—Laura Franco, freshman pre-nursing major

 “As a science major, I appreciate the science behind how we experience food. And the food is an added bonus. It is interesting to try new things I haven’t been exposed to eating.”—Samuel Zinga, freshman

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