A Physiology of Taste: a podcast

posted by Ana Caballero Our second monthly talk – this time, on taste. As before, we took a live recording then adapted and condensed it into a streamlined version. This talk is all about the weird and wonderful tongue, following a discussion with Ben on chemical, physical, biological and evolutionary aspects of taste. Bonus: towards the end lies a fun detour into some philosophical history on the subject, and an idea about aroma you might find interesting…   As before, looking forward to your thoughts. 

Squeaky Cheese

posted by Justine de Valicourt The Quebecois love their squeaky cheese. All those French speakers in eastern Canada know these very fresh cheese curds that whine surprisingly under the teeth. The worst part? Translated directly, these delicacies are called “cheese shit”, from the Quebecois “crottes de fromage”, because of their appealing shape. They are also the key ingredient in a typical fast-food dish that is strongly attached to Quebecois culture: poutine. As a Quebecois, I was asked to prepare this legendary meal for my colleagues. Most of the time, this high-caloric meal is composed of french fries (deep-fried in old oil), squeaky fresh cheese curd and gravy (from powder). At the lab, however, we like to begin from scratch – so the potatoes were cut, parboiled, and deep-fried in fats we clarified from different meats, the gravy was from a delicious duck stock and leftover mushrooms, and the cheese, clearly, was … Read more

Roasted Locusts

  by Josh Pollen. Recipe development for our Pestival menu, by Josh Pollen – one half of Blanch & Shock and one third of London Research Kitchen Roasted grasshoppers are simple to make and eat, and also pretty accessible – many people have tried them already when traveling. We wanted to present this idea with the quite beautiful desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria), an elegantly spotted creature of green and yellow and black, paired with an emulsion of common wood ants from the forest (Formica rufa) and wild garlic that was just coming into season. Roasted desert locust These are quite easy to make. We prefer to use the sub-adult (3rd) instar of the desert locust. Remove the legs and wings. Roast in an oven with butter and salt at 170˚c for 12 minutes, or until gently browned and crisp. Wild garlic and ant emulsion 130g neutral oil, (grapeseed, sunflower etc.)20g egg yolk5g wood … Read more

Nordic Cheeses

posted Justine de Valicourt Poul Larsen, a Danish cheesemonger from HKI Ost, paid us a few visits recently to share some cheeses and tell us more about the cheese industry in Scandinavia. Most were organic, and some were biodynamic. We had the pleasure to taste some very good ones. To understand more about these cheeses, we needed to look deeper into Scandinavian geography and its long history of dairy culture. Northern Europe has the highest rate of milk consumption in the world[1], but the culture of milk and dairy differs a lot from one country to another. For example, Sweden has historically a huge consumption of hard cheese compared to Denmark, which favours soured milk, yogurt, and fresh cheese. This variability is largely attributable to geographic factors. Sweden is a large country with a history of seasonal transhumance for pasturing. Shepherds used to be isolated for a couple of months in the … Read more


posted by Ben Reade I need to admit to an obsession: Basque salted anchovies. In 2010 I was lucky enough to see them being produced in the tiny Basque fishing port of Bermeo. The painstaking effort taken over each little fish produces a remarkable product. Let me explain the process. Very fresh anchovies are layered in barrels with salt. Nobody will tell you exactly how much salt, but it’s around 10-20% of the weight of the fish. They are then left there for at least a year. During this time, osmosis draws water out of the fish until they are sitting in their own brine and equilibrium of salt concentration is attained. This causes the flesh to firm up and endogenous enzymes (hydrolases, proteases, nucleases, glycosidases, aryl sulfatases, lipases, phosphor-lipases [1] ) combine for autolysis of the flesh. The breakdown of the flesh is further facilitated by the enzymes in the anchovy’s gastrointestinal … Read more

Cebiche / Ceviche / Sebiche / Seviche

posted by Sebastian Moreno Henao As a Latin American, cebiches are very familiar to me. There are many varieties, from México to Chile, across Honduras, Guatemala, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, and many other places as well. It is the same with its etymology. A lot of theories have been proposed. One of them says it comes from a Spanish word: “cebo” which means “bait”, probably because of its similarity to chopped fish. Another proposes it comes from the word “escabeche”, which itself comes from an Arabic-Spanish word: “sukkabak” , a method to preserve meat in vinegar. And a third suggests that it comes from a Quechua (indigenous language from some South American tribes) word: “swichi” which means ‘fresh fish’ or ‘tender fish’. It is also due to these different etymology that one can find so many variations in the spelling. The many forms of this traditional dish share one common trait, which is how acids can … Read more

Ants and a Chimp Stick

Recipe development for our Pestival menu, by Josh Pollen – one half of Blanch & Shock and one third of London Research Kitchen To consume an ant is an almost absurd study of scale. There may be no smaller legged creature eaten as a principal ingredient, yet the ant’s size belies the intensity of its taste. A wide variety of the12,500 recognised species ofthe  Formicidae family are eaten in cultures around the world, from the Colombian cinema snack of fried hormigas culones (large-bottomed ants, or  Atta laevigata) to honey ant species such as the black honey ant (Camponotus inflatus), eaten as a sweetdelicacy by Australian Aborigines. The nutritional efficiency of ant protein is not high compared to other insects, but that is not the point. They are eaten more as flavourful supplements and sometimes given as symbolic gifts. Simply, different ants exhibit different flavours [1]. Numerous chemical compounds contained in the ant’s exocrine glands are considered responsible … Read more

An Older Elder

by Ben Reade. Part 1 by Ben Reade Overview Our recipe for elder vinegar. Begun from a elderflower wine and undergoing a second fermentation on the berries, this vinegar has good aging potential. The fermentation makes it safe from any potential cyanide, and the acidity brings out the floral, fruity notes over the muddy, watery ones. It is delicious. So, sometime in the spring of 2010 while I was living in Italy I got into making elderflower syrups – it’s something I’ve grown up around in Scotland, a favourite taste of summertime. During my childhood, around 50% of the bottles would start to ferment (some would explode) and when a good recipe was stumbled on by chance (my mum would never weigh anything), a delicious sparkling wine would magically appear. Now, elderflower champagne, as it’s often know, is as old as the hills. It’s delicious, always gets consumed faster than … Read more