Dismissed as déclassé by gourmands, blamed for the scourge of obesity, and yet loved by all, the taste of sweet has long been at the center of both controversy and celebration. For anyone who has ever felt conflicted about a cupcake, this is a book to sink your teeth into. In The Taste of Sweet, unabashed dessert lover Joanne Chen takes us on an unexpected adventure into the nature of a taste you thought you knew and reveals a world you never imagined.
Sweet is complicated, our individual relationships with it shaped as much by childhood memories and clever marketing as the actual sensation of the confection on the tongue. How did organic honey become a luxury while high-fructose corn syrup has been demonized? Why do Americans think of sweets as a guilty pleasure when other cultures just enjoy them? What new sweetener, destined to change the very definition of the word sweet, is being perfected right now in labs around the world?
Chen finds the answers by visiting sensory scientists who study taste buds, horticulturalists who are out to breed the perfect strawberry, and educators who are researching the link between class and obesity. Along the way she sheds new light on a familiar taste by exploring the historical sweetscape through the banquet tables of emperors, the pie safes of American pioneers, the corporate giants that exist to fulfill our every sweet wish, and the desserts that have delighted her throughout the years. This fabulously entertaining story of sweet will change the way you think about your next cookie.
From the Hardcover edition. Reviews About:
Chen writes about all things sweet. Sugar, fake sugar, how we taste sweetness, the history of sugar, tastes and baked goods around the World, how and why you get full, how flavors are made, how sweets became "bad" and their relationship with weight are all covered.
Things I thought were interesting:
Some folks are "super tasters"
The idea that there is a "taste map" on the tongue where different areas taste different things (bitter, sweet, etc.) is a myth.
If you tell folks that a wine is from South Dakota and tell some other folks that the exact same wine is from California, they'll say the California wine tastes better.
Companies adjust the taste of their products to localities. A drink may be sweeter in one country than another.
If a restaurant sells zucchini cookies but starts calling them Grandma's zucchini cookies, not only will sales increase, but consumers will say they taste better.
In a study on chocolate cravings, only an actual chocolate bar curbed the craving as opposed to a pill capsule with cocoa in it. But people who fast and are shown favorite foods have the same brain area light up as an addict craving drugs.
People eat more when distracted, i.e. when watching TV.
Slim-Fast has 180 calories and 4 tablespoons of sugar per can and is supposed to make people thin. A can of cola has 150 calories and 3 tablespoons of sugar and is supposed to make us fat. Granted, one is supposed to be a meal replacement but still....
The 3 cheapest fruits are apples, bananas and oranges.
Anything under 5 calories per serving can be reported as having no calories. No calorie Splenda really has 4 calories.
More than a dozen feedback loops affect human food consumption.
Fascinating and well written in an accessible style that makes scientific concepts easy to understand. Sources cited. There is a yummy looking cookie on the cover.
I thought it odd that Chen includes a shot from her knees up as her author photo. It's as if she needs to prove she's not fat even though she wrote a book on sweets. She mentions that 12 different processes affect food consumption in humans but provides no source for this fact. Lacks a satisfying conclusion. Reviews The Taste of Sweet gives readers plenty of (delicious) food for thought. Sugar love Joanne Chen sets herself the task of explaining why it is we love sweets so much, but in the process, teaches about everything from taste buds to artificial sweeteners. It's a combination history lesson and science lesson, along with an impassioned argument that, just maybe, sweets can be good for you. I know - say what? But after reading The Taste of Sweet, I learned that it's not so simple as good or bad.
Chen's tone is thoughtful, easy to read, with personal anecdotes thrown in, but not enough to overwhelm her journalistic chops. She starts out talking mostly about candy and chocolate and ice cream, but along the way, it's clear that fruit, and how we taste it (or don't), is also important here. She visits flavorists who help determine the exact right taste of an oatmeal cookie, and those behind the scenes working to create a healthy alternative to sugar.
When she says, of artificial sweeteners like Nutrasweet, "We fear these sweeteners to some extent, but we also fear the prospect of living without them." As someone who both runs a cupcake blog and recently quit a 4-6 liter a day Diet Coke habit, I know just what she means. Her exploration of Sugargate and the various ways companies are trying to find the next big thing in fake sugar is a must-read, whether you partake or don't (though honestly, it made me glad I don't).
Perhaps the best parts of the book are those that explore the cultural meaning(s) of sugar. Chen has harsh words for those, like The New York Times, who go all out to praise upscale sweets emporium Dylan's Candy Bar while deploring lesser forms of chocolate. Here, we find that sweets aren't only gendered, but classed. Her assertion that our sugar snobbery "reeks of arrogance," both in privileging imported chocolates over that Kit Kat bar at the drugstore, as well as our general denigration of dessert as lesser and unnecessary, is one that is hard to argue with. At the same time, Chen also points out her own battles with self-control when it comes to sweets. She's an unabashed sweets lover, but not ignorant of the fact that they cannot replace vegetables (and her reaction to the combination of the two near the end is fascinating).
One thing that's clear after reading this book, whether you agree with Chen on all points, is that how sweet a given food is, or isn't, is extremely subjective. I had never heard of tasters, non-tasters, or super-tasters before this book (they have different numbers of taste buds), and that was simply fascinating, though also makes one wonder how not just manufacturers, but those preparing food for guests, can come to a common denominator. Chen's style is delightful, and she weaves together the various strands of her story perfectly. Dare I say this is the perfect book to read while enjoying your favorite candy (or cupcake)?
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