Sunday, March 05, 2006

podcasts and molecular gastronomy

I bought an MP3 player last year. Not an iPod, but an iAudio U2, which is like an iPod Mini, but boxier and less elegant. (And cheaper and with more features.) I listen to music on it, certainly, but I also listen to a lot of podcasts. Although food, science, and New York City are three of my favorite things, and they're the things I like to write about, for some reason they're not my favorite things to listen to. There are plenty of cooking, science, and New York podcasts, but I find them pretty consistently boring. Who wants to listen to someone give a play-by-play of making pasta? Yawn. Instead, I seem to have ended up listening to podcasts about stuff I never write about, like films, and music, and politics, and culture. My two favorite podcasts are CineCast (likely to be renamed to The Cinema Show soon), and WNYC's podcast of Soundcheck, their music interview show. Both are interesting, well produced, and expand my mind in interesting ways. If you're got an MP3 player, check 'em out...

The podcast that this posting's about, however, is from WNYC's Leonard Lopate show, another interview show with a very electic set of guests. It's the exception that proves the rule, as it was an interview (on an NYC radio station) of a scientist who studies food. Hervé This (pronounced tees) is a French chemist and "molecular gastronomer" who studies how cooking works. As fans of American science-of-cooking author Harold McGee know, cooking is a chemical process, controlled by heat, moisture, acidity, and other factors. But McGee is a science writer, not a scientist himself. M. This, however, is an actual lab bench scientist, and he has written a book called Molecular Gastronomy that details some of his experiments to try to confirm or debunk the many many techniques that have been passed on from chef to apprentice or parent to child. In the podcast he talks about the myth of the four (or five) simple flavors tasted on the tongue, and how different kinds of sweetness, sourness, etc. can be detected and how they interact with each other in differing ways. For example, he has found that some sorts of bitterness can't be counteracted with sugar, while others (such as the bitterness of burned onions) can. He also spends a lot of time trying to understand the French concept of terroir, the idea widespread in wine and some other crops that soil, hill slope, and so forth have important consequences to taste. He ends up with evidence that supports terroir in vegetables like cauliflower, but finds no evidence for other crops. And of course the whole interview is with This's strong French accent and enthusiasm, which adds great authenticity!

The podcast is interesting and worth downloading (it's just an MP3 file, so no iPod needed), and I'll buy and read the book just as soon as finish the six inches of other books on my pile...

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At 5:17 AM, Blogger Martin Lersch said...

Check out for more books etc. on the subject.

At 8:25 AM, Blogger Harlan said...

Wow, that's a good resource. Thanks, Martin!


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