Friday, 3 May 2013

Food for thought - Blue cheese and chocolate

I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by Peter Barham last night, Chair of Molecular Gastronomy at Bristol University. He provided an entertaining glimpse into the world of the science underlying our experience of taste and flavour, and debunked some of the most prevalent myths.

Think you need to put salt in to keep your beans green? Think again
Confident you could distinguish red wine from white wine with added food colouring? Perhaps not
Think the combination of cheese and honey sounds disgusting? Actually it was rather tasty

The talk underlined the importance of challenging convention and asking 'why'.  It was incredible to learn just how long some food myths have been perpetuated without being challenged.

This status quo bias and hesitancy to ask 'why' is hardly limited to the world of food.  How many times have you heard phrases such as "because that's how we've always done it" or "because that's how it's done"? Or worse still, "because we can".  Well that just doesn't cut the mustard*

I find it simultaneously one of the most charming and irritating characteristics of children that they are forever asking 'why'. Whether it is through fear of looking stupid or for some other reason, we seem to lose this somewhat as we get older. But that doesn't mean we should do things without thinking.

Thinking about this brought to mind the current buzz surrounding Big Data.  Big Data presents fantastic opportunities for improving our understanding of the world, but as many people have pointed out it is very good at the 'what' and not as adept as answering the 'why'. That is why it is important to know when and how to use it, rather than using it indiscriminately.  Otherwise it will be no different to all the salt wasted over the years in pans of green beans.

Oh and in case you are still wondering, blue cheese and chocolate makes quite a tasty combination.

Dan Siddle
Research Innovation Specialist

*where does this phrase come from? [1]

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