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Flavour, perception, language, and metabolism are at the heart of Brainy Tongue's debate


Mié, 26/10/2016 - 16:24

Flavour, perception, language, and metabolism are at the heart of Brainy Tongue's debate

Flavour, perception, language, and metabolism are at the heart of Brainy Tongue's debate

  • 'The Sensory Logic of the Gastronomic Brain' symposium was held on October 24, 25, and 26 at Basque Culinary Center (San Sebastian).
  • The use and limits of language in cooking, the map of flavours in the brain, satiation, and metabolism were some of the points that generated the most debate.
  • This is the first activity organised by Brainy Tongue, a collaborative initiative between scientists and chefs promoted by Mugaritz, the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG), and the Basque Culinary Center, that looks to delve into the mysteries that govern perception and the senses.

That neural pathways from the mouth's receptors to the brain are beginning to be mapped; that beyond the key role of flavour in survival, flavour also allows us to imagine; that the appearance of food and the words describing a menu can modulate our perception; that satiation is not at odds with the desire to eat more when a person is presented with a new and distinct flavour… These are the some of the conclusions reached during 'The sensory Logic of Gastronomic Brain' symposium where some twenty world-class scientists and chefs gathered between October 24 and 26 at the Basque Culinary Center (San Sebastian).

Bringing together two apparently separate worlds, participants in this forum worked together on each experiment to resolve doubts and suggest new lines of research in both disciplines. Members of the organising scientific committee agreed that "it was a challenge that forced us to step out of our routine to explore the limits of perception together from very different perspectives". In addition, they claimed that the experience was greatly satisfying. They are also convinced that this is just the beginning for new research projects and collaborations.

Although this is a forum on science and gastronomy, language played an important role throughout the first two days of the workshop. Through diverse experiments, participants proved the importance of language in perception, as well as its limits, showing that the name of a dish may affect our desire to eat it. They also discussed the difficulty of reaching a consensus when defining a scent or flavour. In this discussion, the scientists contributed new "languages" such as physics or chemistry, which allowed the chefs to measure and precisely identify what makes a scent or flavour both unique and common to all.

From there, they moved from speaking about language in cooking, to transforming the kitchen into a language, showing that it can also be an artistic, fun, educational tool.

They have refused the classic view of the tongue's flavour map, showing a uniform distribution of these receptors, and identifying regions specific to each flavour in the brain's gustatory cortex. Around the flavours, a healthy debate also began on how to define electric, carbonic, fatty, or metallic tastes. Are these flavours, textures, or sensations? In looking to answer the questions posed by chefs in the symposium, new scientific research may arise.

The chefs and scientists also touched on topics relevant to health, such as metabolism, sugar consumption, and satiation. It was demonstrated that being full does not mean we stop eating. On the other hand, another surprising observation was that satiation is specific and changes our preferences. It was shown that having something in your mouth, for example something sweet, produces satiation specifically for that flavour, and helps to promote our preference for foods rich in proteins and those that are sour. This mechanism can explain why, even though we are full after a meal, we want something sweet to finish off... and we make room for dessert.

`The Sensory Logic of the Gastronomic Brain´ is the first activity driven by Brainy Tongue, an interdisciplinary collaboration project promoted by Mugaritz (Errenteria), the Centre for Genomic Regulation (Barcelona), and the Basque Culinary Center (San Sebastian), that looks to delve into the mysteries that govern perception.

Participating in this open call were Adrian Cheok (Mixed Reality Lab) from Singapore, Bernard Lahousse (Food Pairing) from Belgium, Matthieu Louis (Centre for Genomic Regulation) and Begoña Alfaro (AZTI-Tecnalia) from Spain, as well as Zach Mainen (Champalimaud Foundation) from Portugal, Irene Miguel-Aliaga (MRC Clinical Sciences Centre - Imperial College London), Charles Spence (University of Oxford) and Stephen O’Rahilly (University of Cambridge) from the United Kingdom, plus Alex Pouget (Geneva University) from Switzerland, Dana Small (The John B. Pierce Laboratory), Leslie Vosshall (Rockefeller University), Daphne Bavelier (University of Rochester) and Charles Zuker (Columbia University) from the United States; together with Noam Sobel (Weizmann University) from Israel.

Some of the chefs that participated are Andoni Luis Aduriz (Mugaritz) and Eneko Atxa (Azurmendi) from the Basque Country, as well as Heston Blumenthal (The Fat Duck) and Jozef Youssef (Kitchen Theory) from the United Kingdom, Dan Felder (Pilot R&D), Leah Sarris (Tulane University) and Chris Young (ChefSteps) from the United States, as well as Janice Wong (2am:dessertbar) from Singapore.

Organized by the Centre for Genomic Regulation, Mugaritz, and the Basque Culinary Center, the event was coordinated meticulously by a scientific committee comprised of researchers Juan Carlos Arboleya (Basque Culinary Center), Irene Miguel-Aliaga (MRC Clinical Sciences Centre - Imperial College London) and Matthieu Louis (Centre for Genomic Regulation) and chef Dani Lasa (Mugaritz). The event enjoyed the support of the Basque Government and AZTI Tecnalia, and the collaboration of the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre - Imperial College London.

Organising scientific committee:

Juan Carlos Arboleya. Basque Culinary Center, Spain
Dani Lasa. Mugaritz, Spain
Matthieu Louis. CRG, Spain
Irene Miguel-Aliaga. MRC Clinical Sciences Centre at Imperial College London, UK

About Mugaritz
Mugaritz has consolidated a pioneering concept in the restaurant industry, research, and experimentation that is known for its capacity for innovation and creativity beyond the sphere of gastronomy. With two Michelin stars in Errenteria (the Basque Country) and more than a decade in the TOP10 of "The World’s 50 Best Restaurants” list, it insists on breaking the barriers of perception, mainly by employing gastronomy as a starting point for developing interdisciplinary projects. Its interest in science has led to collaborations with technology centres such as AZTI-Tecnalia, with whom the sector's first science and gastronomy magazine was created —International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science— edited by Elsevier.

About the Centre for Genomic Regulation
An international biomedical research institute created in Barcelona in 2000, it is a non-profit foundation with the mission of making discoveries and advancing knowledge to the benefit of society and public health. The CRG believes that the medicine of the future depends on the innovative science of today. That is why it works with an interdisciplinary scientific team focused on understanding the complexity of life, starting with the genome and the cell, and working up to complex organisms and their interactions with the environment, while also providing a comprehensive vision of genetic diseases.

About the Basque Culinary Center
The Basque Culinary Center is an academic institution dedicated to higher learning, research, innovation, and the promotion of gastronomy as a resource for society's economic and social development. Since its creation in 2011, it has enjoyed the support of some of the world's most influential chefs, as well as entities like Mondragon University, in its mission to build a leading international reference point

For more information
Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG)
Laia Cendrós, press officer - Tel +34 93 316 0237 – Mobile +34 607 611 798.