A Program in Partnership with the Experimental Cuisine Collective

Title: Making It Delicious: Flavor Science and the Industrialization of Food in the U.S.
Speaker: Nadia Berenstein
Date: Monday, June 8, 2015
Location: New York University Department of Chemistry

Nadia Berenstein, a doctoral candidate in the department of History & Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania told the story of the history of flavor chemistry in the early 20th century, with three vignettes of flavor, that she referred to as “chapters.” They were the development of vanilla, of grape flavor, and how the art and science of flavor design came to be. In each vignette she touched on the ways in which flavor and flavor chemistry are scientific, but irreducibly subjective.

1121316785CFIn her first “chapter”, she told of how vanilla became vanilla; how an exotic luxury became an ordinary flavor through chemistry with the invention of artificial flavorings that could passably imitate the real thing and thus demonstrated the fuzzy line between natural and artificial.

Her next chapter dealt with the story of the creation of grape flavoring, and the trial and error involved in achieving a “natural” taste in the early 20th century before there was an understanding of what chemicals would produce specific flavors.

Berenstein concluded with a bit of neuroscience and the truism—to flavorists—that nothing sells like flavor. In this chapter, she delved into the role of desire and behavioral psychology in flavor, and how the ability to measure and quantify desire made possible the development of the craft of flavor design, which is now at the heart of the industrialized food system.