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Things that Smell/Taste Bad

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Dear Mr. McGee,

Thank you so much for doing this Q&A.

I'm very interested in the two new areas of your book - diversity and flavour - especially the extremes. How is it that some things that smell and/or taste so bad, can have such good flavour? How do bad smells/tastes not only NOT ruin flavour - but perhaps make it better? I know some of it is culturally based - i.e. how the French find peanut butter and jelly disgusting - but more in reference to smells for example that might in nature signify danger - rotting food - as in durian, epoisse, etc. - or bitter - as in coffee, cocoa - that might signify poison.

Thank you so much again.

Louisa Chu

Edited by LKL Chu (log)
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You're welcome! I think there are several different things involved in our pleasure in unpleasant flavors. One is learning. Aversion to bitterness is innate, but we can learn to appreciate it for its own qualities, just as we do chilli peppers and mustard. Another is a difference between the way things smell in front of our nose and in our mouth. Stinky cheeses aren't as stinky in the mouth, and that's probably for a variety of reasons, both chemical and neurological. And another is the effect of intensity and context. At low levels in a food that we know other people eat and enjoy, bitterness and pungency and decay can contribute to a kind of interesting fullness or complexity.

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