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Taste Buds and Molecules (2010)

The Art and Science of Food with Wine


By: Franois Chartier

Book Review by Nicole Chau

Bibliographic Information
Hailing from the Canadian province of Quebec, Franois Chartier
has established himself as a world-renowned sommelier- a specialist in
wine services and food and wine pairings. He is the author of many
bestselling and award-winning books which include Table avec Franois
Chartier, La Slection Chartier (an annual wine-buying guide), Taste Buds
and Molecules, among others. As the only Canadian presented with the
prestigious Grand Prix Sopexa International and the holder of Quebecs
highest honour, LOrdre National du Qubec, Chartiers achievements
are far and numerous (Chartier & Reiss, 2010).
His great work and conspicuous recognition come from over twenty years of pioneering
research into the molecular mechanisms that govern gastronomic pleasures. Through scientific
literature and collaboration with chefs and scientists, Chartier acquired gourmet knowledge of
the principle volatile compounds that give foods and wines their characteristic taste and aroma.
This led him to map out molecular relationships between two foods, as well as between a wine
and a food, to enable harmonious pairing. As a new scientific domain, molecular gastronomy is
anything but stable; it is constantly redefining the limits of our pleasure (Chartier & Reiss, 2010).
In 2009, Chartier published this insightful and innovative body of work in a non-fiction
book titled Taste Buds and Molecules. To cater to a larger audience around the world, Levi
Reiss, who introduces himself as an American-born Francophile, translated the original French
edition into English. This English version was published in 2010 by Toronto publishing company
McClelland & Stewart Ltd. The book received positive acclaim and numerous awards, including
the prestigious Worlds Best Innovative Food Book which was presented in Paris. Very few
can deny Chartiers exceptional talent as this book has, and will continue to, benefit chefs,
sommeliers, and diners alike. By opening the door to the once hidden world of aromas and
flavours, molecular gastronomy is a revolution that steers us to create new recipes and
spontaneous food and wine pairings (Chartier & Reiss, 2010). This review of Taste Buds and
Molecules will analyze the content (specifically food and wine pairings) as well as comment on
the subject matter and writing style of the book.

Comments on Subject Matter: Modern Adaptations of Taste


In his book Taste Buds and Molecules, Franois Chartier introduces readers to an exciting
facet of molecular gastronomy- food and wine pairing. By sharing a plethora of hints, ideas, and
recipes backed up by scientifically sound research, Chartier lays the groundwork for culinary
creativity and gastronomic pleasure. This book focuses on various foods, their molecular
composition, as well as their complementary pairings with wine and other foods. However, the
subject matter of this book also provides insights into the ways by which humans today can

transform elements of taste to maximize their dining pleasure. These modern ways include
using aromas to identity and appreciate taste, pairing complementary foods, and pairing food
with wine.

Using Aromas to Identify and Appreciate Taste


Aromas are one of the fundamental elements that contribute to a wines sensory character.
Revue des Oenologues, 2006
As an extension of this quote to include foods, researchers later found that 80% to 90% of
all sensations that stimulate our appetite come from fragrances (or aromas) (Chartier & Reiss,
2010). However, the role of aromas in helping us identify and appreciate tastes can be best
understood with an example. Chartier effectively provides such an example in his book by
describing the experience of biting into an apple while plugging the nose- although you can
detect the acidity and feel the texture, you cannot sense the actual flavour or aroma. In other
words, the characteristic taste of apples (or any food and beverage per se) comes partly from the
flavour, but mostly from the various aromatic molecules becoming gaseous and wafting into
your nose (Chartier & Reiss, 2010).
Aromas not only help to complete the sensory experience, but also help to reinforce our
emotions and behaviours. For instance, the fragrance of certain foods and drinks may lead to
negative reinforcements through feelings of disgust or satiety, while the fragrance of other foods
and drinks may instead lead to positive reinforcements through feelings of desire or hunger. As
Jean-Paul Guerlain once said, perfume is the most intense form of memory (Chartier & Reiss,
2010). Bringing this quote into the context of foods and drinks, we can understand that aromas
have the greatest impact on our dining choices because our most vivid recollection of a meal
involves its smell.
According to scientific literature, aromas are determined by volatile compounds, which
make up only 0.05% to 1% of the total molecular weight of foods and beverages. Amazingly,
these aromatic compounds are unique, as scientists have yet to find two structurally different
compounds that have the same fragrances. However, even for two very similar fragrances, the
sensitivity of our sense of smell allows us to distinguish between them with high accuracy. The
number of volatile compounds presently known approximates 40 million, and their
classifications include (but are not limited to) acids, alcohols, phenols, and esters (Chartier &
Reiss, 2010).
There is a popular belief that each ingredient, food, and drink has a single scent derived
from a single aromatic molecule. However, we now know that even at the level of a single
ingredient, there is a mixture of aromatic molecules that work together to provide the signature
olfactory sensation. For instance, pineapples are composed of multiple compounds such as
eugenol (aroma of clove), vanillin (aroma of vanilla), furaneol (aroma of caramel), and esters

such as ethyl butanoate and ethyl propanoate- both of which


give off a distinctive pineapple fragrance. The combination of
these compounds confers the signature pineapple aroma that is
sugary sweet and sharply acidic. In other cases, an aromatic
compound may dominate others in the mixture with respect to
percentage or intensity, thereby conveying the principle aroma.
Examples of aromatic domination include eugenol, the principle compound in cloves (pictured
above right); cinnamaldehyde, the principle compound in cinnamon; and capsaicin, the principle
compound responsible for chili peppers burning sensation (Chartier & Reiss, 2010).
For many years, the food and beverage industry has mirrored humans priority on
flavours. Because we tend to base our dining choices on how something tastes or smells,
most processed foods nowadays contain flavour additives in the form of synthetic molecules.
However, are synthetic additives really the best way to enhance our flavour perception? Based
on this book, the answer is a simple no because we can better identify and appreciate tastes
using their aromas. Chartier describes that the process of aromatic sensation occurs through two
stages; the first is direct olfactory perception at the nose, and the second is indirect aroma arrival
from the mouth (through the nasal passages) to the olfactory mucous membrane (Lesschaeve,
2015). The brain then combines these complex aromatic sensations with taste sensations,
allowing us to perceive the full flavour
(Chartier & Reiss, 2010). Therefore,
instead of using synthetic additives, we
should take the time to really experience
and savour what we eat and drink, in
order to dissect the individual aromatic
compounds that make up a general
fragrance. Unlike several decades ago,
humans today live in a world brimming
with scientific knowledge about aromatic
compounds. As such, we now know to
linger and not rush our meals

Pairing Complementary Foods


By identifying the principle volatile molecules that underlie the aromas of various foods,
we gain the powerful ability to create harmonious food pairings. It is through this science-based
approach that we can enhance our favourite meals and create new recipes, either of which will
help us maximize the pleasure of our taste buds. In his book, Chartier provides many pertinent
examples to explore how harmonious food pairings can modify the perception of flavours. Two
such examples are: pairing heat-evoking foods with sugary and fatty foods (which enhances

flavour perception), and pairing two cold-evoking foods (which reduces sugary perception and
reinforces acidic, bitter, and salty sensations).
The principle volatile compound that is responsible for
chili peppers burning sensation is called capsaicin. Although it
does not result in true temperature increase, capsaicin does
activate heat receptors to elicit a pseudo-sensation of physical
heat in the mouth. Besides stimulating nerve endings to impart a
neurological effect on the brain, capsaicin also generates
temporary inflammation in the mouth. The combination of nerve
stimulation and mouth inflammation increases the sensitivity of
taste buds for temperature, pressure, acidity, saltiness, and carbon dioxide (found in carbonated
drinks such as beer and sparkling wine) (Chartier & Reiss, 2010). In other words, capsaicin
augments our perception of flavour by increasing the sensitivity of our taste buds. However, it is
important to note that although small doses of capsaicin can act as a flavour enhancer, higher
doses may actually have the reverse effect of reducing our sensitivity to taste and aromas. This
occurs due to a redirection of attention to the increased capsaicin levels (Chartier & Reiss, 2010).
Although capsaicin is insoluble in water, it is soluble in sugary and fatty substances as
well as in alcohol. Therefore, chili peppers can effectively be paired with sugary foods (such as
rice, pineapples, and sweet peppers) as well as fatty foods (such as butter, milk, and olive oil);
the majority of the capsaicin will dissolve (preventing effect reversal due to overdose), with
only a small amount remaining in the mouth to enhance flavour perception of the paired food.
Besides chili peppers, spices such as cinnamon, coriander, and oregano are also rich in capsaicin
albeit to a smaller extent (Chartier & Reiss, 2010).
On the opposite end of the spectrum, aromatic compounds
such as menthol in mints, gingerol in ginger, and eugenol in apples
provoke a cold (and refreshing) sensation in the mouth. These coldevoking compounds have been found to diminish the perception of
sugar, while heightening the perception of acidity, bitterness, and
saltiness. Dishes that are served very cold should therefore contain
only slivers of acidic, bitter, and salty flavours in order to avoid
overshooting the intensity of these flavours. As well, cold-evoking
compounds have a calming effect by soothing the heat of spices and lowering (cooling) the
temperature of dishes. Therefore, in order to bring out the acidic, bitter, and salty flavours, or to
arouse a soothing/calming effect, a dish composed entirely of cold-tasting ingredients is desired.
This can be achieved through complementary pairing of apples, carrots, cinnamon, ginger,
lemongrass, mint, wasabi all of which are cold-tasting foods (Chartier & Reiss, 2010).

Pairing Food with Wine


Research into the volatile molecules that are responsible for aromas not only opened the
door to harmonious food pairings, as discussed above, but also to food and wine pairings.
Scientifically speaking, the sharing of identical (or similar) aromatic molecules between a food
and a wine gives rise to important chemical interactions. In other words, certain ingredients
function as harmonious bridges to certain wines to guarantee favourable and concordant pairings.
Similar to food pairings, complementary combinations of food and wine can also modify the
perception of flavours, allowing the pleasures from eating and drinking to mutually enhance one
another at the table (Chartier & Reiss, 2010). In Taste Buds and Molecules, Chartier reveals
numerous ways by which we can pair food and wine to maximize gastronomic delight. One way
involves pairing food and wine according to molecules that determine the temperature sensation
(e.g. heat or cold) the food or wine will evoke.
With respect to heat-evoking foods such as chili peppers (which contain the molecule
capsaicin), it is important to choose wines that can calm the fire. Due to capsaicins solubility
in fatty and sugary substances as well as in alcohol, sweet and high-alcoholic (above 14.5%)
wines such as German Riesling and French Vouvray pair well with spicy dishes. Chartier reveals
that red wines (e.g. Zinfandel) and vanilla-tasting wines (e.g. New World Merlots) can also calm
the intensity of capsaicin. However, due to carbon dioxides ability to prolong capsaicins
burning effect, carbonated beverages such as beer and sparkling wine should not be served with
chili peppers (Chartier & Reiss, 2010).
As mentioned, the induction of temporary inflammation in the mouth by capsaicin
augments the sensitivity to temperature, among other things. Therefore, because the sensation to
cold becomes ultra-sensitive, wine should be served slightly warmer than usual when in the
presence of hot peppers. However, past a certain alcoholic threshold (14.5% by volume), the
wine actually releases heat that combines with the heat of capsaicin to intensify the burning
sensation. Such wines should therefore be served at a temperature colder than usual to
extinguish the fire (Chartier & Reiss, 2010).
With respect to cold-evoking foods, the temporary anesthetizing effect on taste buds can
transform the perception of flavour in paired wines by slowing the release and propagation of
aromatic molecules. Unfortunately, this transformed flavour perception is further enhanced if the
wine too is served very cold. One example of a change in flavour perception is the reduced sweet
sensation, which means that cold-evoking foods pair well with sugary wines, namely sweet
white wines and dessert wines (e.g. Sauternes). As well, the reinforced perception of acidity and
bitterness due to cold-evoking foods also identifies the importance of avoiding overly acidic or
bitter-tasting wines. Moreover, cold-evoking foods can lower the perception of a wines
temperature. As compensation for this perceivably cooler temperature, Chartier recommends
either serving the wine warmer than usual or selecting an alcoholic-rich wine to arouse the
sensation of heat in the mouth (Chartier & Reiss, 2010).

Comments on Writing Style


In Taste Buds and Molecules, Franois Chartier has taken a very effective approach to
presenting the results of his research on gastronomic mechanisms and wine and food pairings.
Instead of publishing a scientific paper or journal, which would have predominantly catered to
researchers and scholars alike, he published a non-fiction book in the form of a practical guide.
The practicality of this guide stems
from its ability to deliver accurate and
useful information in an engaging and
easy-to-read method. From cover to cover,
Chartier supplements the main text
structure with richly illustrated and
photographed images, organized flowcharts
and summaries, and vibrant colours and
styles. At the core of the practical guide is
the information and context. Chartier opens with an honest and delightful introduction, which
addresses what the book is about, why it was written (including background on his research), and
what readers should take away. In the chapters that follow, he delves into the wonderful world of
wine and food pairings.
Writing style, which includes diction and tone, can be defined as the way in which
something is written to affect the readers impression and understanding. From the first page to
the last, Chartier presents information in a manner appropriate for both the audience and the
purpose of the writing. The audience is defined to be novice and professional chefs and
sommeliers as well as anyone who enjoys eating and drinking, while the purpose of the writing is
to inspire readers to pair harmonious foods and wines in daily and festive cuisines. Chartier
effectively uses language (diction) at a level appropriate for his audience who may not have had
any background in organic chemistry; for instance, he does not go into the technical details about
specific chemical interactions between aromatic molecules.
Formal writing is achieved in this book by limiting the use of contractions and passive
voices. Consistency in writing style throughout the book also contributes to formality, as
switching styles not only distracts readers but also decreases the authors credibility.
Furthermore, many descriptive adjectives are used throughout the book to provide clearer
explanations and create more vivid imageries or sensations. Chartier also writes thoroughly (only
a few may think he is wordy), taking the time and space to expand on each point with
examples or explanations. Overall, in Taste Buds and Molecules, Chartier has written effectively
to communicate to the audience and his style can be described as formal, descriptive, and
thorough.

Book Rating
From its adorning photos to its easy-to-follow tips and recipes, Taste Buds and Molecules is a
highly intriguing and practical guide for chefs, diners, and anyone in between. Despite little
scientific elucidations, Franois Chartier presents the aromatic molecules that give foods and
wines their characters, leaving readers inquisitive for more. With intellect, creativity, and
audacity, the chapters unfold to reveal exquisite (and unexpected) pairings. This a
groundbreaking book, one that stimulates the wildest culinary fantasies!

Afterword: Critical Assessment


Relevance to Course
From a broad perspective, the subject matter presented in this book carries significant
relevance to the course Health Science 3TA3, Matters of Taste. Near the beginning of the course,
there was a strong focus on understanding the molecular mechanisms of taste and the signal
transduction pathways. Problems 1 and 2 specifically dealt with these topics, eventually shaping
our learning objectives to include the anatomy and physiology of taste buds, the olfactory system,
and food industry adaptations. Despite the effective learning that resulted from research articles,
class discussions, and guest speakers, non-fiction books like this one can provide an interesting
lens through which to build on our knowledge of these topics. As well, Franois Chartier
explores the history and evolution of certain foods and wines, a nod to the cultural
transmutations of taste that were discussed in this course.
During class, we explored the molecular mechanisms of taste with respect to taste buds
and taste cells, as well as neurotransmitters and signal transduction pathways. It is through these
discussions that we realized the extreme complexity of taste perception. This fact is paralleled in
the book as Chartier mentions his lengthy and arduous research into the aromatic molecules that
govern how taste is perceived. Furthermore, Chartier admits that the field of molecular
gastronomy is dynamic because scientists and researchers are always discovering new facts that
build upon their existing knowledge of taste perception (Chartier & Reiss, 2010).
Secondly, from this course, we learned that taste perception is not exclusive to the
gustatory system. Rather, the gustatory system works in collaboration with the olfactory system
to accomplish the task of taste perception. Therefore, the taste of the foods we eat is also
dependent upon the aromas that stimulate our olfactory system. From the book Taste Buds and
Molecules, we can further understand this interplay between gustation and olfaction: directly
through the words of the author (aromatic moleculesgive foods and wines their taste), and

indirectly through the presentation of various aromatic molecules involved in the taste of foods
and wines (Chartier & Reiss, 2010).
And finally, we devoted one or two classes in this course to talk about the food industry,
and its attempts to modify foods to address the growing concern of high sodium and of diseases
like hypertension, while still maintaining the taste that consumers love. Possible solutions that
were brought up include the replacement of salt with salt substitutes that have similar chemical
structures, and reducing actual salt content by pairing salt with umami compounds (which can
enhance salty taste). This book is therefore relevant to the course because it touches upon similar
topics. For instance, Chartier reveals that foods with similar aromatic molecules can be
interchanged in recipes, and that the pairing of harmonious foods and wines can augment their
individual taste.

Overall Significance
On the topic of taste, French connoisseur Brillat-Savarin expressed nearly two
centuries ago: Tasteis still the sense thatprovides us with the greatest pleasure (Chartier &
Reiss, 2010). In other words, taste is a fundamental and universal human experience. It defines
how we choose food, how we think about food, and how we remember food. There is no surprise
then that as humans we always strive to enhance the tastes of what we eat, from devouring
cookbooks to adding herbs and spices to our recipes. Throughout the book, Franois Chartier
have paid tribute to this humanly sensation by suggesting food and wine pairings that will
enhance the pleasure of our taste buds. From the vividly adorned and illustrated food visuals to
the organization of text and graphics, this book shares with readers a new approach to expanding
the limits of pleasure of our taste buds. For instance, Chartier reveals that due to their
overlapping molecular compounds, a wonderful aromatic familiarity can be experienced by
tasting pineapples and strawberries one after the other (Chartier & Reiss, 2010).
This book also provides insights into the ways by which humans today can adapt taste
to maximize their dining experience, owing to innovative research like that of Chartiers. These
possible modern adaptations include using aromas to identity and appreciate taste, pairing
complementary foods, and pairing food with wine. New groundbreaking research into molecular
gastronomy has opened the door to an array of culinary possibilities, from food and wine
pairings to innovative recipe transformations. As humans, we now have the knowledge to
transform and revolutionize tastes, something that we did not have even decades ago

References
Chartier, F., & Reiss, L. (2010). Taste buds and molecules. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart.
Lesschaeve, I. (2015). Aroma and taste are perceived through our "chemical senses". Wine
Tasting Demystified. Retrieved 1 April 2016, from http://www.winetastingdemystified.com/chemical-senses.html