Sunday, October 7, 2012

FurFuryl Mercapton, Abstract Foods, and Flavor Networks

Coffee, Cannibis, Tobacco, Skunk, Beer, Lemons, and what else, all share a common smell from a common chemical called furfuryl mercapton.

Upon verifying this fact , I came across the following:

Miracle Berries
Explore the many ways to use mberry tablets. Host "flavor tripping" dinner parties. Get your kid to eat their vegetables. mberry miracle berry tablets are hand-picked fruit and 100% natural.

And it reminded me of an ever-present crazy idea from a crazy culinary friend of mine:

Abstract Foods

--Thai curry and Nutella? Cream Cheese.
--Tobacco and peanut butter? BBQ sauce.

I also call it the Jelly Belly Effect, as they have a chart on the back of the box that shows you how to mix and match some flavors to 'create' other flavors.

and finally, this brings us to the topic of


Flavor Network and the Principles of Food Pairing
This study uses a network-based approach to explore the impact of flavor compounds on ingredient combinations, analyzing 56,498 recipes, and measuring links between flavor profiles of separate ingredients in various recipes
Barabasi Labs-2011

"The flavor network allows us to reformulate the food pairing hypothesis as a topological property: do we more frequently use ingredient pairs that are strongly linked in the flavor network or do we avoid them? To test this hypothesis we need data on ingredient combinations preferred by humans, information readily available in the current body of recipes. For generality, we used 56,498 recipes provided by two American repositories ( and and to avoid a distinctly Western interpretation of the world’s cuisine, we also used a Korean repository ( The recipes are grouped into geographically distinct cuisines (North American,Western European, Southern European, Latin American, and East Asian)."

"This distribution reveals that North American dishes use far more compound-sharing pairs than expected by chance, and the East Asian dishes far fewer." [...] "The results largely correlate with our earlier observations: in North American recipes, the more compounds are shared by two ingredients, the more likely they appear in recipes. By contrast, in East Asian cuisine the more flavor compounds two ingredients share, the less likely they are used together." [...] "...suggests that the food pairing effect is due to a few outliers that are frequently used in a particular cuisine, e.g. milk, butter, cocoa, vanilla, cream, and egg in the  North America, and beef, ginger, pork, cayenne, chicken, and onion in East Asia." [...]

"North American food heavily relies on dairy products, eggs and wheat; by contrast, East Asian cuisine is dominated by plant derivatives like soy sauce, sesame oil, and rice and ginger."

"The fact that recipes rely on ingredients not only for flavor but also to provide the final textures and overall structure of a given dish provides support for the idea that fitness values depend on a multitude of ingredient characteristics besides their flavor profile."

"More generally this work provides an example of how the datadriven network analysis methods that have transformed biology and the social sciences in recent years can yield new insights in other areas, such as food science."
Barabasi Labs-2011

Flavor network and the principles of food pairing
--Yong-Yeol Ahn, Sebastian E. Ahnert, James P. Bagrow & Albert-La´szlo´ Baraba´si
--Center for Complex Network Research, Department of Physics Northeastern University, Boston, MA 02115,
--Center for Cancer Systems Biology Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard University, Boston, MA 02115
--School of Informatics and Computing, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47408
--Theory of Condensed Matter, Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB3 0HE, UK
Scientific Reports, published 15 December 2011
Barabasi Labs-2011
The only link I see on the sample diagram is 'tetrahydrofurfuryl alcohol', found in soy sauce

very similar study:
Chinese Cuisine Patterns Revealed By Food Network Analysis
July 25, 2013

I would like to make copious personal mental notes between this study and the Evolution of Adult Lactose Absorption study cited in W.H. Dunham's Coevolution.

But, most importantly, reference to Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel idea, which suggests why North America would have a dairy-based diet based on animal husbandry. It was a combination of just-so variables, the most significant (in reference to the above topic) being that of the protein-per-gram ratio of wheat vs. rice. Wheat yields a higher return-on-investment. This in addition to the east-west landmass of Europe/North America (increasing the spread of agricultural technology upon similar day lengths) vs. the more north-south axis of East Asia. This combination facilitated faster population abundance; the resulting higher population densities then led to the use of medium-sized domesticable animals (which ~Europe/North America both had in abundance) for food. In ^Coevolution with human-manipulated genetic adaptation, the dairying practices of these cultures make the same setting described in the Flavor Networks studies above.

Also known as nutritional genomics, this is the study of the complex interplay between food and genetic expression. Scientists working in this field seek to understand the role of genetic variation, dietary response, and the ways in which nutrients affect our genes. And indeed, food has a profound effect on our health — and it starts quite literally at the molecular level. Nutrigenomics works both ways; our genes influence our dietary preferences, and vice-versa. A key goal of nutrigeneticists is to establish personalized nutrition — matching what we eat with our own unique genetic constitutions. More here.

^11 Emerging Scientific Fields That Everyone Should Know About
George Dvorsky 27 Feb 2013

The Truth About Taste (Documentary)
BBC Horizon, 2013

25 Amazing Food Infographics, Drawn From 49,733 Recipes
Cliff Kuang 10.29.13, Wired

Chinese Cuisine Patterns Revealed By Food Network Analysis

Milk digestion's 'more recent rise'

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