Food & Gastronomy: Media and Writing

The How and Why of Cooking, Eating and Drinking

Tasting and the brain

Posted on May 11, 2015

This post also appears on the Oxford Symposium for Food and Cookery blog A recent paper in Nature ( tells us for the first time how taste sensations on the tongue are transmitted to the brain. It turns out that, just as there are dedicated receptor cells on the tongue and palate for each of the five basic tastes, so there are specific ganglions (analogous to the differ...

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Some thoughts on the importance of good food and good drink

Posted on May 7, 2015

From Douglas Adams in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe: ‘... you know, Beeblebrox. You want to meet the man who rules the Universe.’ ‘Can he cook?’ asked Zaphod. On reflection he added: ‘I doubt if he can. If he could cook a good meal he wouldn’t worry about the rest of the Universe.’   According to the seventeenth century logician and bon vivant Dr Henry Aldrich, similar considerations apply to drink ...

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77. A tale of two Watsons

Posted on May 5, 2015

There is a new cookbook out: Cognitive Cooking with chef Watson. The underlying idea is that IBM’s supercomputer “Watson” has looked at the individual flavour compounds in different foods, and created new dishes by matching up the foods that have flavour components in common. It is an old idea, currently fashionable* but unfortunately it has little or no scientific basis. In the most thorough study of which I am aware**, a group of ...

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How much wine can you get into a bra?

Posted on May 4, 2015

Some years ago I presented a radio programme for BBC Radio 4 on the design of the perfect sports bra. One of our problems in preparing the programme was to work out the appropriate cup dimensions, which I was doing surreptitiously while talking to my producer by holding my hand in the appropriate cupped shape and trying to figure the approximate size. She spotted what I was doing and exclaimed “Ah. That’s an SBH.” “A what?” “An SBH. ...

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Meet Count Rumford III: More on gravestones

And finally, here is the historian's perspective on Rumford and his gravestone bread ovens. It seems that Rumford's reputation is on the line!

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Meet Count Rumford. II: What is heat?

Posted on May 3, 2015

Following the last post, here is Rumford's own description of how he worked out the true nature of heat.

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Meet Count Rumford I: Rumford’s original bread oven

Count Rumford, aka the American adventurer Benjamin Thompson, is famous in scientific circles for elucidating the nature of heat, and in food circles for his invention of the Rumford stove. But seldom do the twain meet, as I discovered when I entered into correspondence with bread historian William Rubel about an early story of Thompson, and his use of grave stones to construct bread ovens, with a hilarious or disastrous result, depending on ...

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New Encyclopedia article: Climate change and future food supplies

The SAGE Encyclopedia of Food Issues, edited by food historian Ken Albala, has just been published ( It is loaded with interesting and useful material. My own contribution is an article in which I describe the likely ways that climate change may affect our future food supplies. Here are some of the main points. See especially the one at the end, which should give us all pause ...

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A machine that learns to cook by watching you

Posted on April 19, 2015

The personal touch seems to be imperative in cooking. From childhood we learn by watching and imitating, trying for ourselves. But with advances in robotics, could a machine learn to cook by watching you? The answer, in my opinion, is "probably yes". The real question is just how far could it go. Roboticists have made a start ( but, as any foodie who reads their blurb will ...

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Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets: My Article on Sugar in Cosmetics

Posted on April 8, 2015

The brilliant Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets ( is now out. Packed with useful and interesting information - in the latter category, my articles on unusual uses of sugar. Here's the one on cosmetics (look out for the bikini waxing): The uses of sugar in cosmetics fall into three broad categories – exfoliation, depilatory and lustre. According to Loretta Miraglia, head of product innovation ...

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