Stinkers, Dictators, and Egg Spoons

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May 14, 2018 by libroshombre

 

People appearing to be real stinkers might simply be under the sway of their microbes. After all, BBC.com’s James Gallagher recently wrote that “if you count all the cells in your body, only 43% are human. The rest is our microbiome and includes bacteria, viruses, fungi, and single-celled archaea.” His article’s titled “How Bacteria Are Changing Your Mood,” and Gallagher states that “Groups of researchers believe they are on the cusp of a revolution that uses ‘mood microbes’ or ‘psychobiotics’ to improve mental health.” For example, Japanese scientists found that “’germ-free’ mice – those who never came into contact with microbes – pumped out twice the amount of stress hormone when distressed than normal mice. … How could bacteria be altering the brain? … One route is the vagus nerve; it’s an information superhighway connecting the brain and the gut. Bacteria break down fiber in the diet into chemicals called short-chain fatty acids, which can have effects throughout the body.”

Maybe that explains why those sensitive to body odors tend to support dictators. ScienceDaily.com recently reported that a University of Stockholm study learned that “People who are easily disgusted by body odors are also drawn to authoritarian political leaders … It might come from a deep-seated instinct to avoid infectious diseases.” Disgust is a survival emotion that helps protect us from rotten food, dangerous plants and animals, etc. But who can tell if it’s just a matter of taste, flavor, or aroma?

Who better than the folks at the University of Florida Center for Taste and Smell? “Taste happens in the mouth,” they tell us, “mostly on the tongue but also other areas with taste buds, such as the soft palate … Aroma describes how something smells.” When smelling, tiny “odorant” particles enter our noses and attach to smell receptors that transmit the sensations to our brains. Our tastes are limited to salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and savory, but when it comes to smells, the sky’s the limit, and up to 80% of the flavors we perceive while eating come through our noses

Tastes vary, with some of us possessing more refined, or highfalutin, sensitivities. WordDetective.com says the origin of “highfalutin” (“highfaluting” is incorrect spelling according to OxfordDictionaries.com) is uncertain, but “we do know that ‘highfalutin’ is an American coinage and first appeared in the mid-1800s,” and there are two strong possible origins, with “falutin” describing either the high sound flutes make, or referring to flying, as in “high-flown.” Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries, for instance, always includes highfalutin meals concocted by Fritz, Wolfe’s world-class personal chef. Even his recipe for scrambled eggs required things like light cream, regular and clarified butter, tarragon wine vinegar, double boilers, and about 45 minutes.

Speaking of fanciness, last month NYTimes.com described the state of the “egg spoon wars.” These began when Californian organic food guru Alice Waters wrote about how wonderful an egg tastes when cooked over a live fire in a handmade, iron egg spoon looking like a long-handled dipper, and she’ll sell you one for $250. Some consider this folderol ridiculous. Foodie personality Anthony Bourdain, who refers to Waters as “Pol Pot in a muumuu,” said he saw her on 60 Minutes, and “she used six cords of wood to cook one egg for Leslie Stahl.”

Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy cooking fine food, but I enjoy learning the science behind the cooking process. So I’m listening to the library’s audio book version of “What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained” by Robert Wolke, but, like most reference books about cookery (the librarian’s term), it’s designed to poke through helter-skelter and requires remembering facts rather than understanding the whole. The Internet’s worse. Far superior is Samin Nosrat’s “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking.” As Alice Waters said, “This beautiful, approachable book not only teaches you how to cook, but captures how it should feel to cook: full of exploration, spontaneity, and joy. Samin is one of the great teachers I know.”

Our library owns it, along with “The Nero Wolfe Cookbook” and plenty of others in its outstanding cookery section, amidst so many fine, old books, where, as Shakespeare said, “a strange invisible perfume hits the sense.”

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