Gustatory Cortex


I used to joke with BB that I was certain there must be a gene or a set of genes that are responsible for taste. My shoddy theory…that people who perfer red wine will also prefer fish and dark beer, while people who prefer Pinot Grigio will also prefer red meat and IPA’s. As I was doing some research on food along the Silk Route I came across an article in Nature International Journal of Science that actually makes my very unscientific theory seem a little more legit.

The scientists have already identified eight variants in known genes, including one for an ion channel involved in sensing spicy-hotness, which are associated with a taste for particular foods. And they have found that variants of the gene for the TAS1R2 protein, part of a sweetness receptor, are associated with a strong liking for vodka and white wine (N. Pirastu et al. J. Food Sci.; in the press). 

486S7a-i1.0

What they found out about researching diet among populations along the Silk Route is this:

These populations did not tend to share their genes, but they did share recipes. Cuisines are remarkably similar along much of the Silk Road — variations on tandoor breads, noodles with vegetable or mutton sauces, and dried or fresh fruit. This means that differences in food preferences between groups are likely to be down to variations in genes rather than in dietary cultures, making them even more appealing to the geneticists.

Other articles show that taste receptors on your tongue are related to very specific areas in the brain and that certain foods light up particular areas of the brain. This means that while there might indeed be a genetic hard-wire for food preferences, the fact that genetically diverse people shared recipes shows that people are not incapable of changing, adapting and learning to enjoy new foods and flavors.

Zuker and Ryba’s team used functional brain-imaging techniques to investigate how individual taste qualities stimulate neural activity in the gustatory cortex on a fine scale. Their tools included two-photon calcium imaging, which reveals processes deeper inside the brain, and with greater spatial resolution, than conventional single-photon methods. They found that dropping any of several bitter liquids onto the tongue of an animal that had been anaesthetized (both for convenience and to replicate conditions in previous studies) consistently activated the same small group of neurons in the gustatory cortex. These neurons did not light up in response to sweet, savoury or salty liquids. from  http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v486/n7403_supp/full/486S7a.html

These researchers also found that taste, not just hunger, is tied to behavior. This has interesting implications for so many things. Perhaps I’ll present yet another, shoddy, poorly researched theory here (later to be followed up with real research) which hypothesizes that how a person relates their external food world to their inherent taste preference might also say a lot about the rest of their lives.

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Onion soup sustains. The process of making it is somewhat like the process of learning to love. It requires commitment, extraordinary effort, time, and will make you cry.  – Ronni Lundy quotes

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Creamy Roasted-Onion Soup

onion-soup-ck-443520-l

  • 1 1/4 pounds Oso or other sweet onions, peeled and quartered
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 whole garlic head, unpeeled
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/8 teaspoon saffron threads (optional)
  • 2 (14.5-ounce) cans fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry or Madeira wine, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • Chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Preheat oven to 375°.
Place the onion quarters on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray; lightly coat onion quarters with cooking spray.
Remove white papery skin from garlic head (do not peel or separate cloves). Place garlic on a piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle with water; wrap in foil. Place wrapped garlic on baking sheet with onion quarters. Bake for 1 hour or until onion quarters are soft and lightly browned, turning after 30 minutes. Cool.
Place onion in a large saucepan. Unwrap garlic; separate cloves and squeeze to extract pulp into pan. Discard garlic skins. Add saffron (if desired), broth, and bay leaf to pan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Stir in 3 tablespoons sherry, pepper, and salt. Reduce heat; simmer 15 minutes. Discard bay leaf.
Place half of the onion mixture in a blender or food processor; process until smooth. Pour pureed mixture into a large bowl; repeat procedure with remaining onion mixture. Return onion mixture to pan; cook over low heat until thoroughly heated. Stir in 1 tablespoon sherry and juice.
Ladle 1 cup soup into each of 4 bowls;  Sprinkle with parsley, if desired.

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