From tortilla chips to tree bark, from fancy cheese to toe cheese, there’s a world of smells all around us that tell us a lot about food, drink, and everything else. So says legendary food scientist Harold McGee in his new book, Nose Dive: A Field Guide to the World’s Smells. Harold joins us to explain the connection between wet dog smell and fermented cabbage, and why we should have more “smell empathy” for others. Then we chat with Nik Sharma, whose new cookbook, The Flavor Equation, lays out the six components of flavor: aroma, sight, taste, emotion, sound, and mouthfeel. Why does tomato juice taste better on an airplane? Nik explains. Plus, Dan and Nik bond over their potato chip selection strategy.
Interstitial music in this episode by Black Label Music:
- "Party Hop" by Jack Ventimiglia
- "Cortado" by Erick Anderson
- "Beep Boop" by Dylan Myers
- "New Old" by JT Bates
Photo courtesy of Nik Sharma.
Dan Pashman: First off, I just wanted to sort of ask to get us rolling here, your new book is all about smells. Of the many smells you talk about one of them is the smell of a wet dog.
Harold Mcgee: Yes.
Dan Pashman: Now, anyone who's ever had a dog knows your dog goes out in the rain and comes back all wet and has a very distinct smell. And I personally, I love that smell. My wife does not like that smell. Based on that information, what can you tell me about our respective preferences in food and eating?
Harold Mcgee: Wow.
Harold Mcgee: I've got to tread carefully here.
Dan Pashman: This is The Sporkful, it’s not for foodies it’s for eaters, I’m Dan Pashman. Each week on our show we obsess about food to learn more about people. Before we get to the show,. Are you looking for the perfect gift for the eater in your life? How about a Sporkful t-shirt? We have five new designs out now! One says, "I’m not a foodie, I’m an eater". There’s an "Eat more, eat better. Eat more better one." There’s a cheese side down t-shirt, for those of you who agree with me that’s how cheeseburgers and pizza should be eaten. There's others. And others there's some available in kids sizes. Get it for the whole family. Get one for yourself, while you’re at it. I think you deserve it. Due note, that because of COVID, we can’t guarantee you’ll get it by Christmas, but that’s OK. Put an IOU in someone’s stocking, they’ll still love it. Check out all our tees now at sporkful.com/store.
Dan Pashman: OK, let’s get into it. This week, we’re deep diving into two books custom tailored for all you food science nerds. Later on I’ll talk with Nik Sharma about his new book, The Flavor Equation. But first, that voice you heard earlier was Harold McGee. Back in the 80s, he wrote a seminal food science book called On Food and Cooking. You may have heard of it. It’s still considered by many to be the bible of modern day food science. In it Harold explains things like what happens on a molecular level when you refrigerate a tomato. Or what’s the actual difference between milk and cream, and how does this affect the way we use each one in cooking? I know this stuff may seem simple now, if you’re curious you can just google it. But this was before google, before our culture was so obsessed with food and cooking. When Harold’s book came out, it was revolutionary.
Dan Pashman: Since then, he’s continued to write about the science of food and drink. And now he has a new book out called Nose Dive: A Field Guide to the World’s Smells. In it, he breaks down the chemical compounds that make up the smells all around us, from tortilla chips to tree bark, from fancy cheese to toe cheese. Which reminds me, Harold still needs to answer my question. I love the smell of a wet dog, my wife hates it. What does that say about our preferences in flavor?
Harold Mcgee: My guess is that you enjoy a broad range of flavors in food, sometimes maybe not what a lot of people would consider the most pleasant.
Dan Pashman: And that's true. I think we’ve talked on this show about the fact that I am a more adventurous eater. She eats a wide range of things, but she doesn't have the same desire to, like, go out and try new things, like she's content to enjoy the things that she enjoys.
Harold Mcgee: Yeah. And I mean, the smell of a wet dog is on the funky side.
Dan Pashman: Right. So what what's the specific food that a person who loves the smell of wet dog is likely to like, because it has some of the same compounds?
Harold Mcgee: Well, it would be fermented foods. You know, the microbiome on a dog and the microbiome and say, sauerkraut. There are similarities. They're, you know, broadly different because a dog is different from cabbage.
Dan Pashman: Right. Yeah.
Harold Mcgee: You've still got microbes breaking down the the large molecules that the host is made up of and generating smaller molecules that are light enough that they can fly out into the air and we can detect them as smells.
Dan Pashman: Got it. I mean, my wife does actually happen to like sauerkraut a lot, but she's not a big fan of you know, she doesn't love spicy foods. She doesn't love like, let's say, fermented foods. I would think of like kimchi. What's another fermented food that she doesn't love?
Harold Mcgee: Maybe stinky tofu.
Dan Pashman: Yeah, or like stinky cheese. Is that different?
Harold Mcgee: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: Is stinky cheese a different category?
Harold Mcgee: No, no. In fact, stinky cheese is closer to wet dog. And that's because stinky cheese is made from the product of a mammal and dogs are mammals.
Dan Pashman: Got it.
Harold Mcgee: And so there's much more...much closer similarity between those two than between dogs and sauerkraut.
Dan Pashman: Got it. So so a dog is more like stinky cheese than cabbage.
Harold Mcgee: That's right. Yes.
Dan Pashman: So let's take a step back here and talk big picture for a minute. For your first book in 10 years, you decided to write a 600 page tome about smells. Why?
Harold Mcgee: So 10 years ago, I thought I was writing a book about flavor because my usual beat is food and drink. And then what happened was I got interested in why it is that different flavors echo each other. For example. A well-aged parmesan, like a year, a year and a half old, can have a really distinct aroma of pineapple to it. But it just occurred to me to ask the question, what is it that, you know, a year and a half old cow's milk has in common with a ripe tropical fruit? And then I began to wonder about foods that echoed not just each other, but other things in the world that aren't particularly edible.
Dan Pashman: Like a wet dog?
Harold Mcgee: Right, yeah. Yeah. So that led me into this kind of deeper dive into not just the smells of food and drink, but the smells of the world at large. And that took 10 years because I didn't know anything about the rest of the world. So I had to learn it up.
Dan Pashman: Right. Right. And you have this great passage in the book that I'd love to ask you to read, if you could, please.
Harold Mcgee: I've written this book to share what I've learned. To point out and delve into smells that are out there to be noticed and to relate what those smells can tell us about how they came to be, about the otherwise insensible workings of the world. Not just food and drink and roses, but compost and sodden flower pots, asphalt and laptops, old books and dog paws, the myriad mundane yet revelatory things that fill our lives. There's a rich world of sensations and significance out there, intangible and invisible and fleeting, but vivid and real.
Dan Pashman: It occurred to me when reading that passage, I feel like part of this book is sort of an exercise in in mindfulness and in appreciating simple pleasures.
Harold Mcgee: Yeah, I would say that it's largely about paying the rest of the world the same kind of attention that people who love food and drink pay to food and drink. It's kind of savoring the other...
Dan Pashman: 99.9 percent of existence.
Harold Mcgee: Yeah. Yeah. And also, you know, when when we're smelling the rest of the world, you know, it is by breathing. We breathe, you know, dozens of times a minute, and every time we take in a breath, there's the potential for noticing something about the volatile molecules that are in there, around us there to be experienced if we happen to be paying attention.
Dan Pashman: So there's this idea that there are incredible wonders all around us if we just sort of know what to smell for. Your book has hundreds, if not thousands of examples of the compounds in the volatiles that create the smells in the world around us. I'm picking one out of the many that was especially interesting to me, and that was tea leaves.
Harold Mcgee: Uh-huh.
Dan Pashman: And, you know, you talk a lot in the book about managed food chemistry, the way that we take foods and intentionally change them in some way in order to produce some different results, whether it's aging, salting, curing, cooking, boiling, any one of the many things we do. So just like walk me through the kind of the evolution of a tea leaf from it being a leaf on a plant to being in a beverage and how the how the smells change.
Harold Mcgee: So what what you do is you pick very, very young leaves because they have the most active kind of machinery of life. They're in the process of growing. And so they've got lots of enzymes just kind of constructing things and protecting them against insects and so on and so on. When you pick the leaves, they kind of go into shock because they've been detached from the plant. And so those enzymes go into overdrive. And one of the things they do is produce signals that they're sending to themselves and to the rest of the plant to say, I've just been injured. You should know that and, you know, ramp up your defenses. And some of those signals and defenses are volatiles. They're small molecules that do fly up into the air and that we can detect. So all you have to do is pick some tea leaves and let them wither, let them dry out a little bit and then pick them up and smell them. And instead of smelling like green leaves, they smell like flowers.
Dan Pashman: Hmm.
Harold Mcgee: It's just an amazing experience.
Dan Pashman: And so what I'm hearing from this is that when you enjoy a cup of tea, you're really just taking pleasure in the tea plant's cries for help.
Harold Mcgee: That's pretty much it. For for green tea, that's exactly it. Then what happens is if you want to make black tea, then you take those same withered tea leaves and you kind of rub them between your hands, if you're doing it on a small scale, to bruise them. So you're kind of, you know, insulting them even more. And that generates another layer of flavors.
Dan Pashman: So how much of our sense of smell is genetic?
Harold Mcgee: It's a lot. So we have about 400 different receptors for smell. And in the studies that have been done, it seems that pretty much no one has exactly the same set of active receptors as anybody else. So nobody has the full set of 400, as far as anyone knows. But which which ones are missing or inactive varies from person to person. And so when we smell things, we're almost always smelling something a little bit different from [the] person sitting right next to us smelling exactly the same.
Dan Pashman: Are you able to to say how wide is the range of different people's smells?
Harold Mcgee: Well, maybe the best way to think about it is to say that some people cannot smell —let's see, how can I say this better?
Dan Pashman: Asparagus? Were you gonna say asparagus pee?
Harold Mcgee: Well, that's an example. Some people just can't smell something that other people find so obvious and so repulsive, that they can't believe that the other person can't smell it. When we eat asparagus, we digest the various compounds in asparagus and excrete the ones that we can't make good use of. And one of the dominant things that we excrete in our urine is a sulfur compound that is pretty smelly. And very early on, I'd say maybe 100 years ago, when people got interested in this question because the smells of our bodies tell us something about what's going on in our bodies. And first they thought it was some people produce the smelly compound and some people don't. So it's a difference in their metabolism. That turns out to be part of the answer, but only part, because it also turns out that some people simply can't smell that smelly molecule and others can.
Dan Pashman: It's so silly that we spend so much time talking about what we think tastes good when our individual experiences of a single bite of food can be so incredibly different from one person to another.
Harold Mcgee: Yeah, and that's true at every level. I mean, we're talking right now about, you know, the very earliest level of our experience of food and drink, which is the the receptors that we have to detect what's in the food and drink. But then there's what our brains are able to do with that information, and that has to do with our histories, our database of experience, and expectations and so on.
Dan Pashman: Right. But I also feel like the world needs more like smell empathy. You know, like if you could invent a device that allow you to smell the world the way someone else smells it, I think that would be such an amazing experience. And that's like to get back to, like, the difference in my taste in food and my wife's taste in food. She actually has a very sensitive sense of smell. Twice, since I have met her, she has jumped up in the middle of the night from a dead sleep because she smelled a fire down the street before you could hear any sirens.
Harold Mcgee: Wow.
Dan Pashman: It's like living with Lassie. And so she is a very sensitive sense of smell, which I think may be part of the reason why she doesn't like stronger flavors and strong smelling food because they're too strong for her. Whereas my sense is probably more muted and so I can get into it more easily.
Harold Mcgee: Yeah, I think that's probably absolutely right. And it's it's very well documented in the case of taste, for example, where some people are relatively insensitive to a lot of bitter tastes and others are hypersensitive to them. And so that goes a long way to explaining why it is, for example, that some people just can't stand vegetables from the the cabbage family like Brussels sprouts, which often have a really distinct bitterness. And it's not just, you know, childlike, "Ew, I don't like that," it's that they're getting a really strong signal that this is not good for them.
Dan Pashman: So don’t judge people who don’t like a food you like. It may smell, or taste, very different to them. Have some smell empathy! Smellempathy? We got to workshop that. Anyway, that being said, Harold adds that our perception of different smells can change over time with our experience. We can learn to like a smell in the same way we acquire a taste for something. In fact, what we think of as acquiring a taste may sometimes actually be acquiring a smell. In either case, the key to doing that is exposure. Start with small amounts, maybe just a smell without a taste, and build from there.
Dan Pashman: All right, Harold, before I let you go, are you ready for the lightning round? Everything's Coming Up Roses edition.
Harold Mcgee: Probably not, but I'll do my best.
Dan Pashman: Your book is about smells. I have three lightning round questions for you, all relating to roses. Here we go. In the Outkast song Roses, Andre 3000 famously sings that, "Roses really smell like poo poo.
[Clip Outkast "Roses"]
Dan Pashman: Is there something in the chemical make up of roses that supports his claim?
Harold Mcgee: Ahh, there are many, many different varieties of rose. So I'm sure that there is one of them out there...[laughing] That has some crossover. But I couldn't name it for you.
Dan Pashman: OK, but as we've learned, it also could be something to do with Andre 3000's smell receptors.
Harold Mcgee: That's right.
Dan Pashman: OK.
Harold Mcgee: That's right. That's right. Or his experience when he was a child of roses in the garden where a dog had just been.
Dan Pashman: Got it. OK, fair enough. Next question, would a rose by any other name smell as sweet?
Harold Mcgee: Yes, I think it would, because plenty of cultures enjoy roses and they don't call them roses. So....
Dan Pashman: I might have to disagree with you on this one, Harold. I think that if you did a study where you gave people two identical roses, but you told them that one was called the Sugar Rose and one was called the Skunk Rose, they would tell you that the sugar rose smelled sweeter and the skunk rose did not smell this sweet.
Harold Mcgee: Uhh, but that's changing the modifier and not rose, right?
Dan Pashman: Well...
Harold Mcgee: Would rose by any other name...So you're calling them both roses is different?
Dan Pashman: I did not anticipate a semantic rejoinder from the scientists.
Harold Mcgee: Hey, I started out in literature. So watch your step.
Dan Pashman: All right. Final question. We're often told to stop and smell the roses. What's the one smell you always stop for?
Harold Mcgee: The smell I always stop for is the the unexpected smell. Going for a run, for example. I live in a residential area. People have—they're cooking at, you know, five or six o'clock in the evening. And when I get the smell of cooking, which is just kind of a generic smell, I do kind of stop and try to imagine what it is that's in the frying pan. Sometimes it's pretty easy. Onions, garlic, and tomatoes. That's easy. Sometimes it's not so easy, but it's a lot of fun to try to figure it out.
Dan Pashman: Do you ever knock on the door and ask?
Harold Mcgee: Nope. Especially, not wearing a mask.
Dan Pashman: Well Harold this has been—I really enjoyed the conversation and hope we get a chance to cross paths in person someday soon.
Harold Mcgee: Likewise. Likewise. No, I had a lot of fun. This is not like any interview I’ve done. So....
Dan Pashman: Oh, I’ll take that as a compliment.
Dan Pashman: That’s Harold McGee, his new book is called Nose Dive: A Field Guide To The World’s Smells. It’s out now. Harold’s book is laser focused on aroma. Coming up, we’ll turn to a cookbook that takes a holistic approach to the eating experience, that explores the role not only of taste and smell, but also of things like mouthfeel, and emotion. Stick around.
+++ BREAK +++
Dan Pashman: Welcome back to The Sporkful, I’m Dan Pashman. Hey, if you like our podcast, real quick right now, I wanna tell you I want to tell you about another podcast I think you're gonna love. It's called Decoder Ring. It's my friend, Slate. It's all about cracking cultural mysteries. So it's hosted by Willa Paskin, who's great, and in each one she takes a cultural question, or object, or habit. She kind of picks it up, turns it over, examines its history; and tries to figure out what it means and why it matters. So a couple food ones I'll recommend for you, there's one about why the ice cream truck business is so seedy. And it tells the spectacular rise and fall of one man's quest to franchise Mr. Softee in China.
CLIP (PERSON 1): I woke up the next morning, and outside of my apartment...well, four tires of my car tires were slashed.
Dan Pashman: Or, check out their episode, "Chuck E Cheese Pizza War." It's the unbelievable story of the animatronic pizza chain's rivalry with Showbiz Pizza, who had their own animatronic soldiers.
CLIP (PERSON 2): It seemed to me that only the craziest idiot would every choose the Chuck E. Cheese characters over the Rockafire Explosion.
Dan Pashman: Subscribe to Decoder Ring whenever you listen to podcasts. Now back to some fresh coffee table reads for all you food science nerds out there.
Dan Pashman: When Nik Sharma moved to the U.S. from Mumbai, he wanted to pursue a career in science. He studied molecular genetics in college, worked in the pharmaceutical industry. But eventually he quit his job to pursue his dream of working with food. He started a blog, where he showcases both his food photography and his recipes. His dishes lean south Asian and mediterranean but they extend far beyond. His new cookbook marries his science background with his kitchen skills. It’s called The Flavor Equation: The Science of Great Cooking Explained.
Nik Sharma: So the flavor equation is something that when I was in school—I come from a science background and one of the things that I learned in school was, flavor is a multidimensional component.
Dan Pashman: So Nik’s book details the various dimensions of flavor. And I should say, I know many of us use the words taste and flavor interchangeably, but in proper food science they're actually different. Taste is what happens in your mouth. Flavor is the whole experience. And Nik says, flavor includes six components: aroma, sight, taste, emotion, sound, mouthfeel. Now, for our conversation I wanted to get into the three items in that equation that I think get less attention in food science: emotion, sound, and mouthfeel. My first question? Is there a way to think of emotion like an ingredient? Like, how can I use an understanding of the way emotion informs flavor to make my food better to people who are eating it?
Nik Sharma: You know what? When I write about food for the different outlets that I write, I'm always encouraged by my editors to bring in emotion. So I started paying attention to that when I was writing the book and started to note down what dishes made me happy or sad. I also learned during my research that emotions influence the perception of flavor and flavor can also influence the perception of emotion. They go both ways.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Nik Sharma: One of the studies that came up was how if you've lost a sports game, you know, food tastes sour. You're not happy.
Dan Pashman: Ohh.
Nik Sharma: And then if you win something, it tastes sweeter. And so...
Dan Pashman: And, so when people talk about a victory tasting so sweet, that's actually... it actually does.
Nik Sharma: Right. Right.
Dan Pashman: So Nik says in that sense, emotion can be an ingredient. Here’s how you use it in your cooking. Before you serve someone something you made, tell them an elaborate story about why this dish is so meaningful to you, how much effort you went to to get certain ingredients. If people are emotionally connected to food you’ve cooked, it should improve the flavor for them. Who cares if it's true? You want people to like your cooking or not? Anyway, Nik says, another one of the less obvious factors in flavor is sound.
Nik Sharma: Think about the time you go on an airplane. And I think Lufthansa was one of the airlines they were looking at. Based on their records, that they were selling way...or they were rather buying a lot of tomato juice for flights. And it turns out that the high sounds of the plane when you're flying in a plane, that it's just so intense, it affects your taste receptors for umami and it suppresses some of the other taste receptors in your mouth. And so you're inclined to consume more tomato juice.
Dan Pashman: Because it's so loud on the plane?
Nik Sharma: Right. And also, there's a dryness that happens with the plane because of the air conditioning. And lo and behold, like scientists go and measure these things and they find that sound is affecting the taste receptors, as well. And I then went back to think about, "OK, so when I fly on a plane, what is the drink that I always get?", I don't drink coffee or tea, but I always get tomato juice. And when I'm on land, I never buy tomato juice.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Nik Sharma: And so it turns out it actually tastes much better on a plane.
Dan Pashman: In other words, tomato juice tastes better on a plane because we can’t taste it as much! And if you think about it, the idea that loud noise reduces flavor perception makes sense. The sound is distracting. Like when you’re driving on the highway, you're listening to loud music. Then you get off the highway and let's say, you’re going somewhere new. You have to navigate. What do you do? You turn down the volume. Now, the loud noise isn’t actually stopping you from seeing where you’re going but it’s a distraction. In the same way that you taste less on a plane because it’s so noisy. Ok, let’s move on because there’s one more part of Nik’s flavor equation I really wanna get to: mouthfeel. In his book, Nik cites research done that sorted people based on their preferred textures in food.
Nik Sharma: And they classified in them into people that like crispy textures, chewy textures, I think creamy and smooth. And so, if you think about it every—all of us like certain textures in food. With soups, for example, with very smooth, velvety, creamy soups, I find my mouth palate tends to get a little exhausted from the monotony of that texture. So I bring in a lot of crispy things to it, and that is through garnishes. And then look at how chefs. A lot of chefs do this, right? They do the same thing. They'll have one major texture in a dish and then that texture is contrasted. The boringness—I call it, the boringness.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Nik Sharma: You know? It makes it much more interesting when you have something against it or that's contrasting against it.
Dan Pashman: One of the questions that I have contemplated for years here on the Sporkful, is the the question of when do you want bite consistency in a dish and when do you want bite variety in a dish.
Nik Sharma: OK.
Dan Pashman: You know, when do you want one bite to the next to be different versus always the same? And I feel like as I have gotten older and my palates expanded and I sort of crave more variety, I've moved towards bite variety. But I do still feel like there's a philosophical question here, Nik, because like when you get the bite that has all the perfect ratios of all the components and you're like, "That was the bite," like, "How do I get that bite over and over again? I don't want a different bite. I want another one of those bites."
Nik Sharma: Uh-huh.
Dan Pashman: That's when you want bite consistency. But then again, would that bite be as good if every bite was like that?
Nik Sharma: That's a very good question, and I think bite consistency is very important and I'll give you a reason for this. If you take the example of people or companies that make potato chips? They're constantly measuring the entire experience. Right? Like when you open the bag, the sound that it makes, how the chip fractures and the sound that that makes and they try to replicate that exactly under a certain set of standard conditions. So in that sense, I think it's very important because if people don't get it and they— especially, when you're used to something, that I feel it shows up much more when you're emotionally connected to the way something is. Chocolate is another example. I think Cadbury's in England played around with the shapes and then even though they said they didn't change the recipe, people claim that because they changed the shape, it wasn't tasting as sweet taste. It didn't taste as chocolate or whatever. So I think there is that component when you're used to something, then you want that bite consistency. If it's something new that you've never experienced, I think your mind is much more open to saying, "You know, I want to try something. I want it to be different every time, so I can explore and taste the new ratios," like you said in each setting.
Dan Pashman: Right. But it's interesting. I feel like there's two types of potato chips. There's like your Pringles or some of your other mass-produced, you know, classics, Lays, Ruffles, et cetera, where, like, they kind of are all the same. But then, you know, nowadays, more and more, I feel like Kettle Chips, kettle style chips, or Cape Cod chips. Those have become increasingly popular.
Nik Sharma: Right.
Dan Pashman: And those are not all the same in the bag. Now, I opened up one of those bags and I'm a hunter. I will open the bag. I will look inside the bag, and I want the chips that are folded over or twisted, contorted. I don't want any flagships.
Nik Sharma: OK.
Dan Pashman: I want maximum crunch.
Nik Sharma: OK.
Dan Pashman: I pick out all those chips. Then I give the flat ones to my kids.
Nik Sharma: I knew you were going to say that.
Dan Pashman: But part of me feels like someday I'm going to invent a potato chip where they're all folded over and like doubled and quadrupled and starburst shaped, like only the best chips. But then would it be as good? Not everyday in life can be a great day. If it was, then no day would be a great day.
Nik Sharma: Right. Yeah, I agree with you. I think there's that notion of it being unique and special because it saved one out of one out of ten. And I think that makes that makes a unique experience much more memorable. You know? If everything look the same, you're not going to remember it.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Nik Sharma: So, yeah, I agree with you on that.
Dan Pashman: OK, all right.
Nik Sharma: I feel bad for your kids.
Dan Pashman: What's your approach to eating kettle potato chips?
Nik Sharma: Exactly yours. I give the flat ones to my husband. He doesn't really care. He hasn't noticed. He will now, after he listens to this.
Dan Pashman: Well, it sounds like you guys are perfect for each other.
Nik Sharma: Yeah, I made it that way.
Dan Pashman: I think now, you have a sense of Nik’s Flavor equation. In the second part of his book, he explains how this equation plays out in a wide variety of dishes to create a range of flavor experiences. And he shares more than 100 recipes, including a variation on his goan coconut cake, that one that’s been on my To Cook list for a while. This version adds a tres leches component, so I might have to just skip straight to that one. Anyway, before I let Nik go, there was one more thing to do.
Dan Pashman: All right. Time now for The Lightning Round.
Nik Sharma: OK.
Dan Pashman: You say the six components of the flavor equation are: emotion, sight, sound, mouthfeel, aroma, taste. Which is the best band name?
Nik Sharma: Aroma.
Dan Pashman: I'm afraid that's incorrect. The correct answer was mouthfeel.
Nik Sharma: Why?
Dan Pashman: I always thought there would be a great band name.
Nik Sharma: It sounds....I mean, I feel people would think it would be a little creepy.
Dan Pashman: But like you sing with your mouth and then you make people feel things when you're singing...Mouthfeel,
Nik Sharma: But aroma almost sounds much more ethereal, like, you know? Kind of like— I'm going to say...I'm going to embarrass myself. What does that cartoon Jamming Jam? Where everything was a hologram and she was a musician? That’s what I think.
Dan Pashman: Oh, Jem and The Holograms?
Nik Sharma: Yeah, I remember that cartoon for some reason. That's what immediately came to mind.
Dan Pashman: All right, you know what? You're right. I think it depends on the kind of—you're playing sort of ethereal, dreamy soundscapes. Aroma is a very nice. If you want to like just, you know, smash guitars on stage, then you go with Mouthfeel.
Nik Sharma: Yeah, OK. I would agree.
Dan Pashman: The components of flavor are, of course, very much tied to the senses, as we've discussed. If you had to cook using only one of your five senses, which would it be and why?
Nik Sharma: It would be sound, because my grandma, that's how she cooks because she would always say, "Listen to the sound," because you can tell when something is done even when you chop a vegetable. She said, you know, you can chop fast and you don't have to look at it. I mean, watch out for your fingers, but you can hear when something's gone through and it's done. And so I've always use my sense of sound to judge end points when cooking. So to me, it's the most useful one.
Dan Pashman: This is a bonus question of the lightning round.
Nik Sharma: OK.
Dan Pashman: And I'm just curious, what's one way that you use sound in the kitchen to tell when something's done? What's the sound you listen for?
Nik Sharma: So when I am cooking flatbreads on the stove, I can tell when it's ready to flip by the—I call it the sizzling sound that the bread sings. But as soon as it starts sizzling because of the fat, you can tell that it's ready to flip.
Dan Pashman: All right, last question. In the Outkast song, "Gasoline Dreams", Big Boi says, "Everybody likes the taste of apple pie."
[Clip of Outkast "Gasoline Dreams"]
Dan Pashman: Does everyone like the taste of apple pie?
Nik Sharma: Ah, no, I'm pretty sure, yeah.
Dan Pashman: OK. I think that plain old apple pie is kind of blah and boring, but if it has a good crisp crumble top , then I'm on board.
Nik Sharma: I mean, apple pies don't move me in one way or the other. I've made apple pies before, I think I don't like apple pies as much because I prefer apples in cakes and tarts. I prefer pies that are berries for some reason. So blueberry pie because I can add lemon curd to it, lime curd, or whatever. I like a little bit of tanginess to it and apple pie doesn't really let me do that.
Dan Pashman: It's kind of a one note song. The old saying, "As American as apple pie," that always bothered me. You know? Like, come on, we could do better.
Nik Sharma: You said it not me.
Dan Pashman: That’s Nik Sharma, his new is The Flavor Equation: The Science of Great Cooking Explained. It’s out now. You can also find a lot of his recipes on his blog, which is called A Brown Table. So the two books featured this week might make for great gifts. I also mentioned our brand new Sporkful t-shirts, available in adult and kids sizes, five different designs, get those at sporkful.com/store. Next week we’ll have more gift ideas. We’ll hear about a beloved fruitcake that just won’t die, and Nikita Richardson returns to tell us about the home seltzer machine of your dreams. That’s next week.
Dan Pashman: While you wait for that one, check out last week’s episode featuring the one and only LeVar Burton. He proves that he can read literally anything and make it sound amazing, when he reads recipes. Come for that, stay for the story about the time he brought stolen steaks home to his mother. That one’s up now, check it out.