While commuting to teach one of my college classes, I tuned into the local public radio station. The commute provides me a good opportunity to add to my knowledge by listening to NPR (National Public Radio). As I settled into my commute to class, the announcer introduced her guest-a flavor expert who was pushing his new book on the subject. I didn't realize that the more food is processed for the fast-food industry, the less tasty it becomes. As a result, a new industry has sprung up to supply taste to the tasteless fast foods and to other foods that need some extra flavor enhancement.
The author explained how flavor enhancement is a multimillion dollar industry and critical for the fast-food industry. What got me thinking was how to go beyond merely enhancing the flavor of processed foods like French fries. Consider the possibility of adding a different flavor to bad or non-descript tasting foods. I can see the application of restoring taste to burgers and fries, however, I got excited about altering tastes of poorly designed foods that no one liked by of their taste. We could increase the consumption of things like vegetables without the negative consequences of their taste.
For example, what flavors could be added to Brussel sprouts to make them edible? My first thought was to replace the odorous sprouts with the flavor of corn. Now, there is an idea. Imagine Brussel sprouts tasting like large pieces of tasty corn. Flavor enhancement would add a needed jumpstart to the Brussel sprout industry in Belgium. I can't believe that sprout farmers aren't already making a killing in the worldwide veggie market by selling corn-tasting sprouts. In addition to helping foreign farmers, flavor enhancement could help American lima bean producers. What if lima beans had the taste of chicken nuggets; everyone in the world would eat that formally ill-tasting veggie. Lima beans already have a similar texture to chicken. You could call these enhanced veggies-chicken beans. They would soon replace chicken wings as a meaty chicken treat.
As the miles whizzed by on my way to class, my mind whizzed about creating new ideas for flavor enhancement. It is unbelievable the number of possible improvements over what Mother Nature created for us. Fish has suffered from smell problems since the first Neanderthal cooked the first fish in the cave. If you could enhance fish with the taste of filet mignon, you could kill two birds with one stone. Gone would be the odorous small of fish and you would do away with the high levels of the saturated fat in the steak. In addition, what a taste!
As I pulled into the parking lot, I was flushed with excitement. No more bad or bland tasting foods anymore. And we think that the computer and cell phones are wondrous additions to our world. Just imagine a world with all foods tasting really "umm, umm good." As I made my way down the hall to my class, I started to think about what the world would be like with flavor enhancement. Parents and children would no longer be a hostile battleground with parents yelling, "Eat your peas and liver or no dessert." If parents had served peas enhanced with the flavor of popcorn and liver that tasted like lobster, kids would eagerly clean their plates without dessert hanging over their heads.
Entering the room, I started wondering why my utopian world hadn't already been created. I couldn't have been the first to consider changing the taste of food with tastier flavors. As I opened my attaché case, it started to dawn upon me. Perhaps, it might not be such a brilliant idea to have all tastier foods. Perhaps steaks taste good because liver doesn't. Maybe the Eastern philosophers were correct about yin/yang. The opposite defines the other. We wouldn't know what good is unless we knew what bad is. Or how would you know cold unless you experienced hot. Would I long for expensive lobster if all I had to do were to boil a box of lima beans?
This article appeared in the Dixon Telegraph on 4/5/01.