How does cooking lead to neuroscience?

I was making stew. I substitute turkey breast for beef to make it more heart healthy. I reduce the rosemary called for by the recipe. I like the smell of pine; the taste not so much. I compensate by adding sage which makes the stew more savory.

As any cook, worth their salt, knows, savory is one of the five basic tastes that our mouths (taste buds) can detect. You’d think one would be for chocolate; alas no. The other four are salty, sweet, bitter, and sour. We all know what those four are, but what exactly is the taste of savory?

If you look up savory, you find that it derives from a Japanese word, umami, which was translated as “pleasant savory taste.” Here is what the Wikipedia has to say.

“In 1985, the term umami was recognized as the scientific term to describe the taste of glutamates and nucleotides at the first Umami International Symposium in Hawaii. Umami represents the taste of the amino acid L-glutamate. It can be described as as a pleasant “brothy” or “meaty” taste with a long lasting, mouthwatering and coating sensation over the tongue.”

Turns out our taste buds can taste glutamate, which is found in many foods. This glutamate stuff, along with some other amino acids, is apparently what makes food taste good. It was named after the gluten found in wheat. This is probably why “gluten free” sometimes means “flavor free.” My heart goes out to those who are gluten intolerant.

As I was learning all this, I clicked the link for “glutamates” and found out that glutamate (or glutamic acid) is an important neurotransmitter. It causes neurons (brain cells) to get excited. The same stuff that makes food taste good, makes our brain cells perk up.

You know where I am going with this. I don’t pretend any scientific validity to my conclusion. I am no neuroscientist. I’m not even a great cook though my chili often brings tears to people’s eyes. Three of our five basic tastes (salty, sweet, and savory) make us feel good. When you put any two of the three together, they work even better. When you put all three together, as in a savory stew, wow!

Less than Helpful Advice.
When you are feeling low or fearful, eat some savory food. Savory food has glutamates and they will help your brain wake up and get moving or, at least, the taste will. If you are watching your weight or are gluten intolerant, cook some savory food for other people. Cooking for others is love and they will love you for it.


About almondhead

I am a mental health counselor in private practice. One of the focuses of my practice is helping people with fear, anxiety and their ugly stepsister, depression. I became a counselor after a long career in the technology world, so naturally, I think of the brain as an engineering problem. It can help to understand something about how the brain works. I decided to start this blog as a way to help other people learn about fear, anxiety and relationship. (All our problems are really about relationships.) You can also find me at:
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