Body hackery can be surprisingly low-tech, especially if you're trying to hijack any person with a sweet tooth. There are a bunch of foods that chefs are using to hack your tastes buds into thinking their food tastes better, or at least sweeter, than it is.
Artichokes and Sweetness
A lot of chefs will serve artichokes as a course just before dessert, or at other times when the following dishes need an extra kick of sweetness. Why? Because artichokes will make whatever comes after them taste sweeter. They're part of a group of foods that induce an artificial sweetness in whatever comes next. They all use different techniques, but it seems that they can all hack your tongue in order to make you taste what nearly all humans crave – sugar.
Artichokes have to be the most subtle of the lot. I have eaten artichokes ever since I could remember, and I've never noticed the sweetness kick in the next food. I'll have to pay attention next time, though, because it's meant to be a sweetness unlike any other. It has a savory element to it that makes the overall food sweetly flavorful and delicious. This is because the artichoke is pulling the flavor equivalent putting you in a dark room for a while before turning on the light.
Image: Davide Vizzini.
Anyone who's eaten an artichoke knows that the last possible flavor associated with it is sweetness. The artichoke isn't bitter, it just has a strong bread-and-vegetable taste entirely lacking in sugar. What it isn't lacking is cynarin. Cynarin is an acid that inhibits the taste of sweetness. The next food clears the cynarin away, and tastes extra sweet in comparison to the last sweet-free experience.
Salt and Sweetness
It's strange to consider an acid that inhibits sweetness as boosting sweetness, but how about something that's considered the opposite of sweetness? Salt is a fashionable addition to some candies now because of the flavor contrast, but all on its own it can boost the perceived sweetness of a substance. Adding salt to slightly bitter unripe fruit, or even to coffee, will reduce the bitterness. The sweetness – which generally would also be "used up" in inhibiting bitterness – comes through more strongly. A weak salt solution will make plain water taste sweet. And then there are a lot of salts, including inedible lead and beryllium salts, will taste sweet to such an extent that people would probably eat and drink them, if compounds weren't added to the household products that use them to make them taste bitter.
The "Miracle Berry"
And then there's the jackpot – Synsepalum dulcificum. It's a berry that grows in West Africa and makes everything that is eaten afterwards taste sweet. In Africa, it's used to eat or drink otherwise unpalatable food. It's been exported to other countries to do pretty much the same thing. It contains a compound which, in the presence of acids, binds to sweet sensors on the tongue. Cheap liquor tastes like top grade juice. Vinegar tastes delicious. Tabasco tastes, according to one person, like hot donut glaze. It's possible to find the berry in the US, but sadly, there's no bottled miraculin compound yet. It's a shame. If vegetables could be as sweet as candy, it would be a lot easier to stick to a diet.
Maybe for now we'll just eat a lot of artichokes.
Top Image: David Dennis.