What are flavours, how are they created, how do they impact us and does it matter? These are the key questions addressed by neuroscientist Gordon M. Shepherd in this quite unusual, interesting book.
At first glance you may feel this is a fairly typical academic tome, full of top-notch information but barely accessible to the average reader. In this case you would be mistaken. Here the author has managed to create a book that is both accessible but not "dumbed down". You don't need a science degree to enjoy this book but, of course, should you be using it in the course of study you will equally find it of value.
Within this book the author seeks to create a new scientific field of study and understanding - neurogastronomy - and debunk the belief that the sense of smell diminished during human evolution. Taking an opposing view, Shepherd claims that our sense of flavour is inherently stronger than previously imagined. The basics of smell are covered from its interaction in the body as well as the "physical mechanics" of how a smell is transformed or processed into a flavour. This might turn a lot of conventional thinking on its head as we are led to believe, or think, that vanilla surely has the same taste to man as it might have to an animal. Once you start reading about this subject and thinking about it, the potential seems almost limitless. Society generally accepts that dogs have a great sense of smell and it appears to be more acute than humans. There are reasons for that. Yet how many people really know that there are many structural, physiological differences. Both noses smell things. Both brains process things, yet the processing "algorithm", for want of a better word, is different. There must be reasons for this.
The concepts raised by the author can also explain how flavouring intensity can vary tremendously between people. One could further postulate that different cultures and influences can change the nature and form of the smell/flavour interface.
Essentially the book is split into four major parts: noses and smells, making pictures of smells, creating flavour and why it (the overall theme of the book) matters. Within this each small chapter builds upon the knowledge learned and expressed so you can get a quite good, general understanding of this potentially very complex, developed theme. Each chapter is, in itself, quite short and to the point, which probably is an attraction and oddity in its own right (within academic works). There is a lot to say for this style of modular, nugget-sized learning, particularly when the material itself has not been watered down.
It is certainly a thought-provoking read, even if for many it is unlikely to be of practical, actionable interest for the average reader. But need that be a bad thing? Sometimes it is great to just get knowledge for knowledge's sake. With this book you get that in spades and get to read a work that has the potential for breaking new ground and developing a whole new direction of study.
This reviewer cautiously suggests that you need not have a specific scientific or culinary background to enjoy this book. Even as a 'general reader' it has a lot to offer, even if some of the more detailed material is skipped over. On a scientific level, no comment is possibly, but it certainly appears to provide a conclusive argument. The end of the book is rounded off with the usual extensive notes, bibliography and index that need no further explanation.