Inventing a sweetener with even a little of sugar’s appeal is one of the hardest tasks in food science. It’s less like imitating the taste of Coke or vanilla than like trying to imitate water—another simple but astonishingly versatile compound. Sugar’s sweetness only begins to explain our devotion to it. You can freeze it, cook it, candy it, and caramelize it. It adds bulk to baked goods and helps them to brown. Sugar is a powerful preservative. It triggers the taste buds almost instantly, fades quickly without aftertaste, and has a voluptuous mouthfeel. Even its potency can’t easily be improved. Artificial sweeteners may be thousands of times as sweet by volume, but their flavor loses intensity with repeated tasting. Sugar stays sweet.
Yesterday I read Burkhard Bilger’s article, “The Search for Sweet” from the May 22 issue of The New Yorker. The thing I love about TNY is that I never question whether or not the topic of the article is something I am interested in, because it doesn’t matter; the articles are so well-written and within each article touch on aspects of such a wide range of fields – psychology, biology, history, current events, anthropology, biography, etc.-- that they are always interesting, regardless of topic. So that’s my plug.
Back to the food topic at hand: