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Duration:03:24
Uploaded:2021-02-06
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Bacon and eggs aren’t a classic flavor combo for no reason, and the science behind why they taste so good together could help us make healthier foods more appealing to our palettes.



Hosted by: Hank Green

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Sources:
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10736353/
https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/nursing-and-health-professions/umami
https://www.pnas.org/content/105/52/20930.full
https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/100/2/532/4576469
https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-77107-w
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10408398.2012.678422
https://www.nature.com/articles/s41386-018-0044-6
https://www.google.com/books/edition/Mouthfeel/4WTYDQAAQBAJ
https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1934578X1601101040
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22544776/

Image Sources:
https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/prepared-bacon-gm162454194-22084312
https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/fried-egg-gm155358881-19332971
https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/smiling-and-positive-face-made-from-fried-eggs-and-bacon-on-plate-gm919919376-252870404
https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/sweet-and-sticky-chicken-wings-gm1221948697-358384548
https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/salmon-sashimi-freshness-fish-favorite-menu-of-japanese-food-gm1186556500-334829006
https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/sun-dried-tomatoes-fresh-champignons-mozzarella-and-basil-on-a-light-yellow-background-gm905438918-249659753
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:L-Glutamate_Structural_Formulae.png
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https://www.istockphoto.com/vector/champagne-bottle-and-champagne-glass-watercolor-painting-on-white-background-gm1254662727-366799716
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[♪ INTRO] .

Bacon and eggs taste great separately, but they’re somehow way more doubly delicious together.  The same goes for things like ginger and chicken, fish and soy sauce, and maybe even mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes. And those aren’t just cultural preferences.

There’s actually a molecular reason for their chef’s kiss perfection, along with some other classical pairings.   The phenomenon comes down to umami, the scientific term for that savory something in foods like mushrooms, tomatoes, meats, and cheeses. The distinctive taste comes from the amino acid glutamate. And on their own, foods with this flavor can be delicious!

But when you pair two umami things together, bam: you get umami synergy. Which is an actual, technical term used by researchers. The magic starts when glutamate hits a part of the umami receptor on your tongue called the Venus flytrap domain, so named because it’s shaped like a Venus flytrap, with two lobes around a hinge.  When glutamate gets in, it forms a hydrogen bond with other compounds near that hinge, and the trap snaps shut, sending the “Mmm, umami” signal to your brain.

And that’s nice on its own. But the synergy happens when you add certain kinds of nucleotides. Nucleotides are the building blocks of DNA and RNA.

And these specific ones are generally found in meat, and also in things like mushrooms. When these nucleotides get into the flytrap alongside glutamate, they stabilize its structure, making it close even harder and more securely, so an even stronger umami signal goes to your brain. This actually intensifies that umami sensation by up to 15 times compared with glutamate alone.

We’ve known about this phenomenon for a while, but as we keep studying it, scientists are finding even more nuanced ways this can play out, too. Like, a November 2020 study in Scientific Reports took a closer look at champagne and oysters. They measured the amount of free glutamate and nucleotides in a few kinds of each.

And they found that oysters on their own have enough of both of these to create umami synergy.  So file that away for the next time you visit or get takeout from a fancy restaurant. Meanwhile, champagne also has free glutamates and nucleotides, but not enough for the synergy. Instead, the researchers think that once someone swallows an oyster morsel, some of the umami compounds linger on the tongue.  When you add some bubbly, the low levels of glutamate and nucleotides flow into those receptors, giving you an enhanced kick of synergy.  This phenomenon is behind classic combinations around the world, across cultures, and throughout history.      And even now that we’ve, you know, figured out the basics, we are not done studying it yet.

Additional research could reveal how other compounds, textures, acidity, and more may be further enhancing the umami party in people’s mouths.  And figuring out how it all works won’t only give us something to talk about over dinner. Someday, it could even help hack our taste buds and give people an extra kick of flavor to help them enjoy maybe some more nutritious, and healthy foods. Not just the bacon and eggs that I so dearly do want.

Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow! If you want to learn more about food science, check out our episode on SciShow Psych about more brain hacks to help your food taste better. [♪ OUTRO].