Do you have a preference for particular types of coffee? Or wine?
Subha R. Das, assistant professor of chemistry at Carnegie Mellon
University, will explain what's behind those flavors in a Slow Food
Pittsburgh presentation at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 4, at Harvard &
Highland above Union Pig & Chicken in East Liberty.
The energetic Mr. Das will lead a discussion about the basics of
taste and taste perceptions, focusing on coffee, soda and wine.
In fact, it was over an afternoon cup of coffee that Mr. Das and
Roberto Gil, director of Carnegie Mellon's Nuclear Magnetic
Resonance (NMR) facility, began to mull the idea of analyzing
beverages to create flavor profiles using NMR, a technique that
allows scientists to determine a substance's molecular chemistry,
structure and dynamics.
Other scientists have already developed techniques for
pinpointing various additives or substances in beverages, so that's
not what these two are trying to do. Instead, they're trying to
create "fingerprints" for different beverages, so that each type of
beverage has its own unique NMR fingerprint that distinguishes it
from every other type of beverage. Thus, you could identify a
beverage based solely on its NMR line graph, which (for the non-
scientists among us) looks a bit like an electrocardiogram printout.
Peaks on the graph represent sugars, fats and other compounds in the
They're calling it Bev-O-Metrics.
So far, the professors have found that they seem to be able to
detect one type of coffee over another. They also have students
working on wines, and they've developed a database of flavor
profiles for a number of different wines.
From a consumer's point of view, here are some of the questions
the professors expect to be able to answer:
* If you like a certain type of wine, which other types might you
also like, based on similarities in their flavor profiles?
* How does a particular coffee's flavor profile change if you
change the method of roasting the beans? How does it change when you
make the coffee a couple different ways in your home kitchen?
* Why does decaf coffee taste weak?
* How much caffeine is in different types of beverages?
* What's the best time to harvest grapes used in winemaking?
Mr. Das believes there's a certain appeal to creating an NMR
profile of beverages because while the scientific profile never
changes, people's tastes actually can change -- a beverage might not
taste the same to a person from one day or year to the next.
He moved from Chicago to Pittsburgh seven years ago and gradually
is making inroads into the food scene here. He combines chemistry
and food in more than one way; he also teaches the popular "Kitchen
Chemistry Sessions," a five-week CMU mini-course that was previously
featured in Food & Flavor. …