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Mechanical tasting: Sensory science and the flavorization of food production
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Economic History, Science and Technology Studies Center.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-2807-6061
2017 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In 1957, food engineer Aaron Brody at MIT completed his PhD thesis on the "Strain gage denture tenderometer", a machine for food experiments with an eye-catching grinning denture, an electric motor propelling the upper jaw, strain sensors, an oscilloscope, and a camera. According to Brody, the instrument simulated human oral physiology and by feeding it with different foodstuffs it could, allegedly, provide food industry with crucial and systematic knowledge on qualities as tenderness and mouthfeel. With Brody's instrument as case in point, the paper narrates a broader history of devices designed to enhance and substitute human sensory abilities to evaluate food texture. Three interrelated processes, characteristic of the emergence of industrialized food production in the twentieth century, are examined through this history of mechanical tasting: (1) An overall "flavorization" – that is: how sensory impressions became increasingly important for the production and consumption of food in late-modern industrialized societies. (2) The emergence of food sensory science as a knowledge field, including, besides experiments using instruments like Brody's tenderometer, organoleptic taste panels, and chemical methods as gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. Different in many aspects, those knowledge practices share nevertheless a common key feature by continuously making hybrids of human subjects and technical artifacts; panelists forming calibrated sensory machineries, laboratory devices mimicking human physiology. (3) The pervasive project of transforming the phenomenological quality of flavor into robust "objective" and "standardized" data through a range of instruments and experimental techniques. For Brody's work this meant to show scientifically the "masticatory properties" of culinary qualities as crisp, crunch and chewiness by producing photographs of "bite curves" from experiments on a range of food samples; an example of how the pursuit of objectivity and standardized knowledge coevolved with the rise of mass production and the emergence of sensory sciences.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2017.
National Category
Economic History History of Technology History of Ideas
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-337844OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-337844DiVA: diva2:1170968
Conference
Capitalism and the senses. Harvard Business School, Boston, June 2017
Available from: 2018-01-05 Created: 2018-01-05 Last updated: 2018-01-05

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CiteExportLink to record
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Citation style
  • apa
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