Perhaps it will take some of the charm of the "It tastes good, that's why we eat it!" response that most people give to the reasons behind why they eat certain traditional foods, but a group of researchers has embarked on a trip along the ancient Silk Road to uncover the "genetics of taste." From a release by Terra Madre, one of the groups behind the expedition:
The researchers will follow the historical journey of Venetian explorer Marco Polo, focusing on a number of topics including the genes that determine sensorial perception and taste, how these influence food preferences, the consequences of climate change on native populations, as well as documenting local food traditions. “We hope to gain a better understanding of genetics of taste and food preferences and their relationships with traditions and health of communities,” lead researcher Paolo Gasparini explained.
The expedition will work its way through the Caucasus and Central Asia, stopping at communities along the way that have managed to maintain traditional food production and cooking methods.
Great news, Halal and Kosher eaters: Reuters, via Kazakhstan's Megapolis weekly, reports that Kazakh scientists have invented a kind of stick that can determine the presence of pork in any dish!
"When you get your beef patty, cut off a couple of small pieces and drop them in a glass of water. Stir, shake, put the test stick in ... In a minute or two you will see the result," the newspaper suggests.
The stick, which "changes color as in a pregnancy test," uses anti-bodies that react with a pig's muscle tissue in exactly the same way a real pregnancy test reacts with chemicals in a mother's urine. (The scientists apparently even went to Moscow to test and assemble the pork detector at existing pregnancy test plants.) So in case you don't trust your first response...
All joking aside, however, the Kazakh scientists may have hit it big, given that trusting food labels and menu descriptions in Kazakhstan may not always be a good idea: since pork is cheaper, chefs often use it to augment Halal dishes without warning. And one can easily see the test being used around the world by Muslims who are traveling or want to double-check their food for any other reason.
So: good luck, Kazakh National Center for Biotechnology scientists! Maybe you can make a stick that detects peanuts and shrimp and other allergens while you're at it?