Things to consider before becoming a full-time professional dairy product reviewer

Go get a nice little spoonful of the bitter compound 6-n-propylthiouracil. Taste it. Can’t taste it? Ok, listen to me — never become a writer. Nip that in the bud right now.

Or at least never write about dairy products. Just… do us all a favour and… don’t. The world doesn’t need your rigid, prosaic descriptions of dairy products.

Maybe you’re one of those rare people who doesn’t have 6-n-propylthiouracil in their household or workplace chemical cupboard. If so, go to the fridge. Get out the cream cheese. (Don’t you dare tell me you don’t have 6-n-propylthiouracil or cream cheese. That is unfathomable and disturbing.) Eat a little piece of it and think carefully. Now, write a description of it. What’s important to you about it? What does it look like? What tastes and flavours can you pick up? What’s the texture like? Write it down on a piece of paper, hand it to me, and I’ll read it and shake my head disapprovingly if you’ve said anything as naff as “sweet”, “sour” or “milky”. Such an unimaginative and uninspired attempt at imagery… it could only have been done by a person whose pretty poor at tasting 6-n-propylthiouracil. Shame on you.

As I mentioned in the previous post, the different levels of sensitivity people have to bitter tastes can be associated with different behaviours. People who have greater sensitivity to bitter chemicals such as phenylthiocarbamine and 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP) may perceive food differently, perhaps finding bitter foods less palatable (depending on the bitter compounds in the food, the intensity of the bitterness, and so on), which is a bit of a worry if the bitter foods are also healthy ones. However, it looks like the gene variant combination that bitter tasters have compared to non-tasters might also be associated with other differences in food perception. Fat content seems to be one of those, with research finding that people who are good at tasting bitterness also seem to be pretty good at discerning fat content and creaminess in foods. And they’re better at describing these things too. (And our fingers continue to hover over the button to purchase bitter taste phenotype kits so we can finally figure out how all of this stuff applies to us…)

Participants in a study by Kirkmeyer and Tepper evaluated various dairy products (such as cream cheese, condensed milk, sour cream, milk, ice-cream and yoghurt) and described each of the products in terms of appearance, taste/flavour and texture. A rather interesting pattern became evident once the participants were sorted according to their gene variant combination (genotype) for tasting the bitterness of PROP.

Non-tasters used very simple terms and a limited vocabulary — products were described in terms of being sour or sweet or milky; all the more basic and obvious descriptors for something like a dairy product. PROP tasters, however, used a much more varied lexicon, favouring descriptors such as “rich, buttery, creamy, light, grainy, gritty and sandy” in their evaluations. When comparing the descriptors in terms of whether they describe the sweet-sour dimension of the products taste or its flavour-texture dimension, it became apparent that tasters tended to place more emphasis on the flavour-texture dimension rather than the sweet-sour dimension, whereas non-tasters gave flavour-texture and sweet-sour equal importance.

This tells us that maybe bitter tasters judge creaminess and fat content using different cues to non-tasters, more related to the texture and the sensation of the food in the mouth. A few studies have found that tasters (or at least supertasters) are better at judging the fat content or creaminess of a liquid dairy product than non-tasters, so if they are using different cues, then they’re possibly the more accurate ones to use. But why are people who are good at tasting a particular bitter chemical better at judging texture?

Maybe the papillae, the tiny little lumpy structures on the tongue, some of which harbour taste-buds. PROP supertasters tend to have a greater density of tongue papillae, allowing perhaps for a more sensitive and nuanced perception of whatever’s on the tongue. So somehow, maybe the PROP gene is associated with the gene/s for papillae formation and expression.

The upshot of all of this is that it could be interpreted from a health perspective. Some research results suggest that not only are PROP tasters better at judging the fat content and creaminess of food, but that they also have a preference for the higher-fat, creamier food because, well, they can tell the difference. Give them low-fat ice-cream and they can tell it’s not as enjoyable to their energy-craving brain as full-fat ice-cream, but give the low-fat ice-cream to non-tasters and maybe they don’t care so much. Is this genuinely the case? And if so, does it affect long-term food intake and healthiness? Unfortunately, not much research has looked at whether these potential health concerns are, well, actual health concerns that we should be concerned about. All in good time, though.

In the meantime, PROP non-tasters: not the best dairy product reviewers.

In the mood for dairy, then? There’s plenty of cream on these chinotto black forest cupcakes. Yep, chinotto. This is, like, the flavour combination of the year for me. I don’t even like chinotto that much by itself, but paired with chocolate, it could not be more flawless. A cursory Google search reveals no other mentions of the chinotto-chocolate — CHINOCOLATE, if you will — combination, but maybe I can start a trend. You will try it, yes?

And you don’t have to go with my elaborate Russian Constructivism-inspired cake decoration if you really don’t want to. I don’t have the time to hunt you down if you don’t do it.

Read on for the recipe for chinotto black forest cupcakes with whipped cream and chocolate cherry truffles.

Chinotto chocolate cupcakes
A slight variation of Nigella’s Coca-Cola chocolate cake.
200g plain flour
250g caster sugar
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
125ml (1/2 cup) buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla paste or extract
125g butter
2 tbs cocoa powder
175ml chinotto
black cherry jam

Makes about 16 cupcakes.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a muffin tray with paper cupcake liners.

Combine flour, sugar, bicarbonate of soda and salt in a bowl. Beat the egg, buttermilk and vanilla together in a jug.

In a saucepan, place the butter, cocoa and chinotto over low heat to melt the butter. Stir so that the cocoa is completely combined with the liquid (this is easier when the mixture gets a bit warmer). Pour into the dry ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon. Add the ingredients that are in the jug and mix again, beating until the batter is smooth.

Pour into the cupcake papers, filling them about 3/4 to 7/8 full. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a cake tester or skewer or knife inserted into one of the cakes comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the muffin pan for half an hour, then remove the cakes onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Once the cakes are cooled, use a teaspoon to dig out a small hole in the centre of the top of each cake. The hole should have the volume of roughly a teaspoon or a bit more. Fill the holes with black cherry jam, smoothing it so that the jam is flush with the top of the cakes.

Whipped cream
1/2 cup thickened cream
1/2 tsp vanilla paste or extract
1 tbs kirsch (optional)

Whisk the ingredients together until stiff — don’t overwhip or it’ll harden and turn into butter! Spoon onto the cakes to cover the holes full of jam.

Chocolate cherry truffles
40g white chocolate
2 tbs thickened cream
2 tbs black cherry jam
red food colouring (optional)

Place the chocolate and cream in a bain-marie (a bowl of water sitting on top of a saucepan of simmering water so that the bowl doesn’t touch the water) and stir until chocolate is melted. Remove from heat and whisk in the cherry jam with a fork. If you want, add a few drops of food colouring to make the mixture more of a cherry colour. Allow to cool to room temperature then place in the fridge for a few hours (or overnight) to harden. To make the truffles, scoop out about a teaspoon of the mixture and use your hands to roll it into balls. Refrigerate until use.

Chocolate shards
100g dark chocolate (I used 80% cacao)

Melt the chocolate in a bain-marie then pour the liquid chocolate onto a slab of marble if you have it, or if you don’t, a chopping board lined with baking paper. Spread the chocolate out quite thinly, then place in the fridge for a while. Check on it every 10 minutes, and once it has solidified but is still malleable when you gently poke it, use a round cookie-cutter or upturned glass to cut circular shapes in the chocolate (leaving the chocolate in place for now). Use a knife to cut the circles into sixths (still leaving everything in place). Put the chocolate back in the fridge to solidify completely. When solid, remove it and carefully separate the pointed shards from the rest of the chocolate and arrange them on the cakes along with the chocolate cherry truffles. Done.

Kirkmeyer, S.V. & Tepper, B.J. (2003). Understanding creaminess perception of dairy products using free-choice profiling and genetic responsivity to 6-n-propylthiouracil. Chemical Senses, 28(6), 527-536.

  11 comments for “Things to consider before becoming a full-time professional dairy product reviewer

  1. November 5, 2010 at 8:59 am

    This post is like a word geek’s dream. Chinocolate. Papillae (why does that make me think of butterflies?). Papillae expression.

    Would you still like me if I admitted I don’t think I’ve *ever* had cream cheese in the fridge? That’s what beign lactose intolerant and having a mother allergic to dairy will do to you. Excet I’m desperately craving cheesecake these days. How would science-explain my cheesecake craving?

    (And no, definitely not pregnant. DEFINITELY.)

    • Jess
      November 5, 2010 at 3:39 pm

      Papillon = French for butterfly. :)

      Chris is lactose intolerant so I avoid severely lactosey things if there’s an alternative (e.g. cooking with Zymil milk) but sometimes it’s just unavoidable so he takes lactase tablets and then he’s fine with the lactose. Seriously, if you would like to open yourself back up to the beautiful world of dairy, maybe go to the chemist and buy some lactase. Then you may gorge on cheesecake!

      Your cheesecake craving is obviously the result of your cheesecake nucleus in your brain’s cheesecake lobe. Neurons in that part of the brain communicate with each other using really tiny tiny little slices of cheesecake that diffuse from pre-synaptic neuron to the post-synaptic neuron, and obviously you don’t have a high enough cheesecake concentration so your brain is craving it in order to get you to eat some and replenish its cheesecake store. DUH.

  2. Amy
    November 5, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    Did you see this ? Looks like your idea about a connection between sensitivity to PROP and health (or at least BMI) might have something to it.

    • Jess
      November 12, 2010 at 9:43 pm

      No I hadn’t seen that particular article – thanks very much. I’ve been reading a review of the effects of PROP taster status on a range of things, and it suggests that there is a relationship with BMI and possibly overall health but it’s all a bit murky at the moment, with lots of contradictory or unreplicated results, or correlation in one direction in children but in the other direction in adults depending on taster status, etc. Still very interesting though.

  3. November 7, 2010 at 5:17 am

    Very intriguing… We always did the PROPS taster test in my science classes. I’m a taster. I never really thought about how this may effect my eating overall. I DO avoid all low-fat ice creams thought!!
    Never heard of a chinotto. I don’t think we can grow them here, but that doesn’t explain the absence of chinotto sodas. From what I’ve read about them though, they probably great with chocolate!
    Great post- very interesting and beautiful photos!

    • Jess
      November 12, 2010 at 9:46 pm

      I’ve never seen chinotto fruit for sale here but the drink seems to be very popular, I guess given the Italian heritage of a lot of Australians after a lot of Italians immigrated here after World War II. Australia definitely picked up their coffee culture, so I guess we got the chinotto culture too. :P

  4. Madlyne
    November 7, 2010 at 7:39 am

    These are adorable! I bet they taste delicious.

    • Jess
      November 12, 2010 at 9:47 pm

      I was pretty happy with them, I must say!

  5. November 8, 2010 at 1:00 am

    They’re the cutest!! I just love black forest cakes.. in any shape:))

    Greets from BFC !!!

    • Jess
      November 12, 2010 at 9:47 pm

      I didn’t realise how much I liked black forest cake until now. Now I’m probably going to use any excuse to make it!

  6. November 13, 2010 at 10:04 am

    I’ve never heard of chinotto but I absolutely adore black forest cake. Adorable little cakes! Fascinating stuff about how our taste buds work, too.

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