There’s No Copyrighting Taste, Rules EU Court In Dutch Cheese Case

Laurel Wamsley wrote . . . . . . . . .

It was a classic high-stakes legal battle between two Dutch makers of herbed cheese spread.

On one side, Heksenkaas. The name means “witches’ cheese,” and it’s a cream cheese spread with fresh herbs that was created in 2007 and sold by a company called Levola.

On the other, the cheese spread Witte Wievenkaas, made by a company called Smilde, which apparently tastes very similar to Heksenkaas. (This reporter, regrettably, lacks a reliable purveyor of Dutch cheeses.)

Levola said Smidle had infringed its copyright on the taste of Heksenkaas, and asked Dutch courts to order Smilde to stop selling its similar cheese.

The case was sent to Netherland’s regional court, which asked the Court of Justice of the European Union to answer this question: Can taste be copyrighted?

Nope, the court announced today.

In order to be protected by copyright, it said, the taste of a food product must be capable of being classified as a “work” – which requires first, “an original intellectual creation,” and second, an “expression” of that creation. And that work must be expressed in a manner that makes it identifiable with sufficient precision and objectivity.

And on that last requirement, the court found that “the taste of a food product cannot be identified with precision and objectivity.”

“Unlike, for example, a literary, pictorial, cinematographic or musical work, which is a precise and objective expression, the taste of a food product will be identified essentially on the basis of taste sensations and experiences, which are subjective and variable. They depend on, amongst other things, factors particular to the person tasting the product concerned, such as age, food preferences and consumption habits, as well as on the environment or context in which the product is consumed.”

In other words, the taste of a food depends in part on who is tasting it.

Part of the problem for Levola’s case is that, well, there’s no accounting for taste.

“Even an expert had to admit it’s really difficult to describe what a taste is,” Tobias Cohen Jehoram, a lawyer for Smilde told The New York Times. “Our argument was if you can’t describe what your monopoly is you have not sufficiently stated your claim.”

And then there’s the concept, enshrined in an international copyright treaty, that expressions can be copyrighted but ideas cannot.

“Copyright isn’t supposed to be used to stop the spread and use of ideas,” Joshua Marshall, an intellectual property lawyer at the European law firm Fieldfisher told the Times. “The taste of a leek-and-garlic cheese is really an idea.”

A very good idea, now that he mentions it.

The cheese case isn’t the EU’s only recent visit to the food court. Earlier this year, it ruled that Nestlé’s four-fingered, trapezoidal Kit Kat may not be distinctive enough to merit trademark protection across Europe.

Source: npr


Want to Know What Your Favorite Song Tastes Like? There’s a Machine for That

A Japanese company has designed a machine that gives you a taste of any song you choose—quite literally.

The developers of Squeeze Music claim the juke box-come-juicer is able to analyze a song’s waveform for feelings, be they happy, exciting, romantic, sentimental, or sad, and turn them into drink flavors mixed together in proportion to the qualities of each song. Each emotion correlates to a specific flavor. Happy = sweet, exciting = sour, romantic = astringent, sentimental = salty and sad = bitter.

If you feel that doesn’t cover the whole expanse of human emotion, don’t worry: The Nomura Open Innovation Lab (NOMBLAB), which developed Squeeze Music, is working on expanding the range with five more feelings. Right now the juice dispenser is just a prototype, but its inventors hope to commercialize it one day.

Watch video at You Tube (1:24 minutes) . . . . .

How to Improve Your Sense of Smell — and Why You’d Want To

James Gaddy wrote . . . . . .

Superman could fly. The Incredible Hulk had incredible strength. The Flash had lightning speed. Even Deadpool had healing powers. Among superheroes, it isn’t that sexy to have one of your regular five senses heightened, much less become a mutant with a super sniffer.

Bianca Bosker, author of the new book Cork Dork (Penguin Random House), acknowledges that our noses occupy a lower tier among the senses. Even the phrase “that smells” reeks of ammonia. “We have a real bias about smell,” said Bosker in an interview. “Most of us have learned at an early age that this is a sense that does not pay to cultivate.” Best case scenario: You end up a sommelier.

Over the course of 18 months, Bosker spent a year with some of the top oenophiles in the world to try to understand what is the big deal about wine. She lugged bottles of Mondeuse noire as a cellar rat at L’Apicio, sneaked sips of Domaine Jamet while staging at Marea, tried to upsell Israeli Cabernets while waiting tables at Terroir, guzzled Burgundy at La Paulée de New York, and held blind tastings at Eleven Madison Park—now the world’s No.1 restaurant—that, on one occasion, included a $1,765 Riesling from Alsace.

In between, she met with scent scientists to see if there were a shortcut to becoming a wine connoisseur.

“I started out wondering if we can even hone our sense of smell,” she said. In other words, are we born confined to a certain amount of sensitivity, or can we get better if we really try?

Bosker traces our olfactory inferiority complex back to the days of Aristotle, who prophesied that “man can smell things only poorly … because his sense-organ is not accurate.” In the 19th century, Darwin’s theory of evolution seemed to prove that humans had evolved beyond the need to know their noses. The French scientist Paul Broca found that as animals ascended the evolutionary chain, their limbic lobe, a part of the brain then thought to control our sense of smell, decreased in size. It was so small in humans, he concluded, “the delicacy of his olfactory sense is … of no utility in his life.” The famous tongue map—the idea that the front part of your tongue is sweet, and the back bitter—wasn’t disproved until 1974.

The scientists Bosker spoke with say the biggest problem is that most people don’t even know the difference between taste and smell.

“We assume that everything that happens in our mouth is taste, which is not true,” she explained. “We confuse one for the other, when we’d never confuse sight and sound.” One study she cited from the University of Pennsylvania’s Smell and Taste Center found that most people failed to diagnose themselves properly. People who complained about losing their sense of taste were three times more likely to be suffering from a smell disorder.

But there is hope. New research by the University of Dresden’s Smell and Taste Clinic found that the part of the brain responsible for processing smell can grow with exercise, sort of how bench pressing pumps your pecs. Even those with just an average sense of smell can increase the size of their olfactory bulbs via a regimen of trying out four aromas, twice a day, for about 30 seconds each.

“The first thing we have to do is get over our disdain for taste and smell,” Bosker said. It’s a curious paradox: Enlightened humans today obsess over spending time and money to find food that tastes better, whether it’s organic blueberries or third-wave coffee, and yet, she continued, “We rarely train ourselves to taste well. We let price and labels and menu descriptions substitute for our own sensory experiences.”

Here are three steps to achieving a more highly evolved nose.

Establish Your Baseline

Even if you are doing this to better appreciate wine or food, sharpening your sense of smell doesn’t start at the table.

To establish a base level of smell—your own scent-focused control group, in other words—smoking is out, for obvious reasons. Also banned: coffee, hard alcohol, hot sauce, perfume and cologne, overly strong shampoo, most salt, and toothpaste. (Don’t worry; the last only applies just before you are going to do a taste or smelling exercise.)

Many sommeliers also refuse to drink anything above tepid temperature, which also means no hot tea or soup.

“Part of that is self-deprivation,” Bosker said. “Some are superstitious and less scientific, but I was willing to give any of it a try, because I wanted to improve as quickly as I could.”

She gave up Listerine on days that she worked on her project, because it was too strong. Onions and garlic, too, fell by the wayside as she learned that those flavors lingered in her mouth longer than others. “We would always show up to tastings hungry, because your body is more attuned to smells when you’re hungry,” she continued.

Practice the Art of Description

One helpful exercise, Bosker said, is to try to describe all the smells over the course of your daily routine. It might be coming up with tasting notes of the shampoo you use every morning all the way to the toothpaste you use at night. Push yourself to go beyond obvious descriptors: minty, fresh, cooling, sweet.

“If you’ve ever learned a language or even a word in your life, you have the ability to become a great smeller,” Bosker suggests. “When you think about learning a language, it’s not that your hearing gets better. It is about taking those foreign sounds and attaching meaning to them.”

So having the right words to describe what you’re tasting is essential to understanding it and in communicating to others, which is why you end up with florid descriptions on bottles and in wine magazines: “chalky,” “rubbery,” “velvety,” “essence of toast.”

“I realized I had to visualize and to articulate it,” she said. “Because smells bypass part of our conscious brain, we don’t really notice them all the time. But if you pay attention and try to describe it, you can understand it better.”

Exercise Your Nose

The expensive shortcut is a $400 kit called Le Nez du Vin. (If wine isn’t your thing, other kits focus on whiskey and coffee.) It’s a collection of glass vials that contain liquid versions of the aroma of grass, smoke, blackberry, and cranberry, up to a total of 54 different scents.

“Instead of sit-ups, I would smell four vials of these samples every day,” Bosker said. “Then I would alternate every week, trying to internalize what is black currant, or lemon, and then do them blind at the end of the week, to see if I’d mastered them. And at the end of the month, they were like smell flash cards.”

Apparently, it worked. When Bosker went in for her sommelier exam, she smelled the ripe raspberry, strawberry, blackberry, plum, blueberry, cassis, with a hint of pyrazines, to correctly deduce that it was a Cabernet Sauvignon from California, one- to three-years-old. And by the end, when she replicated a French and Italian study that used an fMRI machine to compare the brains of expert wine drinkers vs. those of amateurs, her own scan lit up like a professional. Instead of just processing flavor in an emotional way, which is how the brain of an amateur does it, she was using parts of her brain reserved for high-functioning skills, including reason, memory, and cognitive thinking.

Bosker also began picking up on information she had neglected before, “little clues that add texture and richness to daily life,” she said. She began to discern neighborhoods in New York that have a specific scent, and she became attuned to the smell of petrichor in the morning—the aroma when the earth is wet after a rain.

The only downside? In New York, she began to become aware of specific smells in subways stations. Now, she said, there are “clues that tell me where we are before we get there.” The new 72nd Street Q stop, for instance, smells of plastic and hairspray, she says. The Times Square stop, on the other hand, has notes of grease, dirty diapers, and blue cheese.

Source: Bloomberg

Scientists have Unlocked the Secret of Making Tomatoes Tasty Again

Colin Tosh, Niall Conboy and Thomas McDaniel wrote . . . . . .

If you shop in a supermarket you may well have asked why the fruit and veg you buy there is so tasteless, especially if you’ve also tried homegrown alternatives. Traditional breeds of tomatoes usually grown in gardens, known as heirloom tomatoes, for example, are often small and strangely shaped and coloured but renowned for their delicious taste. Those in the supermarkets, meanwhile, are often pumped up in size but somewhat insipid to eat.

This is because plants used by most tomato farms have gone through an intensive artificial selection process to breed fruit that are big, red and round – but at the expense of taste. Now a 20-strong international research team have identified the chemical compounds responsible for the rich flavour of heirloom tomatoes and the genes that produce them. This information could provide a way for farmers to grow tomatoes that taste of something again.

The unique flavour of a tomato is determined by specific airborne molecules called volatiles, which emanate from flavour chemicals in the fruit. By asking a panel of consumers to rate over a hundred varieties of tomato, the researchers identified 13 volatiles that play an important role in producing the most appealing flavours. They also found that these molecules were significantly reduced in modern tomato varieties compared to the heirloom ones. And they found that bigger tomatoes tended to have less sugar, another reason why large supermarket fruits often fail to inspire.

Tomatoes originally hail from the Andean region of South America and belong to the Solanaceae family, making them relatively close relations of potatoes and peppers. The original, ancestral tomato was very small, more like a pea, showing just how much human intervention has swollen the fruit. We don’t know how long they have been grown for human consumption but they had reached an advanced stage of domestication by the 15th century when they were taken to Europe.

Before the 20th century, tomato varieties were commonly developed in families and small communities (which explains the name “heirloom”). With the industrialisation of farming, the serious business of tomato breeding began with intensive selection for fruit size and shelf life.

Some more recent effort has been put into improving the flavour of tomatoes through breeding. But the new research appears to indicate that this has ultimately been unsuccessful and that earlier breeding efforts have doomed modern commercial varieties to mediocrity.

The new paper, published in Science, emphasises what seems to be a constant conflict between the food industry’s desire for profit and what the public actually want. The researchers tactfully excuse the way tomatoes have been bred for size and shelf-life at the expense of taste as being down to breeders’ inability to analyse the fruit’s chemical composition and find the right volatiles.

But many people will find this hard to swallow. After all, the new research itself used the most ancient volatile analysis system there is: the human taster. It wouldn’t have taken much for farmers to incorporate taste trials into their breeding programmes.

Because modern farmed tomatoes have only lost their flavour in the last hundred years or so and varieties are still available that produce the tasty volatiles, it should be possible to reinsert the crucial taste genes back into commercial varieties. This could be done by genetic modification or conventional breeding. Just as we are seeing a resurgence in organic and artisan growing, it would be great to see a new generation of tomato breeders interested in returning flavour to the fruit using wild and heirloom varieties, while maintaining other commercially desirable traits.

There is significant public opposition to the idea of genetically modifying foods by inserting genes into a plant’s DNA in the lab. But the idea of reinserting lost genes may be more palatable to the public than introducing completely new ones. Either way, it shows how perverse the food industry’s methods are that we may need to use one of the world’s most advanced technologies to give an inherently delicious food some flavour.

Source: The Conversation

Why You Should Buy Air-Chilled Chicken

Deena Shanker wrote . . . . .

For Ariane Daguin, the daughter of French restaurateurs and founder of high-end meat purveyor D’Artagnan, her first bites of American chicken were nothing short of terrible.

“I didn’t understand,” she says, the memory of disgust still audible in her voice decades later. “It tasted like fish sometimes. Other times it was tasteless.” A big part of the reason, she soon discovered, was because of the way the chickens were cooled after slaughtering: with a dunk in a cold water and chlorine bath.

“It’s probably part of the reason I started the company,” Daguin says.

After a bird is killed, de-feathered, and eviscerated, its body temperature needs to be brought down quickly to stop and prevent the spread of pathogens such as salmonella. In the U.S. this is usually done by submerging the chickens in tanks of ice water, often treated with antimicrobial agents like chlorine or hydrogen peroxide. But in Daguin’s native France and the rest of the European Union, doing such a thing to a chicken was nearly sacrilege. The chicken will absorb some of that water, and whatever else is in it—say, chemicals or bacteria—diluting its natural flavor and changing the texture.

This is why D’Artagnan and a growing number of other higher-end chicken purveyors, such as Bell & Evans and Pitman Family Farms (aka Mary’s Chicken), use a different method to cool their chickens: air chilling.

Instead of immersing the carcasses in cold water, they blast them with cold air. Suspended by their feet on rails, the chickens pass through or sit in cold chambers for as long as three hours to reach the required 40F. (In evaporative air chilling, a cold water mist is also applied.) This method takes longer—90 to 150 minutes, compared with immersion’s 50—and requires more space because of the single-file layout. But it also uses significantly less water: Air chilling saves at least half a gallon of water per bird, coming out to a 4.5 billion-gallon savings if all of the country’s 9 billion birds were processed that way, according to a 2008 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Currently an air-chilled chicken is more expensive, but it’s also tastier, since the meat hasn’t been bulked up with water.

Any home chef who’s attempted to make pan-roasted chicken has likely encountered the consequences of water immersion firsthand. That liquid in the pan is not the chicken’s natural juices; it’s the chlorine bath the bird soaked in at the processing facility. Raw chicken at the supermarket may contain as much as 12 percent retained water, according to the USDA, which also notes that the amount must, by law, be declared on the label.

D’Artagnan has been selling organic, antibiotic-free, and free-range fare since 1985, long before such words had entered the mainstream vernacular. But even now, when Walmart, Target, and all sell organic chicken, finding some that hasn’t been compromised by the water immersion cooling method is difficult. Air-chilled chicken accounts for less than 1 percent of production, according to a spokesperson for the National Chicken Council.

Proponents of the method, including Daguin, point to a food safety benefit.

Air chilling “may result in fewer birds being positive for salmonella,” says John Marcy, a professor and poultry processing specialist at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, because you don’t have multiple carcasses sharing the same bath. But, he adds, neither method provides a 100 percent guarantee. “In my reality,” he says, “all raw foods of animal origin have some level of risk.” To ensure your chicken doesn’t carry a pathogen onto the plate, don’t rely on the chilling method—make sure it’s cooked completely.

The taste advantage, however, is no longer subject to much debate.

“Research show[s] that air chilling led to better quality of breast fillets and provided higher cooked-meat yields than immersion chilling,” the USDA concluded in 2008. Chef Doug Psaltis of RPM Steak in Chicago started serving air-chilled chickens about 13 years ago and “never turned back.”

“While preparing the bird, if you do choose to brine the bird, air-chilled will allow you to absorb great flavors and aromatics, whereas water-chilled has already absorbed chlorine,” he says in a phone interview. “I would rather have a chicken that is not water-chilled at all costs.”

You’ll also find air-chilled chicken on the menus at such top restaurants as Bacchanalia in Atlanta and Daniel Boulud’s DB Bistro Moderne in Miami, as well as Jean-Georges and Rebelle in New York, not to mention the city’s latest temple to all things poultry, Le Coq Rico.

“I always look for air-chilled chicken if I can find it,” says chef J. Kenji López-Alt, author of The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science and top writer at home-cooking bible The extra water in an immersed chicken, he says, “will make the exterior moist so the skin won’t render, making it more difficult to get crisp.” He notes that if you’re poaching your chicken or cooking it sous vide, air chilling isn’t as important, though it doesn’t hurt.

“Air-chilled will have a more intense chicken-y flavor and will brown better,” he says. “But for me, the difference in the way it cooks is much bigger.”

Another plus: Air-chilled chicken, if it’s not organic, is not necessarily the most expensive.

A customer stopping in a Whole Foods today can choose an antibiotic-free (but not certified organic) Bell & Evans air-chilled split breast for $3.49 a pound, while the store’s in-house brand, 365, has an organic water-chilled version for $6.99 per pound. D’Artagnan’s organic air-chilled split breast, however, sells online for $8.65 per pound. (D’Artagnan also sells heritage birds, but customers should taste a difference even in its a standard breed.)

“It’s more expensive,” Daguin recognizes. “But it’s such a better taste.”

Source: Bloomberg