Flavor: Making It & Faking It (MOFAD Lab)
Photos from http://mofad.org/
Last month, the highly-anticipated Museum of Food and Drink opened their doors to reveal their first exhibition in a quiet residential area of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Entitled “Flavor: Making It and Faking It,” the exhibition is a lab-like interactive experience that brings many of one’s senses together—much like the act of eating. Reminiscent of a chic, minimalist science fair, the space is littered with stations, each with a different objective. A handful of stations have information surrounding a certain topic (i.e., the evolution of umami, or the making of synthetic vanillin) or an innovative way to use your senses, such as a smelling station with tubes connected to different scents, complete with a light-up guessing game or smell-mixer.
The Cola Smell Machine—a series of four commonly used smells to make up a ‘cola’ smell when mixed together.
Another smell machine—this one has ‘recipes’ on the wall, such as popcorn, whiskey, or ripe banana, that one can make using the scent buttons.
Other stations, such as the umami station, had taste tests—gumball machines repurposed to dispense flavor tablets. For umami, I had the opportunity to taste seaweed, mushroom, and even MSG.
The aspect I appreciated most about this exhibit was the effort to dispel misinformation surrounding food, flavors and the idea of “natural-ness” and “purity” that was instilled in American food culture from early on. We as a culture idolize health, thus demonizing a new food every few years, whether it be sugar, salt, fat, carbs, gluten, or food additives. One of the biggest contenders in this debate has been MSG, but as MOFAD shows, it is a naturally occurring substance extracted from seaweed. It had been used in Asian culture to flavor foods for centuries before 1969, where it became frowned upon in American culture for contributing to “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.” Although the ailments MSG had been said to cause have been scientifically debunked, one will still see “MSG FREE” packaging and signage up in restaurants nationwide.
Vanillin, a synthetic vanilla flavor, was the first culprit of demonization of “unnatural” food flavoring in the industry.
Many of the structures within the exhibit would be fascinating for any kid, but the information presented was anything but childish. Although I took my fair share of chemistry classes in college, I ended up learning a lot about flavor profiles and how they are created on a molecular level. It also made me think a great deal about my own relationship to food—how it is affected by my other senses, by marketing, and by the food industry’s evolution throughout the past few decades. I highly recommend checking out this exhibit for yourself—it is an experience you must immerse yourself in to fully appreciate!
Ticketing info, hours and directions available at http://mofad.org/