A talk delivered to the local branch of the Society for Chemical Industry at the University of Cambridge

This entertaining lecture (which I am often asked to repeat at other venues) introduced some surprising facts about food and flavour, such as that food manufacturers in Victorian times:

  • Used tealeaves recycled with copperas (iron sulphate), Prussian blue (ferric ferrocyanide), verdigris (copper acetate) and sheep’s dung
  • Used strychnine use to enhance bitter taste of beer, and concentrated sulphuric acid used to darken it’s colour
  • Coloured red Leicester and other “red” cheeses with red lead or vermilion (mercuric sulphide)
  • Made pickles greener by adding green copper salts
  • Coloured children’s sweets with any of the above, and also with ‘Emerald green’ (copper arsenite)

The audience was not invited to try these foods (!), but in the second part of the talk was invited to try some surprising food interactions for themselves:

  • How salty foods like cheese and crisps reduce our perception of bitterness, and hence can improve the favour of red wines
  • How tonic water can make dark chocolate taste like wax
  • How cold water feels colder in our mouths if we have been eating mints, but how mints can also make warm water taste hotter
  • and many others, including the correct scientific way to eat smoked salmon.
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