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The Mediterranean Diet(s): the taste for health

On the occasion of the Italian Cuisine Week

During our long history as humans, through trails and errors, we have interacted with our natural surroundings and this has generated local ecological knowledge and practices. “Cuisine” is a process of cultural assimilation following body assimilation, it is a way to incorporate experience and awareness in procedures and, from this point of view, cuisine is the result of a long, complex and continuous bio-cultural process.

Along the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea, characterized by a wealth of biodiversity, this bio-cultural process brought to the definition of “Mediterranean Diet(s)”, which refers in general to diets high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nut and seeds, with olive oil as the main source of fats, with a moderate presence of dairy, poultry and eggs and a low consumption of red meats. The positive effect of the Mediterranea Diet(s) on health has been linked to the richness of bioactive compounds of the vegetables.
For ages the only way to recognize food sources and to choose what to eat or not has been to smell and to taste it. In fact chemoreception (the perception system mediated by chemical compounds, so the whole of smell, taste and chemesthesis) is the sensory modality that allows organisms to identify the chemical composition of food, making possible to distinguish nutritionally rich food from potentially toxic ones. For humans, this means recognizing and distinguishing, through the activation of specific receptors, sweet, umami, bitter, sour, salty (and fatty) tastes, and chemesthetic sensations like hotness, pungency, cooling.
Most plant secondary metabolites of proved biological activity are bitter or they present chemesthetic properties. Therefore chemoreception has been very important in driving our ancestors in the definition of what we call now “Mediterranean Diet(s)”, in the choice, pairing and preparation of ingredients.

In the past, taste sensors were known to be present only in the buccal cavity and the relationship between taste and health was limited to food preferences and therefore to the consumption of more or less healthy foods.

Recently, gustatory chemoreceptors have also been identified in other parts of the body, including the digestive system. Here, their activation and modulation, by the same compounds that have flavor present in foods, has a function that we could define as “pharmacological”.

This knowledge gives value to the taste of food, to the molecular structures to perceive it and to their study, as well as to all those cultural, social and ritual factors that lead to its definition and combination.

During the seminar, some case key ingredients of the Mediterranen Diet(s) will be analyzed in this perspective.

 

The conference will be held in English.

Entrance: Reserved only for those who register in advance until all available places have been filled.

 

La conferenza si terrà in inglese.

Ingresso: Riservato solo a coloro che si registreranno in anticipo e fino ad esaurimento dei posti disponibili.

 

Gabriella Morini
Assistant Professor, Taste & Food Sciences
University of Gastronomic Sciences, Pollenzo (CN), Italy
Scientific supervisor Pollenzo Food Lab
Coordinator, Master of Applied Gastronomy – Culinary Arts
g.morini@unisg.it

Brief CV
Gabriella Morini is a food scientist. The main field of her research is taste chemoreception, the study of biocultural variation in relationship with taste preferences, the genetics of taste and its influences on health status and on the determination of food preferences, the identification of taste active compounds in traditional food and their bioactivity.

At the University of Gastronomic Sciences she is teaching Molecular Aspects of Taste in the degree in Gastronomic Sciences and Cultures and in all master degrees. She is the Convenor of the International Master of Applied Gastronomy_Culinary Arts and the Scientific supervisor of the Pollenzo Food Lab.
She is teaching the Taste and Health module in the Bioactive Food Components and Health course at Copenhagen University (DK), MSc Programme in Food Innovation and Health, MSc Programme in Biology and Biotechnology, MSc Programme in Human Nutrition.
She is author of 53 scientific publications on international journals (42) and books (11), of more than 50 communications at national and international congresses, and of 1 book (Editor).