This is issue number 8 of The Circle, and so far, I have somehow managed to placidly stay away from the topic of GMOs.
Time to dive right in then, starting with a simple premise: it’s practically impossible to define them. Or, to put it better, there are so many types of genetic alterations caused by either humans or nature (or both), that using Genetically Modified Organisms as a catch-all term makes no sense.
Would you like your Moët & Chandon from the vineyard or the lab?
A California start-up is trying to create synthetic wine. Nothing new here, except that they’re not developing a generic beverage that tastes like wine, but exact replicas of pricey originals.
Wine’s flavor is the product of a gigantic ensemble of compounds, it’s the result of natural processes and human craft together, and trying to replicate that is a huge challenge. However, the folks at Ava Winery are pretty confident they will make it eventually, with the right mix of ethanol and flavor compounds.
Let’s stick to the real stuff while we wait.
The day California taught the wine world a lesson
In the article about synthetic wine, there’s a reference to the Paris Wine Tasting, also known as The Paris Judgment, which marks a major turning point in the history of wine.
On a day in May forty years ago, nine hotshots of the French wine world got together with a very simple task: to blind taste different pairs of wines and guess which one was French and which one from California.
A piece of cake, apparently: if France was the only place in the world producing excellent wines (the general assumption at the time), the better of the two had to be, without a doubt, French.
Things actually went quite differently, and after that day the wine world would never be the same again.
Double the sweet, none the fatter
I’m sure you heard by now: too much sugar is bad for you. So what’s a sweet tooth to do? One could substitute with sweeteners. However, even the most radical low-carb person will tell you that they don’t taste as good as the real thing.
A start-up from Israel came to the rescue. They found a way to expand the surface that sugar molecules take on our tongue. This involves more taste buds and increases the sense of sweetness, so that less sugar can be used. Pretty brilliant, right?
Was the low-fat era just the product of ego?
At some point during the end of the 1970s, fats became the source of all dietary evil. Governments, doctors, scientists, institutions, they all agreed: fats would raise cholesterol, clog the arteries and cause heart attacks. And those who were lucky enough to survive would at least end up obese.
However, when fat was out, of course replaced with more sugar, obesity and coronary disease rates started to grow.
After decades, and countless deaths due to heart attacks and diabetes, the dangers caused by excess sugar and refined carbs finally became clear. However, this realization is really nothing new: in the 1970s, a scientist called John Yudkin had tried to ring an alarm bell about the dangers of sugar, but ended up ostracised and discredited.
Why is it different now? What has changed? Science politics have changed. The current zeitgeist in the world of nutritional science is more receptive to this idea.
For us laypeople, that’s rather disturbing. After all, science and politics are supposed to be the exact opposites: science should be based on raw facts, while politics on strong beliefs. In reality, scientists’ personal beliefs play a huge role in the dietary recommendations we receive.
Image credit: Old Book Illustrations