Clever Apes: Flavor tripping

March 29, 2012

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Vertical aeroponic garden at Moto restaurant (Courtesy of Mike Silberman, A Sust

We’ve seen and heard some pretty sweet stuff while producing Clever Apes, but in our latest excursion, we got to taste something very sweet. We recently visited the kitchen-laboratories of Chef Homaro Cantu.  You may know him from his many appearances on television, on the web, or eaten at his restaurants Moto and iNG.

Chef Homaru Cantu in his restaurant iNG (WBEZ/Michael De Bonis)Our tour began in a recently converted former office in the basement of Moto. Cantu has transformed the space into an indoor aeroponic garden. The system works by spraying plant roots with nutrient enriched water. In this case, kitchen scraps are put in a worm composting bin. The nutritious byproduct is then mixed with water and sprayed on the plant roots from the inside of the spinning cylindrical garden.

Cantu’s restaurants are filled with hi-tech gadgets and other innovations, and he has big ideas about how some of this technology might mean revolutionary changes for the world beyond high end fine dining. The point of the aeroponic garden is not only to provide fresher veggies in the kitchen but to also cut down on the “food miles” associated with the food he serves.  According to Cantu, his garden is a testing ground that will hopefully prove that this idea is cost-effective and scalable in a way that will get fresher, more eco-friendly food to anyone who wants it.

Miracle berry (Flickr/Ola Waagen)Another idea Cantu is excited about and is perhaps best known for is the use of miracle berries.  These small red berries have the “flavor tripping” property of turning sour tasting foods sweet.  A glycoprotein called Miraculin is the source of the berries’ superpowers and researchers have recently learned a bit more about how it binds to receptors on the tongue to create that sweetness.

Cantu uses the berry in his iNG restaurant to create sweet treats without sugar or artificial sweeteners.  As you’ll hear in our taste test, lemons taste like lemonade.  What does a spoon full of fat free sour cream with lemon zest taste like?  Listen to the full podcast to find out.

This edible paper contains flavor tripping miracle berry (WBEZ/Michael De bonis)