The Museum of Flavour: The Skinny Food Writing Competition
How real are our ingredients? Which rules govern the food we eat? And what does a strawberry actually taste like?
From 1889 until 2018, an innocuous-looking hunk of metal kept in an environmentally-controlled basement on the outskirts of Paris served as the definition of a kilogram. It didn’t just weigh a kilogram, it was The Kilogram.
Although scientists now prefer to define units using unalterable physical constants, for those of us who aren’t metrologists there’s something unsatisfying about this. It’s far easier to understand, and possibly even comforting, to imagine that out there, somewhere, is the one-true-kilogram.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about this in relation to food. Because things don’t taste like the things they’re supposed to taste like anymore. Our taste buds are becoming detached from reality. We require standards anchored in the physical world. In an era of fake news, where nothing is as it seems, our food is no exception. We are offered a lazy retweet of an ice-cold lager, brewed with offcuts of rice. A torrented copy of a ripe summer peach. Deepfake rhubarb.
Flavour houses allow food producers to play chemical tricks on us with their essences, reducing the complexity of an explosion of elderflower blossom to a few esters and aldehydes. Supermarkets – unconcerned with the concept of seasonality – disappoint us with insipidly watery tomatoes, which have probably racked up more air miles than us in the past year. Chefs, in pursuit of the avant-garde, will deconstruct and re-construct kitsch school dinner favourites. Wellness gurus will look you square in the eye and tell you that you can make pasta from courgettes.
What I’m proposing then, is the taste equivalent of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures: A Museum of Flavour. Where, under little spotlights, in separate glass cases, the flavours of our memory would sit. The strawberry that is the strawberry. The lentil soup your gran made, still steaming in the bowl, thick with unsaid words.
Darran Edmond is a distiller and founder of Illicit Spirits, a microdistillery in Tradeston, Glasgow
This is one of the selected pieces from our Food and Drink Writing Competition; scroll on to read more from our winning writers...