Tag Archives: pastries

Don’t be fooled by those tasty looking cakes.

Dear friends,

With this week marking the end of my time studying abroad, I look back on all that I’ve experienced and know that I will truly miss being in Paris. Maybe it’s the people I’ve meet, or the sights I’ve seen, or just all the amazing food I’ve had, but I really can’t put my finger on why I’ll miss this place.

Amazing falafel from L'as du Fallafel

Amazing falafel from L’as du Fallafel (definitely beats Falafel King)

Speaking of food, I’ve gotten into the habit of trying a different pastry at lunch each day! While definitely not a healthy practice that I should keep up when back at home, I’ve gotten to taste some really good sweets!

Because of my minimal French speaking skills, I choose my pastries simply by pointing to one at random. This technique works fairly well for the most part because I usually end up with a delicious pastry in my stomach! However, the other week at Blé Sucré, I chose one that tasted awful. I think I got a rum cake, but I honestly can’t be too sure since I didn’t bother to read the description (I probably wouldn’t have understood it anyways). Interestingly, while I thought it was absolutely atrocious and extremely bitter, others thought it didn’t taste that bad. At the time, I couldn’t understand why they thought it tasted any good, so I decided to do some research.

Location of Blé Sucré in relation to ACCENT Center

Location of Blé Sucré in relation to ACCENT Center

Surprisingly, a great amount of information exists on individual differences in food preferences. In a recent study conducted with 305 participants, the researchers concluded that genetics play a large role in bitter food taste preference (Negri et al., 2012). In this study, the researchers collected a sample of each participant’s saliva to determine their genetic code for the TAS2R38 gene, a DNA sequence responsible for creating a specific bitter receptor that recognizes a chemical called 6-propyl-2-tiouracil (PROP). The DNA sequence of this gene can vary to cause an individual to be considered as a non-taster, medium taster, or super taster. Basically, an individual could not taste the bitterness of PROP, could taste the bitterness, or could taste the bitterness and thought it was extremely disgusting.

Molecular structure of PROP

Molecular structure of PROP

After the DNA genotyping, the researchers gave the participants a small amount of PROP to taste and asked them to rank the amount of bitterness that they experienced on a scale of 1 (no taste) to 4 (very unpleasant). The participants then answered a questionnaire about the specific foods that they ate in the past three days. The researchers instructed them to focus on any bitter vegetables they consumed. With some statistical analysis tests, Negri et al. found that individuals with increased PROP sensitivity tend to avoid bitter foods and therefore have a lower consumption of these types of food in their daily routine. Applying this conclusion to my situation, I guess this means that I’m a supertaster! I’m not sure if this difference in preference has any other implications, but I think that would be a great next experiment to look into!

Are you a super taster?

Are you a super taster?

This study definitely helped clear my confusion about how my friends could possibly think that my rum cake tasted any good, however, I did find that it contained a couple weaknesses. Negri et al. recruited their participants through convenience sampling, where they asked people in their clinic or in a nearby university if they wanted to participate, instead of conducting a random sample. Using this type of sampling method may lead to an unrepresentative sample of the population and therefore yield results that may not be applicable to their population of interest. Additionally, I personally find it difficult to recall everything I ate in the last three days, so I believe that the participants may have found it difficult too. This problem may result in a response bias that could impact the integrity of the results as the participants could have just listed down some of the foods that the researchers included in the questionnaire instead of actually trying to remember what they ate. Despite these shortcomings, this study uses good experimental controls and provides an excellent explanation of their methods to the point where I could most likely replicate their experiments!

Array of delectable goods sold at Blé Sucré

Array of delectable goods sold at Blé Sucré

While I doubt I would spend the rest of my time in Paris trying to reproduce this study, I have learned a valuable lesson: when in Paris, don’t be fooled by those tasty looking cakes.




Negri R, Di Feola M, Di Domenico S, Scala MG, Artesi G, Valente S, Smarrazzo A, Turco F, Morini G, Greco L (2012) Taste perception and food choices. Journal of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition 54:624-629.

Les Pâtisseries à Paris

“The treasures of France; I love Patisseries!” one of my friends of French origin exclaimed when he discovered that I had been taking full advantage of the fact that nearly every street corner of Paris is occupied by a Boulangerie, or bakery. “Window shopping” in Paris is not limited to its boutiques; in fact, what really catches my eye when walking down the street are the rows of colorful macaroons, tartes and a number of other mouth-watering pastries. However, the real reason why I’m in France is not for the pastries, although they are a delightful perk to the trip, but is to study neuroscience through Emory University. With class from 9:30am to 1:30pm, the other students on my program and I take full advantage of our hour lunch break. We have made ourselves regulars at a nearby bakery and devour their enormous baguette-sandwiches nearly every day; but perhaps even more intriguing than their sandwiches are their desserts. A friend of mine and I, each having an extremely dedicated sweet tooth, have set out to try every pastry, cookie, cake, and dessert sold by our favorite bakery. Although this may seem like a daunting task, we are now four days into our endeavor and have already sampled about a quarter of the treats offered at our bakery.

Now, being an avidly interested neuroscience student, it wouldn’t be right to discuss such amazing sensory perceptions without giving credit to the nervous system. Endocannabinoids are chemical compounds produced by the human body that act in certain areas of the brain to stimulate appetite and food intake.  Yoshida et al. (2010) studied two different groups of mice, one normal group which had the receptor for endocannabinoids, and one which had been genetically altered to lack the receptor for endocannabinoids. The lack of receptor in the second group prevents the group from being able to experience the effects of endocannabinoids. The group of researchers administered cannabinoids, synthetically made endocannabinoids, to both groups of mice and found that in those mice with endocannabinoid receptors, behavioral responses to sweet compounds increased and the response of taste receptor cells on the back of their tongues to tasting sweet compounds increased as well. In the mice without endocannabinoid receptors, no increase in behavioral or cellular activity was observed in response to cannabinoid injection. In addition, in normal mice, with endocannabinoid receptors, if the endocannabinoid receptors are blocked using a drug, the mice show a decreased response to sweet compounds. This last portion of the experiment hints to the idea that endocannabinoids may be involved in allowing the animals to perceive a sweet taste.  These findings, in general, suggest that perhaps endocannabinoids play a role in the perception and enhancement of sweet tastes. Yoshida et al.’s normal mice which were administered a cannabinoid would have really loved the desserts that I have been delving into for the past few weeks. It may be possible that as I make my way through the treats at my regular bakery, my body releases endocannabinoids, which act on certain areas of my brain that eventually communicate with my taste buds and allow me to taste the sweet, delicious desserts. Perhaps a combination of my body’s release of endocannabinoids and my love for sweets is what is propelling me so quickly through my task. At this rate I’ll be onto my next bakery in a week; watch out Paris, I’m a little girl with a huge sweet tooth.

– Ankita Gumaste

Works Cited

Yoshida R, Ohkuri T, Jyotaki M, Yasuo T, Horio N, Yasumatsu K, Sanematsu K, Shigemura N, Yamamoto T, Margolskee RF, Ninomiya Y (2010) Endocannabinoids selectively enhance sweet taste. PNAS 107:935-939.