A Spicy Afternoon at The Village

11 Dec

Residents of The Village at Penn State enjoy a variety of activities—after all, variety is the spice of life. Sometimes that spice is literally the tongue-tingling kind, as it was during last week’s Research Unplugged event on site at The Village, with a talk by John Hayes and Nadia Byrnes titled “Some Like it Hot!” (Yes, we are indeed keeping John, assistant professor of food science, and Nadia, who works in his lab at the Sensory Evaluation Center, hopping this semester with a variety of public engagement talks for Research Communications. Our thanks to them both!)

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An attendee raises her hand to ask a question of the researchers.

The speakers touched on many aspects of taste research, including how genetics and environment impact our preferences; how to define umami, which is one of our five basic tastes; and the biology of our taste buds, among many other topics.

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Jellybeans are a convenient way to give an audience a sampling of different flavors.

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A Village resident pinches her nose (as instructed by our speakers) while tasting a jellybean to experience the powerful interaction of taste and smell.

However, the focus of the talk was on doctoral candidate Nadia’s research on spicy food, particularly why some people gravitate toward “the burn” sensation of chili peppers and other hot spices, while others studiously avoid it.

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The chef at The Village whipped up a batch of cocoa-dusted chocolate truffles for our event. The secret ingredient? A pinch of chili powder!

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Sampling the spicy truffle. The verdict? Delicious…with a kick!

The audience, many of whom are alumni of Penn State graduate programs themselves, were delighted to help us commemorate 150 years of graduate education at the University. We are joining the Graduate School in celebrating this anniversary year by highlighting the work of grad student researchers during both of our Research Unplugged seasons.

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Village Residents enjoyed the chance to chat with grad student Nadia Byrnes. Byrnes won 2nd place in the 2012 Graduate Exhibition’s Social and Behavioral Sciences Division, for her research project titled, “Determining the Relationship between Personality Variables and Liking of Spicy Foods.”

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Nadia got laughs while explaining the theory linking “sensation seeking” personality types with a preference for spicy foods. “How many of you like to drive fast cars, gamble, or ride roller coasters?” she asked.

The event was a spicy and satisfying blend of information, myth-debunking, a lively question and answer session, and tasting jellybeans of many flavors!

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A fruity jellybean stumped many tasters. “Is it apple? No, I think it’s peach!” Both wrong: it was pear-flavored.

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Trying the “umami” flavored liquid sample. A little “salty, savory, somewhat like chicken broth” was the reaction.

We always have a marvelous time learning and laughing when we bring Research Unplugged to The Village and we look forward to joining them there in April with another event on site. The topic? Stay tuned. We’re cooking up some flavorful offerings for the spring Unplugged series!

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