Did you know that 20 percent of the population can’t taste pepper? That’s the subject of an interesting article in the New York Times today, about a recent article in The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Researchers began by studying shiraz wines from Australia, which are known for their peppery aromas, in an attempt to isolate the chemical that causes it.
The Australian researchers did detect trace quantities of a peppery molecule in shiraz wine, but not enough to analyze it. So they looked for the same molecule in ground white pepper, and found it at levels of a few parts per million — enough to positively identify it as a chemical called rotundone.
Most white pepper comes from Indonesia, where peppercorns are fermented in water for up to two weeks to remove the fruit layer covering the seed. Black pepper (unfermented peppercorns with the fruit left on) has rotundone, but in much smaller amounts.
Perhaps because of its low concentration, nobody had noticed the presence of rotundone in pepper before. But the Australian team found that most people can smell rotundone at levels of parts per billion, making it by far the most potent aromatic in pepper, and a significant contributor to the aroma of shiraz.
they tested 49 people and found that about 20 percent of them could not detect rotundone at all, even at concentrations far above what’s found in white pepper. The scientists say this shows the different experiences two people can have of the same wine, or of the same pepper-seasoned food.
We’re determined to buy some especially peppery shiraz and ascertain whether we’re among the 20 percent or not.
What’s the Peppery Note in those Shirazes? [New York Times]