Thursday, May 22, 2014


Don't we all, Stitch?
This week, as we all oohed and aahed over our classmates' food presentations, indulging in the delights of delicious and free (!) food, I couldn't help but realize how many dessert courses we chose to prepare.  Out of all 12 presentations, 4 were desserts or sweet dishes (as opposed to savory)...That's 25% of the class!  I know that the dish I chose to share began as a family comfort food where, much like Stitch, when I'm feeling down or blue reaching for this familiar dish warms my soul and lightens my mood.  But, with a quarter of the class also choosing to prepare a dessert, that leads to the obvious assumption that sweets must play a large role in our own personal biographies and cultures, making me wonder: How did the idea of concluding a meal with a sweet course or dessert originate? This is exactly the question I want to explore with you all today.

In an article in the New York Times the book SWEET INVENTION: A History of Dessert was reviewed, analyzing where and when exactly our mild obsession with sweets began in human history.  Apparently there are quite a few historical and cultural aspects that have contributed to our modern definition of dessert.  Here is a brief summary of how the timeline goes:

1. In Medieval times cooks began adding extra sugar into their savory dishes, making all of the courses of a meal much sweeter.

2. Then, in the mid-17th century a separation was established dividing different dishes into 2 categories: sweet and savory. I should mention that during this point in time meals were service à la française, where all the "courses" of a meal were served at once.

3. About 150 years later most meals were being served in individual courses, called service à la russe, resulting in even more of a separation between sweet and savory.  It became customary to serve savory dishes at the beginning of a meal and sweeter ones towards the end.


But this still doesn't explain the main question: Why are we so obsessed with desserts?!  The explanation is actually rather simple.  We are genetically predisposed to like sweet flavors because, according to Daniel Lieberman (a professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard), "since sugar is a basic form of energy in food, a sweet tooth was adaptive in ancient times, when food was limited."  So next time you're craving that chocolate bar sitting in your kitchen cupboard, don't feel guilty for eating it all in one sitting...after all, that sweet tooth that you have isn't just genetic, it's evolutionary!

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