Science Festival serves up some thoughts on ‘dangerous’ foods

    The experts are ready to answer some of your nagging questions about food safety and taste preferences Wednesday as part of the weeklong Philadelphia Science Festival.

    Food scientist Marcia Pelchat says we’re born disliking bitter tastes as part of our early-warning system against toxic foods. Our smell associations, on the other hand, seem to be learned — and vary across cultures.

    Until recently, the Japanese were not familiar with smelly cheese.

    “Now with globalization, people in Japan are beginning to eat more cheese and appreciate it,” Pelchat said.

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    A hundred years ago, a whiff of Roquefort cheese may have signaled rot — something to be avoided.

    “Although the Japanese also have their own fermented foods, like natto, which most Americans consider to be slimy and disgusting,” Pelchat said.

    Natto is fermented soybeans.

    Pelchat says our dislike of certain foods is situational too. Let’s say you’re at the amusement park, and hurl after eating a hot dog and taking a roller coaster ride.

    “You might still learn an aversion to the hot dog, even though you know it was the roller coaster and not the hot dog itself that made you nauseous,” she said.

    Pelchat will help lead the provocatively named discussion “Farm to Fork — Dangerous Foods: Facts, Fears and Foibles.” As an extra incentive, she promises samples of fried mealworms in cool ranch and nacho flavors.

    For the complete festival scheduled, visit

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