University of Warwick: Britain’s changing tastes – Warwick researcher to explore the search for flavour in modern Britain

The UK’s love affair with tasty food from around the world wasn’t dented by lockdown, with home delivery services bringing Indian, Chinese, Thai, and many other international cuisines to the doorstep.

But what drives people’s love of new flavours and willingness to experiment? How did olive oil change from being something bought from the chemist in tiny bottles to tackle medical problems, to becoming a key ingredient in home cooking? And how does exposure to new flavours and ingredients influence society?

Dr Mandy Sadan (left), Associate Professor in the Global Sustainable Development (GSD) Department, will explore ‘Flavour in the Making of Modern Britain’ thanks to the award of a Major Research Fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust.

The project will begin in September 2022 and will run for three years.

Describing the project, Dr Sadan said: “Flavour is a really important part of national, regional, and local food systems, but it is under-researched and poorly understood.

“It is becoming clear that the search for flavoursome food has probably been one of the most important drivers of human social and cultural development.

“I hope that my research will contribute to new ways of thinking about the global shaping and creation of Britain as a corrective to simplistic dialogues about ‘multiculturalism’ and the economic and cultural ‘contribution’ of different communities.

“There is a much bigger story waiting to be told about population-level changes in flavour preference that I want to explore. The emergence of the new flavour and ingredients houses, technological developments, and understanding the chemistry of flavour are all important factors. Flavour preference is a very complex issue involving neuroscience and nurture, as well as a host of wider environmental factors.”

Every year, the Leverhulme Trust awards around 30 Major Research Fellowships, which are intended for “well-established, distinguished researchers in the humanities and social sciences to complete a piece of original research”.

Dr Sadan added: “I am delighted to be given this opportunity by the Leverhulme Trust. When I joined Warwick in August 2020, I hoped that it would open new directions for my teaching and my research. This project is a testament to the richness of the interdisciplinary GSD environment and how it has allowed me to grow intellectually.

“The idea for this project originated in conversations with students when I was teaching GSD’s undergraduate module on Security, Sovereignty, and Sustainability in the Global Food System. We discussed many issues relating to culture, psychology, physiology, and history, as we tried to understand how food systems are or can be sustainable.

“We often talk about research-led teaching, but we don’t talk enough about the importance of teaching-led research. Teaching can lead to the development of innovative research projects, and we shouldn’t lose sight of that important link between teaching and research, which is sometimes missed!”

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