The physiology of taste, by Brillat-Savarin

Meditation V.

Food in Germs.

Section First.


WHAT is understood by aliments?

POPULAR ANSWER. All that nourishes us.

SCIENTIFIC ANSWER. By aliments are understood the substances which, when submitted to the stomach, may be assimulated by digestion, and repair the losses which the human body is subjected to in life.

The distinctive quality of an aliment, therefore, is its liability to animal assimulation.


The animal and vegetable kingdoms are those which until now have furnished food to the human race.

Since analytical chemistry has become a certain science, much progress has been made into the double nature of the elements of which our body is composed, and of the substances which nature appears to have intended to repair their losses.

These studies had a great analogy, for man is to a great degree composed both of the substances on which animals feed, and was also forced to look in the vegetable kingdom for affinities susceptible of animalization.

In these two walks the most praiseworthy efforts have been made always as minute as possible, and the curious have followed either the human body or the food which invigorates it, first to their secondary principles, and then to their elements, beyond which we have not been permitted to penetrate.

Here I intended to have given a little treatise on alimentary chemistry, and to tell my readers, to how many thousands of hydrogen, carbon, etc., may be reduced the dishes that sustain us. I did not do so, however, because I remembered I would only have to copy many excellent treatises on chemistry in the hands of every body. I feared, too, that I would relapse into very barren details, and limited myself to a very reasonable nomenclature, which will only require the explanation of a small number of very usual terms.


The greatest service chemistry has rendered to alimentary science, is the discovery of osmazome, or rather the determination of what it was.

Osmazome is the purely sapid portion of flesh soluble in cold water, and separated from the extractive portion which is only soluble in boiling water.

Osmazome is the most meritorious ingredient of all good soups. This portion of the animal forms the red portion of flesh, and the solid parts of roasts. It gives game and venison its peculiar flavor.

Osmazome is most abundant in grown animals which have red or black hair; it is scarcely found at all in the lamb, sucking pig, chicken, and the white meat of the largest fowls. For this reason true connoisseurs always prefer the second joint; instinct with them was the precursor of science.

Thus a knowledge of the existence of osmazome, caused so many cooks to be dismissed, who insisted on always throwing away the first bouillon made from meat. This made the reputation of the soupe des primes, and induced the canon Chevrier to invent his locked kettles. The Abbe Chevrier was the person who never would eat until Friday, lobsters that had not been cooked on the previous Sunday, and every intervening day placed on the fire with the addition of fresh butter.

To make use of this subject, though yet unknown, was introduced the maxim, that to make good bouillon the kettle should only smile.

Osmazome, discovered after having been so long the delight of our fathers, may be compared to alcohol, which made whole generations drunk before it was simply exhibited by distillation.

Principle of Aliments.

The fibre is what composes the tissue of the meat, and what is apparent after the juices have been extracted. The fibres resist boiling water, and preserve their form, though stripped of a portion of their wrappings. To carve meat properly the fibres should be cut at right angles, or nearly so, with the blade of the knife. Meat thus carved looks better, tastes better, and is more easily chewed.

The bones are composed principally of gelatine and the phosphate of lime.

The quantity of gelatine diminishes as we grow older. At seventy the bones are but an imperfect marble, the reason why they are so easily broken, and why old men should carefully avoid any fall.

Albumen is found both in the flesh and the blood. It coagulates at a heat above 40 Reaumur, and causes the scum on the pot-au-feu.

Gelatine is also found in the bones, the soft and the cartilaginous parts. Its distinctive quality is to coagulate at the ordinary temperature of the atmosphere; to effect this only two and a half per cent. are needed.

Gelatine is the basis of all jelleys, of blanc manges, and other similar preparations.

Grease is a concrete oil formed in the interstices of the cellary tissue. It sometimes agglomerates in animals whom art or nature has so predisposed, such as pigs, fowls, ortolans and snipe. In some of these animals it loses its insipidity and acquires a slight and agreeable aroma.

Blood is composed of an albuminous serum and of fibrine, some gelatine and a little osmazome. It coagulates in warm water and is most nourishing, (e. g.) the blood pudding.

All the principles, we have passed in review, are common to man and to animals which feed.

All the principles we pass in review are common both to man and animals which he eats. It is not then surprising that animal food is eminently restorative and invigorating. The particles of which it is composed having a great similitude with those of which we are formed may easily be animalized when they are subjected to the vital action of our digestive organs.

Vegetable Kingdom.

The vegetable kingdom however presents not less varied sources of nutrition.

The fecula is especially nutritious, especially as it contains fewer foreign principles.

By fecula we mean farina or flower obtained from cereals, from legumes and various kinds of roots, among which the potato holds a prominent place.

The fecula is the substance of bread, pastry and purees of all kinds. It thus enters to a great degree into the nourishment of almost all people.

Such food diminishes the fibres and even the courage. * We must, to sustain this, refer to the Indians (East) who live on rice and serve every one who chosea to command them.

[* The H. E. I. Co. Sepoys, however, fight well. It may be doubted though if either Ireland or Italy will be free, until the one gives up the potato and the other macaroni. The reason why Irishmen fight better in other countries than their own, is possibly that abroad they are better fed than at home.]

Almost all domestic animals eat the fecula, and are made by it extremely strong; for it is a more substantial nourishment than the dry and green vegetables which are their habitual food.

Sugar is not less important, either as a remedy or as an aliment.

This substance once obtained, either from the Indies or from the colonies became indigenous at the commencement of this century. It has been discovered in the grape, the turnip, the chestnut, and especially in the beet. So that speaking strictly Europe need appeal neither to India or America for it. Its discovery was a great service rendered by science to humanity, and furnishes an example which cannot but have the happiest results. (Vide enfro Sugar.)

Sugar, either in a solid state or in the different plants in which nature has placed it, is extremely nourishing. Animals are fond of it, and the English give large quantities to their blood-horses, and have observed that it sustained them in the many trials to which they were subjected.

Sugar in the days of Louis XIV. was only found in apothecary shops, and gave birth to many lucrative professions, such as pastry-cooks, confectioners, liquourists, &c. Mild oils also come from the vegetable kingdom. They are all esculent, but when mingled with other substances they should be looked on only as a seasoning. Gluten found in the greatest abundance in cheese, contributes greatly to the fermentation of the bread with which it is united. Chemists assign it an animal nature.

They make at Paris for children and for birds, and in some of the departments for men also, patisseries in which gluten predominates, the fecula having been removed by water.

Mucilage owes its nourishments to the many substances of which it is the vehicle.

Gum may be considered an aliment, not a strong thing, as it contains nearly the same elements as sugar.

Vegetable gelatine, extracted from many kinds of fruits, especially from apples, goose-berries, quinces, and some others, may also be considered a food. It is more nutritious when united with sugar, but it is far inferior in that respect to what is extracted from bones, horns, calves’ feet and fish. This food is in general light, mild and healthy. The kitchen and the pharmaceutist’s laboratory therefore dispute about it.

Difference Between Fat and Lean.

Next to the JUICE, which, as we have said, is composed of asmazome and the extractus, there are found in fish many substances which also exist in land animals, such as fibrine, gelatine, albumen. So that we may really say JUICE distinguishes the flesh diet from what the church calls maigre.

The latter too has another peculiarity. Fish contains a large quantity of phosphorus and hydrogen, that is to say of the two most combustible things in nature. Fish therefore is a most heating diet. This might legitimate the praise once bestowed on certain religious orders, the regime of whom was directly opposed to the commonly esteemed most fragile.

Individual Instance.

I will say no more on this physiological fact, but will not omit an instance which may be easily verified.

Some years ago I went to a country house, in the vicinity of Paris, and on the Seine, near St. Denis, near a hamlet composed chiefly of fishing huts. I was amazed at the crowd of huts I saw swarming in the road.

I remarked it with amazement to the boatman who took me across the river.

“Monsieur,” said he, “we have eight families here, have fifty– three children, among whom are forty-nine girls and four boys. That one is mine.” As he spoke he pointed triumphantly to a little whelp, of about five years of age, who was at the bow of the boat eating raw craw-fish.

From this observation I made ten years ago, and others I could easily recall, I have been led to think that the genesiac sense is moved by fish-eating, and that it is rather irritating than plethoric and substantial. I am inclined to maintain this opinion the more, because Doctor Bailly has recently proved, by many instances, that when ever the number of female children exceeds the male, the circumstance is due to some debilitating circumstances. This will account to us for the jests made from the beginning of time, whenever a man’s wife bears him a daughter instead of a son.

I might say much about aliments considered as a tout ensemble, and about the various modifications they undergo by mixing, etc.; I hope, though, that the preceding will suffice to the majority of readers. I recommend all others to read some book ex professo, and will end with the things which are not without interest.

The first is that animalization is affected almost as vegetation is, that is that the reparative current formed by digestion, is inhaled in various manners by the tubes with which the organs are provided, and becomes flesh, nails, hair, precisely as earth, watered by the same fluid, becomes radish, lettuce, potato — as the gardener pleases.

The second is that in the organization of life, the same elements which chemistry produces are not obtained. The organs destined to produce life and motion only act on what is subjected to them.

Nature, however, loves to wrap herself in veils, and to stop us at every advance, and has concealed the laboratory where new transformations are affected. It is difficult to explain how, having determined that the human body contained lime, sulphur, and phosphorous iron, and the other substances, all this CAN be renewed every ten years by bread and water.

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31