Dr. Dana Small is a Professor in Psychiatry at Yale University, a Fellow at the John B. Pierce Laboratory, and visiting Professor at the University of Cologne. Her research focuses on understanding the mechanisms behind flavor preference formation, investigating the role of cognition in chemosensory perception, and determining how the modern food environment impacts brain circuitry. She currently serves on the executive committee for the Association for Chemoreception Sciences and the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior.
What hooked you on science? On food? I just loved biology class. It was love at first sight. I became a neuroscientist interested in flavor and food because I wanted to understand neural circuits that regulate appetitive behavior. Neuroimaging had just become available and I wanted to know if what we understood about the neurobiology of appetitive behavior in rodents applied to humans. The rodent work was based on studies where rats pressed a lever to have food pellets dispensed. I guess that means that rat chow got me hooked on food! The coolest example of science in food?Jelly beans because they are the perfect food to demonstrate that “taste” is mostly smell. The food you find most fascinating?Soufflé.What scientific concept–food related or otherwise–do you find most fascinating?Evolution. I am interested in understanding how the environment shapes biology—including the food environment. Are there any analogies you like to use to explain difficult or counterintuitive food science concepts? If I can speak of neuroscience of flavor, then I like to compare the oral capture illusion (which occurs when volatiles that are in the nose are referred to the mouth) with the visual capture that occurs when one watches TV. The sounds comes from the speakers but appears to come from the actors’ mouths. How does your scientific knowledge or training impact the way you cook? My scientific knowledge totally influences how I cook and eat. I avoid all artificial sweeteners and liquid calories (OK, except wine). I rarely eat processed food. I buy organic and try to eat locally. I eat a big breakfast and a light dinner. I avoid foods high in glycemic index (except on a special occasion) and search out high fat yogurt as a favorite lunch. One kitchen tool you could not live without?In truth I should be kept out of the kitchen! Four things most likely to be found in your fridge?Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries. Your all-time favorite ingredient?Eggplant.Your standard breakfast?Steel cut oats, pomegranate seeds, blueberries, raspberries, and sliced almonds. Its my biggest meal of the day. Double latte.