Epistemologies of Taste

(Partial) funding: KNAW Early Career Award and a NWO Aspasia Premium

New tastes were introduced in the Low Countries through medicine in the early modern period. Some, such as liquorice, became part of Dutch national identity. What was the role of taste in early modern Dutch medicine and dietetics, and how did medical ideas about taste shape individual and collective bodies and identities? How can we historicize such tastes? The ‘ephemeral’ sense of taste is often still perceived as too subjective and thus difficult and problematic to study historically. This project challenges that contention and develops new standards to study taste in the past by reworking historical taste experiences. It consists of a number of sub-projects, some in collaboration with other researchers and commercial partners: Liquorice, Cheese, Spent Grain, Bitters, Tasting the Past, and TasteMakers.

Tasting the Past

The material turn in the history of science has led scholars to successfully study the past through new methods, such as object-driven and performative research, including the reconstruction and analysis of historical recipes. Reconstructions in the history of science are a restaging of historical experiences rather than replications; they help us access and understand historical embodied and sensory knowledge embedded in texts and materiality. Yet the ‘ephemeral’ sense of taste is often still perceived as too subjective and thus difficult and problematic to study historically. In this project, challenge that contention, meanwhile contributing to new standards to study historical taste by restaging and documenting historical taste experiences. 


More soon!


Partner: Ruitenberg Basiqs

Liquorice,  drop in Dutch,  is seen as part of Dutch national identity. But why? Liquorice is eaten elsewhere too, and the liquorice plant, Glycyrrhiza glabra, the roots of which are the ingredient that gives the eponymous candy its distinctive taste, is not indigenous to northwestern Europe. It was probably first introduced as an ingredient for cough medicines in the Low Countries in the Middle Ages. This raises the question how a foodstuff of which the distinctive ingredient has no clear geographical connection to the country that identifies with it could become part of its national identity. When did it become more of a candy than a medicine? Why and when did it become so popular? How did the taste of drop change over the centuries? How do physiological tastes become cultural tastes?

In this project I demonstrate that tracing how a specific foodstuff or taste shapes and becomes part of the collective identity of a nation state can give us new insights in the complex factors at play in such political and emotional processes, as well as in the role of science. The project explores the history of the interlinked development of (understandings of) the taste of drop through medicine and pharmacy to iconic candy in the Low Countries, and its influences on individual and collective bodies and identities. The drop project is part of my work at NL-Lab, a Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences research group studying Dutch culture and identity past and present.

As part of this project, I am working with Ruitenberg Basiqs food technologist Sander Runia on remaking eighteenth-century drop recipes.

Making drop, August 2020


Partners: Suzanne Bernhardt

A collaborative project with my NL-Lab colleagues Geertje Mak and Leonie Cornips. We seek to develop a new interdisciplinary method to unpack national symbols. Our intern Marijn Stouthamer wrote a historical report on the colonial roots of Dutch cheese, and we collaborated with artist Suzanne Bernhardt on her cheese and roucou project.

Spent Grain

Partner: MaGie Creations

A research project in collaboration with MaGie Creations, exploring the historical connections between beer and bread production and the potential of historical recipes for spent grain.


Partner: Horizon Flevoland

A research project studying the history of bitter tastes in Dutch culinary culture and the possibilities for integrating sopropo (Momordica charantia) in the Dutch diet, in collaboration with Horizon Flevoland, the regional development agency for the province of Flevoland.