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Why Do Publix Subs Taste So Good?

Neuroscientist Stefan Crynen on what makes Publix subs sublime.

By Cooper Levey-Baker May 31, 2016 Published in the June 2016 issue of Sarasota Magazine

Stefan sub wosoiy

Stefan Crynen.

Image: Fred Lopez

All true Floridians know their Publix sub order by heart. For me, it’s a half Italian, Boar’s Head, on multi-grain bread, with provolone, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, jalapeños, oil and vinegar. It takes me roughly 30 seconds to consume all six inches.

What makes these iconic sandwiches so addictive? I asked Stefan Crynen, the head of functional foods at Manatee’s Roskamp Institute, which studies neurological disorders and addictions. Crynen is what the food science world calls a “supertaster,” someone who has an above-average number of taste buds. He’s worked with Minute Maid to taste-test orange juice to ensure a batch doesn’t have any off notes. In other words, he knows flavor.

Several factors determine how we experience food, Crynen explains. They include the basic tongue tastes of salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami, vaporized flavor compounds we smell through the back of our mouth, our perception of texture, our cultural upbringing and our age. (We lose taste buds as we age, which is why babies, with tons of them, prefer bland food, and seniors often say food has lost its taste.) The world’s best dishes, like my Publix sub, hit all those marks at once. My tongue tastes salt from the cured meat, sweetness from the tomato, sourness from the vinegar and bitterness from the onion, while my nose picks up funky scents from the cheese and floral vapors from the lettuce. I revel in the textural contrast of the crunchy-yet-soft bread, and I’m consumed by the remembrance of Publix subs past.

Crynen’s favorite Publix sub? The Thanksgiving special with turkey and cranberry sauce. Or maybe the Cordon Bleu, with chicken, ham, Swiss cheese and bacon. “In general I just like those subs,” he says. Amen.

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