How Herbs get their flavor

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National Geographic

Washington D.C., 1 September 2019
Text by Rob Dunn

In their September issue 2019 National Geographic has published a short but sweet insight into the world of herbs (‘How Herbs get their flavor’), depicting the microscopic characteristics of just five selected specimen. A more comprehensive series of images was created especially for this article and the topic will be continued by the artist due to the surreal beauty of the subject.


The image:

In hopes of seeing why a peppercorn tastes peppery, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723) soaked one in water and put it under a microscope. The Dutch scientist imagined that its taste came from tiny spikes or darts. Instead, he saw tiny ridged spheres—and tiny moving organisms, the first bacteria ever observed.

Van Leeuwenhoek, aka the father of microbiology, glimpsed a world in the 17th century that photographer-scientist Martin Oeggerli explores today in far greater detail. Oeggerli made images of herbs and spices with a scanning electron microscope, then enhanced the plants’ parts with color. Some of the parts are both factories and silos, containing chemicals that we taste and smell when we use these herbs. The flavors of herbs are their arsenal. Since prehistoric times, the chemicals of an herb have evolved in response to the threats that the plant must contend with. Some plants are better defended against slugs, others against sheep. In van Leeuwenhoek’s peppercorn, the heat of compounds called piperines discourages insects from eating the plant. In many herbs, we find hints of the species against which the herb protected itself; in others, we still find mysteries…


Lavandula spp.: Scattered among spiny hairs on lavender’s leaves, tiny balloons (yellow here) hold compounds that generate aroma as well as the flavor that lavender adds to foods and beverages.


© Martin Oeggerli and Kenneth N. Goldie, supported by C-CINA, Biozentrum, University Basel, and School of Life Sciences, FHNW.
Read more: 

National Geographic (September 2019)

Micronaut Gallery: Herbs – Microscopic Landscapes of Surreal Beauty



Format: 30x20in (70x50cm) limited edition, 25 pieces: visit artist website