Category Archives: Taste

Adventures with new ingredients, recipes or cuisines.

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TOAST: IT’S COMPLICATED

The taste test. Inconclusive verdict. More testing needed.

The taste test. Inconclusive verdict. More testing needed.

Surely nothing could be easier than making toast. In these modern times, all you have to do is drop sliced bread into the toaster slots, push the lever down, and toast will pop right up when it’s done.

It was much trickier in my childhood. Our toasters were primitive appliances, with fold-down doors on either side. They demanded vigilance and patience, with disastrous consequences if we wandered away. These were the days before fire alarms, so burnt toast could be very burnt before the smell roused our attention.

My family also had a camping toaster, a simple wire mesh contraption held over a flame. I remember the toast it made was particularly delicious—very crisp on the outside and somehow fluffier and moister inside.

Either way, there was nothing difficult or complex about toast. Or so it seemed.

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SALTY. SWEET. DELIGHTFULLY GUILTY PLEASURE.

Salty, sweet and delicious: salted caramel Zumbarons.

Salty, sweet and delicious: salted caramel Zumbarons.

I searched for Australia’s favourite yeast extract on the Cadbury website and this was the response:

You are searching for: Vegemite

There are no pages that contain the search term “Vegemite”

I was surprised. It was only four months since Cadbury had launched its milk chocolate block filled with Vegemite-flavoured caramel, and there was no mention of it. (However, there is still plenty of evidence on the Cadbury Facebook page to confirm the product did exist.)

During the period when the Vegemite chocolate block was still around, I was never able to find it in my local supermarket. I admit that I didn’t venture further afield but, knowing the popularity of salty-plus-sweet, I imagined this new confectionary line would be highly successful.

After all, the salted caramel flavour is everywhere. Back in December 2008, writer Kim Severson labelled it “the flavour of the year” and traced its history in a New York Times article, “How Caramel Developed a Taste for Salt”.

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TRUFFLE FEVER

Truffle butter under the breast skin, grated truffle added during cooking.

Truffle butter under the breast skin, grated truffle added during cooking.

One wintery evening in Canberra, I tried a beer brewed with truffles and spices. It tasted like a gorgeous big slice of Christmas cake but, amid the other flavours, I couldn’t find the truffles.

But, up to then, I had never tasted the mysterious fungus. Of course, I had been reading about it for years. But no description was able to convey to me what truffles smelled like, or what they tasted like. Ultimately, language—no matter how subtle and dexterous—cannot capture an experience accurately enough to allow someone else to live it.

So, during winter 2013, I went on-line and ordered a truffle.  Yes, it was expensive, but when compared to a truffle dinner at a restaurant, it was affordable.

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12 THINGS I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT TASTE

Salty, sweet, bitter and sour: a balanced meal?

Salty, sweet, bitter and sour: a balanced meal?

(Originally posted on Sensorium, October 28 2013)

Strangely, Diane Ackerman’s section on taste in her wonderful A Natural History of the Senses pays much attention to food, food rituals and food symbolism (pp. 127-172), but little to the actual experience of tasting. This intrigued me, because taste is a sense that gives us great pleasure. Even so, there is a kind of irony there. We often eat unthinkingly; the true abilities of our sense of taste go unused and unnoticed.

When I began looking into taste, I soon learned a whole heap of interesting things. Here are 12 things that convinced me I needed to pay more attention to what was going on in my mouth.

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