YUMMY UMAMI

Dashi, seaweed, fish sauce, cooked tomatoes ... and especially Vegemite. All are rich in umami flavours.

Dashi, seaweed, fish sauce, cooked tomatoes … and especially Vegemite.
All are rich in umami flavours.

(Originally posted on Sensorium, July 9 2014)

While sweet-sour-bitter-salty flavours were identified as basic flavours thousand of years ago, writes Larissa Dubeckiumami was not identified until 1909.

The person who identified and named the flavour was Japanese professor Kikunae Ikeda, who then turned entrepreneur, establishing a factory producing monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is a concentrated crystalline extract of one type of glutamate and is widely used as a flavour booster in food. (See this link to the Japanese Patent Office.)

Even though the flavour was identified over 100 years ago, it is only now widely coming into public recognition in the West. In fact, Dubecki, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, announced that 2014 is the “year of umami”.

What exactly is umami?

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MOUTHFEEL

So many kinds of textures in this dessert-- whipped cream, melting ice cream, jelly, kiwi fruit and crispy biscuit.

So many kinds of textures in this dessert–
whipped cream, melting ice cream, jelly, kiwi fruit and crispy biscuit.

(Originally posted on Sensorium, February 3 2014)

“Most people wildly underappreciate how much their sense of touch influences what they eat”, claims Barb Stuckey in Taste: What You’re Missing (p. 82).

Mouthfeel” is the word for the touch sensations generated when we eat.

The earlier post “SWEETNESS (AND DEATH)” notes that our sense of taste isn’t confined to our mouth. We also have taste receptors in our pancreas and intestines, for instance.

Similarly, our sense of touch is very diffuse, registering on the surface of our bodies as well as deep within—and often in tandem with other senses.

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INSATIABLE: HEMINGWAY AND FOOD

Breakfast with Hemingway.

Breakfast with Hemingway.

Ernest Hemingway published his first novel, The Sun also Rises, in 1926, when he was 27 years old and living in Paris. A fictionalised autobiography, it is based on events that took place in France and Spain—bullfighting, complicated love affairs, fights, fishing trips. And eating and drinking.

Hemingway was, writes Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan in the Paris Review, a man with “immense appetites—for life, adventure, drink, and a good meal”. Patrizia Sanvitale describes him as “the kind of man who liked to live dangerously—hunting and fishing, smoking, travelling, eating and drinking with largesse.”

When you start to look for food references in The Sun also Rises, it soon becomes evident that the narrative is based on a series of meals. The story almost staggers from one bar or restaurant to another.

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SOUR, THE MOUTH-WATERING TASTE

Pickled in vinegar ... make your mouth water?

Pickled in vinegar … does this really make your mouth water?

(Originally posted on Sensorium, May 4 2014)

“Sour is the Basic Taste that makes our mouth water the most”, says Barb Stuckey in Taste: What You’re Missing:

This happens because a supersour food enters the mouth with more acidity than the permanent resident, saliva, which rushes in to try to manage this huge change in acidity in the mouth … Once there’s enough saliva to dilute the sourness, the waterworks stop. (pp. 227-228)

I thought that was interesting, but it was only the start of a fascinating exploration of sourness.

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SALT, THE DISREPUTABLE FLAVOUR

Many different kinds of salt are sold at the supermarket these days. Which is kind of strange, given salt's bad reputation.

Many different kinds of salt are sold at the supermarket these days. Which is kind of strange, given salt’s bad reputation.

(Originally posted in Sensorium, March 10 2014.)

The labels are everywhere on supermarket products. “No added salt”. Or “Reduced salt”. And it’s common knowledge why that is.

Salt—which used to be so highly prized—is now considered mighty unhealthy.

So why does my small and limited local supermarket stock a whole range of different kinds of salt? I can buy the regular iodised kind, sea salt flakes, and preloaded grinders filled with exotic varieties including pink Himalayan, blue Persian, smoked Cyprus and black Cyprus. That’s a lot of choices of something as elemental as salt.

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EATING BITTER

Bitter melons— some people crave them, and other people find them unbelievably awful.

Bitter melons—
some people crave them, and other people find them unbelievably awful.

(Originally posted on Sensorium, January 27 2014)

Eating bitter”: in Chinese culture, the phrase refers to “necessary suffering to get to a better end”—a resigned, determined reaction to the vicissitudes of life.

John Thorne, in his essay “Reflections on a Tin of Vienna Sausages”, understands the phrase in a more head-on, assertive way, as meaning “to endure bitterness by wilfully eating it” (p. 187).

Although the two interpretations are different, both of them link the emotion of bitterness with the flavour.

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SWEETNESS (AND DEATH)

Beardsworth and Keil point out that there is often “moral ambivalence associated with sugar and confectionery”.

Beardsworth and Keil point out that there is often “moral ambivalence associated with sugar and confectionery”.

(Originally posted on Sensorium,  December 17 2013)

In an earlier post (“Twelve Things I Didn’t Know about Taste”), I wrote that, apparently, cats can’t taste sweetness.

For humans, however, the desire for sweet is powerful and complex.

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