Tag Archives: flavour

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REVIEW: Dan Barber’s THE THIRD PLATE

Dan Barber: “How had I assumed all those years that polenta smelled of nothing more than dried meal?”

Dan Barber: “How had I assumed all those years that polenta smelled of nothing more than dried meal?”

Dan Barber is chef/co-owner of the Michelin-starred, farm-to-table New York restaurant Blue Hill, and also Blue Hill at Stone Barns  (in upstate New York), where organic produce for the two restaurants is grown.

In addition, Barber is a man who knows how to tell a good story—a skill he puts to good use in The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food, published in 2014. (Acclaimed journalist Ira Glass, of This American Life, professes envy of Barber’s writing skills when he introduces him in the YouTube clip Beyond Farm-to-Table.)

Barber’s book opens with a yarn:

A corncob, dried and slightly shriveled, arrived in the mail […] Along with the cob was a check for $1,000.

It turns out that a seed collector had sent the cob, an heirloom corn dating back to the 1600s. Native Americans had cultivated that particular variety because of its flavour, and it was then adopted and enjoyed by colonists. But the frigid winter of 1816 killed the American plants; starving animals and people ate the harvested barn-stored cobs. The variety disappeared altogether from New England.

But in the 21st century, the seed collector traced this corn to a rare crop in Italy. That is the cob Barber now holds in his hand, along with a plea to grow it—and $1,000 to persuade him to accept the challenge.

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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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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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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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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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