Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Tongue Orgasms – What makes something taste good? The elusive fifth taste?

This post has been inspired by James Bond, Tamara and my own curiosity and quest for the perfect dish.

What makes something taste good? Well what? It is more than something being sweet, salty, bitter our sour and your preference. Oh so by the way, for the last ten years, they have added ‘umami’ to the list of primary tastes. So let’s digress...what is umami? Robin Rinaldi wrote:

“For this experiment you need five things: a pinch of sugar, a little table salt, a lemon, a cup of good black coffee and some chicken bouillon. Start by putting the sugar in your mouth. You'll notice an instant sensation you recognize as "sweet" up on the tip of the tongue; you may even feel a tiny head rush. Then do the same with the salt. This registers intense and mineral-like, spreading to the sides of the tongue. For the remaining three, you must hold your nose tightly to prevent the aromas from interfering with your taste perception. Bite into a wedge of lemon and feel how the whole mouth reacts against "sour." Next sip the coffee, whose steely "bitter" hardness lingers at the back of the palate. Now take a slow drink of bouillon. See what happens, how the whole tongue seems to light up? There's saltiness, yes, and a little sweetness, but there's something else. It leaves an almost warm, creamy trail as you swallow. You might call it "meaty" or "savoury."”... or UMAMI. Umami is a loanword from Japanese meaning "good flavour" or "good taste". In as much as it describes the flavour common to savoury products such as meat, cheese, and mushrooms, umami is similar to Brillat-Savarin's concept of osmazome, an early Western attempt to describe the main flavouring component of meat as extracted in the process of making stock. Umami is a pleasant savoury taste imparted by a NATURAL glutamate, a type of amino acid, and ribonucleotides, including inosinate and guanylate, which occur naturally in many foods including meat, fish, vegetables and dairy products.

As the taste of umami itself is subtle and blends well with other tastes to expand and round out flavours, most people don’t recognize umami when they encounter it, but it plays an important role making food taste delicious.

Umami is beef, pork, certain types of fish. Umami is potatoes, seaweed, carrots, mushrooms and sun-ripened tomatoes. The sun-riper – the umami-er. Über-umami is dry cured ham, parmesan cheese, MSG, fish sauce, dried fish, biltong & beef jerky, Worchester Sauce, A1 Sauce, HP Sauce, Bovril, Marmite, Vegemite and anchovies. Bacon is the King of Umami. Aromat is umami in a can. Umami is that what makes you scream “Ooooh Mommy!”

James Bond’s cover in ‘You only live twice’ was that of an industrial spy, trying to steal Osata’s formula for making Monosodium Glutamate. Tamara over at Doodles of a Journo cannot see what the great big fuss is over a juicy steak. She likes oriental dishes – also high in umami content.

Soooo, what is it that makes something taste good? It cannot be the umami thing on its own... There is no umami in Dulce de Leche Ice Cream...

The picture above is self-explanatory – it is a combination of so many things. However... I, J. Hardspear de la Azotea will still give you my own spin on this. We forget that other things play a role in what we perceive as good tasting and not. Sound... ‘Snap-Crackle-Pop’. The sound of insect legs rubbing together, a bubbling stew, sizzling meat/vegetables. You cannot properly taste a curry dish if you have a cold and your nose is blocked. Is it acceptable in your culture to eat live insects or do you gril?

I can even bring ADD into this. Tactile Defensiveness. Your little fussy-eater may not as much be averse to the taste of something, than not being able to tolerate the texture of it.

Fat. Cuts of meat marbled with fat throughout the muscle tissue is tastier that extremely lean meat. Oil, butter, lard, dripping etc. makes food just so much more tastier.

Method & preparation. Some people have the ability to assassinate the taste in even the best of ingredients. Some lovingly coax the very best out of quite mediocre stuff.
Gender? Generally men would classify meaty, starchy food as comfort food and women sweet stuff like chocolates & ice cream.

Piquanteness? Spiciness? Astringency? What about the pungents (onions, garlic, shallots, chives)? How does it look? Is it pleasing to the eye?

Now, MSG...MSG...MSG. MSG is fake umami. It is like using lurid yellow banana essence instead of real bananas. The fast food & ready-made-food industry can dress up the most horrible tasteless substance by adding MSG, excessive fats, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, excessive (hidden) salts, colourants, flavourants, additives, solidifiers, emulsifiers, preservatives etc, etc. When in doubt – cover in bacon and melted (processed) cheese.

Some research says these additives are safe, some say it is harmful, some say it’s addictive. Hell, I don’t know? Common sense dictates that it cannot be good though. Personally, too much fast foods, snacks etc makes me either full but not sated or sated but not full or whatever. It is not the same satisfied feeling one has after a proper square meal made from scratch.

The challenge then is this: To be able to make extremely tasty good food from fresh ingredients, bring out the natural umami, salt, sweetness, bitterness and sourness and by combining different tastes in such a manner that the introduction of that to your taste buds will cause them to experience multiple spontaneous and long lasting orgasms.

...and who is Robin Ronaldi...? I haven’t the faintest...

I wish all I have said in this post is original and my own, sadly it is not, I have just quilted bits from different websites & blogs together into this. It is however essentially what I WANT to say. (The thread for stitching the different pieces together was spun by me though...)


Tamara said...

Woohoo... I inspired something! *does a little mad dance*

Ahem... sorry. Easily distracted.

Great post. texture is the primary reason I dislike bananas (especially cooked), followed by their smell.

The perfect meal is a combo of all those things you mentioned. I think it also has to do with mood (which is in your picture). When I'm happy I crave salt. When I'm miz I want sweet. Bizarre, ne?

Hardspear said...

Hey Tamara. Yeah, and it is about getting that combo just right!

dbawiw said...

I mostly like salad because of the texture, particularly lettuce - seriously! I really enjoyed this post.

Hardspear said...

dbawiw- Thanks. I also like salad, but I like a medium-rare piece of rump better!

dbawiw said...

Hear bloody hear!!!

Angel said...

Some of the most amazing meals I have had are a combination of flavours and textures served in the perfect sequence in order to compliment each other.
I often marvel at the combinations some food gurus come up with!