Friday, September 18, 2009

A matter of taste

Things have tasted weird lately. I fried a plantain and it tasted like a grilled cheese sandwich. Last night I had a honeycrisp apple that tasted like licorice. Then there was a bag of Archer Farms white cheddar and rosemary popcorn that tasted like roast chicken.

There is evidence that cigarette smoking can damage your taste buds. Luckily, your taste buds can recover from years of smoking. I was a smoker from age 14 to 25, and now I am 29. I may have the occasional smoke but they mostly make me ill these days. I quit smoking when I started to get sick which may have been the only way I could quit. For a period of time, my mouth was very sensitive and my throat was very sore. My mouth is still very sensitive.

In order for my husband to taste a spice it will be too strong for me. I admit that I often forget to salt things and prefer to salt at the table. If I am marinating something with vinegar and soy sauce, I really don’t need to salt it first. I love salt and believe in its flavor enhancing abilities. But the typical American diet has hard wired our palette to crave salt and sugar.

When I eat, I think about what I am eating and describe what I taste. Tonight as I chewed my flank steak, I pictured the part of the animal it came from. I love to sit down with a chunk of cheese to compare and contrast its flavors. To describe how something tastes, which is subjective, it is best to compare it to a familiar flavor.

They say we can only taste sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. Then there is in Japanese idea of umami. This is a 5th taste that is savory and caused by glutamate. Glutamate is a type amino acid and is a main component of protein and is also produced in the body. The most notorious is monosodium glutamate. Too much MSG is a bad thing and I try to avoid it all together.

But you can experience umami without MSG. I taste umami when I enjoy a nice veal reduction or bone marrow. This site has a really cool chart about how we experience taste:

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