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Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Umami: The Fifth Taste Sensation
Good evening, peeps.

I've been feeling slightly guilty that I haven't had anything to share lately, so consider this somewhat of an apology. However, I refuse to write a post that says "I don't have anything to post about." That's just silly.

Instead I will share, and teach. This past Sunday my In-Laws, my Wife, My cousin/Brother-in-Law and I had dinner at my parents' house. Great time. As we were leaving, my father gave my wife a copy of a magazine called The Wine Report. His having TWR was in itself unremarkable. I think he gets them from his office or something, and he gives them to me quite often. The odd thing this week was that he gave it to my wife instead of me. There was a sticky note marking one page. I haven't figured out exactly what on that page he wanted her to see, but the opposing page caught my eye. It was an article on Umami.

The f0llowing quotes are directly from the October/November 2006 issue of The Wine Report. The articled is entitled "Delicious Ubiquitous, Mysterious. Umami." The author is Randy Caparoso. I'll TRY not to type out the entire article. I have removed some of his words/sentences/phrases that I think won't take away from the general meaning, but I have not added ANY of my own words, and this is not how it was originally published. Ready? Okay. Heeerrreee we go.

I've enjoyed lots of perfect food-and-beverage combinations in my time. I used to think these combinations worked because the four taste sensations of sweetness, saltiness sourness and bitterness were coming together in perfect harmony and balance. Lately I've learned that the success of my favorite parings might owe nothing to these four tastes at all. Rather, there might be another culprit: umami, the little-known but indubitable real fifth taste sensation.

If you've never heard of umami - or if you've heard of it, but you have no idea what it's supposed to taste like - you're not alone. Umami typically manifests as a "savory," "delicious" or somewhat "meaty" sensation on the palate, usually in reaction to foods and beverages rich in amino acids. According to the Japanese food scientist Dr. Kikunae Ikeda, who made the first formal identification of umami in the 19th century, umami is one of the two tastes (along with sweetness) that the palate perceives as pleasant. Sensations of salt, sour, and bitter are not perceived as pleasant in themselves, but only in correct combination with other sensations.

Monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavoring additive originally manufactured from seaweed, contains glutamic acid, one of the several amino acids that stimulate umami sensations. For an easy demonstration of umami's pleasing taste, mix a inch of MSG into lukewarm water, and drink the mixture. The taste experience will literally be mouth-watering, spurring saliva production and boosting aroma-related sensations of flavor. If MSG can make warm water taste "delicious," then no wonder it's a key ingredient in many of our packaged foods!
Wily chefs bind sauces, broths and vinaigrettes with umami-intense ingredients like shiitake mushrooms, truffles and vine-ripened tomatoes, while the time-pressed home cook reaches for cubes of bouillon laden with umami-stimulating MSG.
Not surprisingly, umami naturally plays a significant role in Asian cuiisnes, wherein simple, understated ingredients and cooking techniques are often combines for a strong overall effect. Seaweeds, dried fish and fish stocks are high in umami, as are seasonings such as Japanese shichimi and Chinese five spice.
You may be wondering why this article on "food tastes" is doing in a magazine about wine. The articles then looks both traditional, and trend-bucking food-and-wine pairings.

The last paragraph:
As you experiment with different combinations of umami-rich foods - and remember, wine should definitely be considered a "food" - don't be afraid to try something new or fly in the face of culinary orthodoxy. After all, when the time comes to take up a fork, or fill a glass, you're the only one you have to please.
That's it. That's all I got. Just something interesting that I learned about this weekend. As a confessed foodie, this article stuck with me. Having this stuff in my head is no fun if there's no one to share it with, folkz.

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