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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

U is for Umami

I thought it would be fun to do one of the letter in Lee's challenge  blogging from A to Z, in another language and this is a newly aquired word for me. I just learned it. Umami?? Make some guesses, and then when you comment below tell me what you thought the word meant-
So where to begin... well it  has to do with taste so let's start there.
Taste is communicated to the body through receptors found
throughout the mouth, known as taste buds The majority of taste buds are located on the top part of the tongue, although some are on the roof of you mouth.When you have a cold and your nose is stuffed, it's hard to taste anything. Smell is a main determinant of a food item flavor. The 5 tastes are not what you learned in school- Did you learn SWEET SOUR SALTY BITTER??? me too- but there is one more UMAMI.
I am not pulling your leg- Umami is an ancient concept, although recently coined. Umami is a flavor caused by the interactiion of glutamate; an amino acid and certain receptors on the tongue. Human beings eat with their eyes first, however presentations only last for 15 seconds, utimately it is the flavor that holds the memory of a favorite food. UMAMI- Perfection.

So if Umami is common called the 5th taste this word must describe the flavor that is often though of as pungent, savory or tangy or meaty.  I found a cafe in my neck of the woods, entitled you guessed it UMAMI cafe although the menu is a little pricey the variety of foods is amazing and the kids menu comes with a view master menu to "see" the foods before you order, I suggest all resteraunts do this for the adult customers, as I like to see what I am getting before I get it. I have been disappointed before. This cafe also offers gluten free foods. Umami cafe is located in croton-on -the hudson NY
While researching things for this post I stumbled upon a name I hardly remember from my high school years. Democritus- He was a greek philosopher who developed the concept of the atom he also had some very interesting take no food and the "4" tastes. He said chew on your food and it crumbles into little bits, those bits break into 4 basic shapes. He believed that sweet was round and large in their atoms. He thought salty was a isoscoles triangle bits,He felt bitter was a spherical smooth and small and sour he felt was large in it's atoms. I also learned more about Escoffier a chef in Paris in the late 1800 he wrote a cook book called The guide culinaire- Escoffier created meals that tasted like a combination of all the tastes.
Glutamate is found in most living things, but when they die, when organic matter breaks down, the glutamate molecule breaks apart. This can happen on a stove when you cook meat, over time when you age a parmesan cheese, by fermentation as in soy sauce or under the sun as a tomato ripens. When glutamate becomes L-glutamate, that's when things get "delicious." L-glutamate, said Ikeda, is a fifth taste. When Escoffier created veal stock, he was concentrating umami. When Japanese made their dashi, they were doing the same thing. When you bite into an anchovy, they are "like glutamate speedballs. They are pure umami," Jonah writes. "Aristotle was wrong. Plato was wrong. We have five tastes, not four. But when Ikeda's findings were published," Jonah says, "nobody believes him."
  the following is an excerpt from Proust was a Neuroscientist
"Veal stock was not always the glutamate-rich secret of French food. In fact, haute cuisine was not always delicious, or even edible. Before Escoffier began cooking in the new restaurants of the bourgeoisie (unlike his predecessors, he was never a private chef for an aristocrat), fancy cooking was synonymous with ostentation.
As long as dinner looked decadent, its actual taste was pretty irrelevant. Appearance was everything. Marie-Antoine Careme (1783-1833), the world's first celebrity chef — he cooked for Talleyrand and Czar Alexander I, and he baked Napoleon's wedding cake — epitomized this culinary style. Although Careme is often credited with inventing French cuisine, his food was normally served cold and arranged in epic buffets comprising dozens, sometimes hundreds, of rococo dishes. In Careme's Paris, fancy food was a form of sculpture, and Careme was justifiably famous for his pièces montées, which were detailed carvings made of marzipan, pork fat, or spun sugar. Although these sculptures were pretty, they were also inedible. Careme di'n't care" "A well-displayed mea"," Careme once said" "is improved one hundred percent in my eye"." Such insipid lavishness typified nineteenth-century service à la française.
Escoffier considered all this pomp and circumstance ridiculous. Food was meant to be eaten. He favored service à la russe – the Russian style – a system in which the meal was broken down into numbered courses. Unlike C'reme's ornate buffets, service à la russe featured a single dish per course, which was delivered fresh out of the kitchen. The meal was staggered, and it unfolded in a leisurely culinary narrative: soup was followed by fish, which was followed by meat. And although the chef wrote the menu, the client dictated the tempo and content of the meal. Dessert was the guaranteed happy ending.
This revolution in restaurant service required a parallel revolution in the kitchen. No longer could cooks afford to spend days sculpting marzipan, or molding aspic, or concocting one of Careme's toxically rich stews. Everything on the menu now had to be à la minute, and cooked to order. Flavor had to be manufactured fast. This new level of speed led Escoffier to make his cooking mantra "Faites simple"" Every dish, he said, must consist of its necessary ingredients only, and those ingredients must be perfect. A veal stock must contain the very quintessence of veal. Asparagus soup must taste like asparagus, only more so.
There was one added bonus to this new culinary method founded upon simplicity and velocity: food was served hot. While Carême feared heat (his lard sculptures tended to melt), Escoffier conditioned his diners to expect a steaming bowl of soup. They wanted their fillets sizzling and the sauce fresh from the deglazed frying pan. In fact, Escoffie''s recipes required this efficiency: when meals were served lukewarm, the flavors became disconcertingly one-dimensional.""The customer"" Escoffier warned in his cookbook,""finds that the dish is flat and insipid unless it is served absolutely boiling hot""
From Proust Was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer. Copyright 2007 by Jonah Lehrer. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
 I heard people say in the chef world that Worcesteshire sauce and marmite are 2 british standards that are like umami and Human breast milk is also high in umami  but it looks like I won't be trying that.

So a little over information about a cool word Umami-perfection a flavor sensation that triggers a craving response.
Tomorrow's post will be letter V-


Wanda said...

My guess was the bitter taste area. I've learned something new :)

Holly said...

You put so much time and thought into these a-z posts...I'll stop by later and catch up...I am still catching up from SITS day on Monday...and I will be for awhile...lots of comments!!!

Just wanted to say hi!

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