Monday, February 18, 2013

Taste this!

I have at my disposal a fairly decent selection of wine related books that I frequently refer to when writing this blog.  Or when I need a refresher on the role of potassium ions in the guard cells that regulate the opening and closing of grape-leaf stomata.  Or something like that.  God bless the internet, but I must confess that I often prefer the physicality of looking something up in a book.  However, I think my modest reference library is beginning to show its age.  Just recently, in need of a quick explanation of the taste of umami, I pulled the six books I thought would most likely give me a simple definition of this gustatory sensation.  But to no avail, I do not own one book that contains a single word on the subject.
I first heard mention of umami, the fifth taste that receptor cells on the human tongue can detect, the other four being bitter, salty, sour and sweet, several years ago when I was taking a Fundamentals of Enology class at Napa Valley College.  The instructor mentioned umami in passing and then quickly moved on.  It didn't seem important, but lately it's been popping up everywhere.
Generally described as being savoury, meaty or brothy, umami can apparently be found in wine.  In fact, any food or beverage that undergoes fermentation contains elevated levels of umami. But what does it actually taste of?  Don't ask me, I'm really not quite sure.  But fear not, the apparently delicious, but elusive taste has been captured in a tube of paste.  Laura Santtini's Taste #5 lists as it's three main ingredients; tomato paste, garlic and anchovy paste - the last ingredient most likely responsible for the elevated concentrations of glutamates and ribonucleotides that are supposedly responsible for the umami taste. Mmmm...all sounds so appetising, doesn't it?  A quick squeeze of this self described "flavor bomb" may make it into my next batch of Bolognese sauce. Then again, maybe it won't.


Thomas said...

Oh boy, you've opened a savory can of worms. As you might expect, I have my reservations concerning this "fifth" taste.

Just looking at the ingredients of the umami paste that you cite makes me wonder why anyone would pay for such a thing: just mix some tomato, garlic, and sodium-rich anchovy paste-lather on your food and you've created a sodium-sulfurous-acidic dressing, probably at a fraction of the cost of the tube.

To me, umami is monosodium glutamate, the operative word being "sodium."

I know, I know: cynic that I am.

Vinogirl said...

Tomasso: Go right ahead, I agree with you.

Thomas said...

Glad to know that. Too many consumers are bamboozled by marketing clouded in pseudo-scientific babble.