SENSING TASTE THROUGH SMELL
Have you ever spent an entire day preparing a meal for company that satisfied you in the kitchen but didn’t seem to taste the same when served? Everyone else said it was delicious, but you were disappointed. Then, the following day the ‘left-overs’ tasted better. You might have explained this phenomenon as “The flavors settled”, or “It tastes better because I’m more relaxed”. Although both may hold some truth, studies have shown that the improved flavor is not due to what we term our “taste buds”, but to our sense of smell. When you have been inundated with different odors for a period of time, your ability to detect distinct smells deteriorates, thus deteriorating your sense of taste. This sensory adaptation from an over- stimulus creates a decrease in sensitivity. When this decrease in sensitivity occurs in the kitchen, the cook may fall prey to adding too much salt and pepper or spice at the last minute.
When someone suffers from a cold, he might say that he has “lost his taste buds”. What has diminished is his sense of smell. Age also affects our ability to smell. After the age of forty, most people experience a decreased sensitivity to odors. Many elderly folk lose their appetites because they have lost the sensitivity of smell. Medication and state of physical health also play an important role. When food doesn’t taste good, they conquer hunger with canned soups that emit hot, breathable fumes but lack necessary nutrition, and satisfy their taste buds with empty calories from sweets.
There are three separate memory distinctions: Episodic, Semantic and Subjective. Most of us remember where we were the day the World Trade Center was struck because we relate facts or episodes to an experience. We remember by semantics the name of the first President of the United States and that a Robin is a bird. Associating a distinct odor is more difficult. Pleasant and unpleasant odors are subjective. The smell of mushrooms and truffles is unpleasant to some, but not to others. And, many people are not aware of any odor at all. Cheese is one of the easiest to measure in terms of pleasant and unpleasant reaction. Children choose mild yellow and white cheeses. The sophisticated cheese connoisseur confronted with the odorous German (Belgian) Limburger variety will sniff in appreciation while searching for an equally pungent onion to accompany it between two slices of rye bread. If he’s lucky, he’ll also find a bit of liverwurst and a good dark beer. Place that same cheese close to a child (and most Americans) and watch the thumb and forefinger pinch off nostrils while emitting a sound that sounds like “Yuck”!
Perfume chemists profess their capability to create a scent in their heads. Knowledge of odor and taste also creates recipes in the mind of the cook. It is said that odor sensitivity is inherited. However, it’s possible to develop higher levels of distinctions through exposure. Professional chefs, serious home cooks and restaurant critics continually train their senses to detect positive and negative food combinations through their senses. Because odor is the best barometer of freshness, this Foodie smells everything before cooking or ingesting, and refuses to go near anything suspect.
Foods or spices used together often confuse the senses. Garlic and onions meld into each other during the cooking process. The aroma and flavor of Jamaica’s Allspice berry resembles a blend of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Cumin, a prevalent ingredient in chili-based sauces, is often mistaken for chili powder when sniffed. And, milk chocolate has been mistaken for vanilla because of its high vanilla content. It is this same association through the memory of smell that causes us to accept or reject a food perceived as “different” than before. For instance, when McDonald’s removed real lard from their fryer for health concerns, customers with no knowledge of the change complained their French fries were no longer good. McDonald’s solved the problem by adding the odor of lard into their vegetable oil. The guise worked. People commented they were happy McDonald’s had returned to its original recipe.
Taste falls into four categories: Sweet, Sour, Bitter and Salty. What you taste or feel in the back of the tongue and throat is actually a skin sensation, not taste. Certain foods, such as smoked cheese and pineapple may create chemical irritations in some people with sensitive mouths. And, then, there’s the fifth sense perception labeled “Umami”, which has neither taste nor smell. Umami is the sensation elicited by glutamate, one of the twenty amino acids that make up the proteins in meat, fish and vegetables. Although it’s found naturally in cured meats and fresh tomatoes and mushrooms, as well as carrots and aged cheeses, this sodium salt of glutamic acid is best known as a flavor enhancement in the form of the additive, monosodium glutamate (MSG). It is the ingredient responsible for what we call the Chinese Food Syndrome. Reaction is usually moderate and includes flushed skin, tightening of the jaw and upper chest muscles, numbness at the back of the neck and arms, headaches and palpitation shortly after eating. Some report aggravation of asthma. Advocates of MSG claim the reaction is due to undiagnosed food allergies. Oriental cooks twelve hundred years ago knew that certain foods tasted better when prepared with a soup stock made from a type of seaweed. It wasn’t until after the turn of the last century, however, that scientists isolated the ingredient that enhanced flavor. Most Chinese restaurants claim they no longer add MSG. They don’t tell you that soy sauce is a free glutamate hydrolyzed protein or that they have increased the amount of salt to add flavor. It is the abundance of salt that holds water in the system, creating that bloated feeling and unquenchable thirst.
Powdered MSG is hydrolyzed vegetable protein made from boiling corn, wheat, soybeans, beets and sugar cane or molasses in vats of sulfuric acid and then neutralizing them with caustic soda. The sludge that remains is scraped off and dried to form the powder. On its own, hydrolyzed proteins generally have an MSG content of approximately 12-20 percent. However, some flavoring manufacturers add pure monosodium glutamate to the hydrolyzed protein, increasing the content to 40-50 percent. The law only requires labeling when it is added as a direct ingredient. Ingredients listed on the back of products are written in chronological order in ratio to their amount. MSG is almost always listed directly after Salt. Most canned soups, gravies and sauces contain high amounts to enhance flavor. Clear broths and bouillon cubes have exceptionally high amounts. The amount of added MSG has more than doubled since the 1960s. From processed foods, such as chicken nuggets and hot dogs, to flavored crackers and chips, Americans rely on glutamate to satisfy their taste buds. Any product that has “glutamate” written in its ingredients is a form of MSG. Read the label before you buy. If you have any concerns, switch to products that contain fresh herbs and Jalapeño or chili peppers. Recondition your senses to enjoy natural flavors.
HAM AND SAUSAGE JAMBALAYA:
A NEW ORLEANS’ STAPLE
Yield: Approximately 8-10 Servings
“Jambalaya” translates as “cleaning up the kitchen” because it contains everything that might be left-over in the refrigerator.
1 pound hot sausage (Andouille, if you can find it)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound smoked ham, cut into small cubes
2 huge onions, chopped
2 green bell peppers, chopped
4 ribs celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2-14.5 ounce cans diced tomatoes with herbs
6 cups concentrated beef broth
4 bay leaves
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground thyme (or 1 fresh sprig)
2 teaspoons ground chili powder
Salt, black and Cayenne pepper to taste
4 cups white rice
1 bunch green scallions, minced
||Bake the sausage on a baking sheet (or double piece of foil) until cooked through. Pour off grease. Cool and slice.
||Cube the ham and set it aside with the sausage.
||Heat oil in a fairly large pot. Add onions, peppers, celery and garlic and cook over low heat until soft but not colored. Add remaining ingredients, reserving the scallions for later. Bring the Jambalaya to a boil. Add sausage and ham Stir again. Cover. Reduce heat to very low and cook until the rice is soft. (Approximately 15 minutes) If it becomes dry, stir in boiling water or more broth.
||Remove Jambalaya from the heat. After five minutes, add the scallions and fluff the rice mixture with two forks. Serve immediately.
Yield: Approximately 6 Servings
3-3 ½ pounds small eggplant (Japanese variety is best)
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
8 large plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
8 large pitted black olives, chopped
1-2 cloves minced garlic
2 tablespoons tiny capers
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon minced fresh large leaf parsley leaves
1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano leaves
||Trim and peel the eggplants. Cut them into one-inch cubes. Set them into a strainer (colander) and sprinkle lightly with salt. Leave for 1 hour to drain off any bitter flavor. Remove to paper toweling to dry.
||Heat the oil in a deep skillet. Cook the cubed eggplants over high heat until they begin to turn color. Lower heat to medium. Add the tomatoes, olives, garlic and capers. Stir in the basil, parsley and oregano. Cook approximately 15 minutes, or until the eggplants are soft.
|| Taste for salt and pepper. Stir. Serve hot or cold.
BROCCOLI CORN BREAD
Adaptation of recipe received from Debbie McGuire, Mount Dora
Yield: 1 Loaf:
8 ounce package Jiffy® Corn Bread Mix
10 ounce package broccoli florets, thawed
2 extra large eggs, beaten with a fork
4 tablespoons butter, melted
8 ounces small curd 4% milk cottage cheese
2 ounces (1/2 can) chopped chilies (Add the whole can if you like it hot)
1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese to sprinkle over the top
5 X 9 X 3 (approximately) greased loaf pan (1.5 quart)
|| Preheat oven to 400°F.
||Pour corn bread mix into a bowl.
||Do not cook broccoli. Thaw and set on paper toweling to dry. Chop by hand. (You may purchase broccoli already chopped, but the florets contain less stem) Add to the mix.
||Add beaten eggs, melted butter, cottage cheese, chopped chilies and one-half cup shredded Cheddar cheese. Stir well with a fork.
||Spoon into the greased loaf pan. Sprinkle one-quarter cup shredded Cheddar cheese over the top. Cover with aluminum foil. Place into the oven one-third from the bottom. Reduce heat immediately to 350°F. Bake 45 minutes. Remove foil. Bake, uncovered, 20-25 minutes longer, or until top has browned and a toothpick comes out “clean”. Cool at least 15 minutes to serve. Serve warm or room temperature.
|NOTE: Recipe may be doubled for 2 loaves or baked in a 9 X 13 pan. Cooking time will reduce to 35-40 minutes. Remove foil after 25 minutes.