The Suitcase Lady


March 24, 2020, 9:02 pm

A note before I begin: Fourteen years ago, I began writing this blog to have a small measure of time that was not focused on the grim news of the Iraq War. I hoped my words would give readers a minute away from those realities as well. Now, unimaginable seismic changes are affecting all of our lives. But my original goal will remain the same: to write a few words on an eclectic array of informative, thought-provoking or humorous topics that are not focused on the larger problems of our world. May we all find the balance needed to survive these perilous times.

“This is so delicious”, I’ve often said to my husband as we are enjoying a meal together. We both value the pleasure of the senses, and taste provides daily joy.

Understanding why things taste good (or awful) is a complex matter. The four tastes of sweet, sour, bitter and salty have been known since ancient times. But our taste buds themselves were not discovered until the nineteenth century. The tongue was mapped by scientists in the early twentieth century: the tip of the tongue for sweet, the sides for sour, the back for bitter and overall for salty.

Another advance in the science of taste occurred in the twentieth century when a Japanese chemist, Kikunae Ikeda, began searching for a new taste which he called “Imami”, the Japanese word for delicious. “There is a taste,” he said, “that is common to asparagus, tomatoes, cheese and meat that is not one of the four well-known tastes.”

After years of patient work and ridicule from western scientists, Ikeda discovered the previously unknown taste which is of “L-glutamate, the dominant amino acid in the composition of life.” It took ninety years from Ikeda’s discovery of Imami for scientists to locate the two taste receptors on the tongue that sense L-glutamate and L-amino acids.

The famous chef and cookbook author, Escoffier, gave another advance in the understanding of taste when he declared,”a dish is flat and insipid unless it is served boiling hot.” Hot food has volatile molecules which evaporate into the air releasing tempting odors. Cold food relies entirely on the taste buds. Scientists estimate that about 90% of what we think of as taste is actually smell. A cold sandwich sitting on a kitchen counter will not help sell a house; bread baking in the oven will.

And, finally, a huge factor in our sensation of taste is subjectivity. A diabolical experiment (for the participants) by a professor at the University of Bordeaux illustrates this point. He invited fifty-one wine experts to give their impressions of two glasses of wine, one red wine and one white wine. Every single participant evaluated the red wine in words commonly used to describe a hearty red wine. Not one figured out that the “red” wine was the same as the white wine with the addition of a tasteless red food coloring.

Taste is a trickster. It is also my first criteria when cooking…….does it TASTE GOOD? I’ll worry about the antioxidants later.




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