Without the function of the tongue and the palette, we would be unable to enjoy the pleasure that comes from the simplest of flavors. The concept would be as unimaginable as the notion of color to someone born blind.
And yet, when presented with the descriptors – sweet, bitter, salty and sour we know exactly what is being described. However, for many the fifth flavor is one that is still unfamiliar, even though it’s existence was discovered in 1909. What is this heretofore little know aspect of taste?
UMAMI! (pronounced: ooh mommy)
It’s what makes tomatoes taste savory, gives asparagus it’s unique flavor and makes you salivate at the very scent of a well aged parmigiana reggiano (for the record Locatelli is our hands down cost over value favorite – but we digress)! The basis for this unique flavor is found in glutamates, free glutamic acid or MSG.
What most don’t realize is that naturally occurring MSG – is not the evil twin of Aspartame, is not a gastrointestinal wrecker for the gluten intolerant and DESERVES a place in your pantry! MSG is a form of umami flavor, but there are other glutamates that provide the same umami flavor WITHOUT the unhealthy aspects associated with MSG. Did you know that not all monosodium glutamate is artificially produced? MSG is naturally occurring in kombu or kelp!
The cool thing about UMAMI is that it also comes from two other compounds Inosinate and Guanylate. Each of these will individually create the umami response at the taste receptors on the tongue. However, when all three occur or are found together, they have an even greater synergistic affect and that creates MORE UMAMI.
Truffles are one of the few naturally occurring foods that contain ALL THREE (Inosinate, Guanylate & Glutamate) in significant quantities to be discernable on the palette and thereby set the bar for all that is considered the pinnacle of natural umami flavor!
In fairness parmesan cheese has the largest quantity of naturally occurring glutamate. Truffles contain high quantities of glutamates along with inosinate and guanylate. MSG is mimic-ed when fresh shaved truffles are blended with unrefined sea salt. That’s why, if you like the taste, it’s so hard to put down!
Whatever your personal taste preferences are, our connection to our taste buds and the palette affect much of the language we use to describe life in general. So, the next time you come across a taste that is just “to die for”, take a moment to savor it, make a sweet memory that will be relished the next time you experience something equally piquant!