Archive for Tasteology

Kokumi – The Sixth Taste?

For all our sophistication in the kitchen, the scientific understanding of how we taste food could still use some time in the oven. Dating back to ancient Greece and China, the sensation of taste has historically been described as the combination of a handful of distinct perceptions. Western food research has long been dominated by the four “basic tastes” of sweet, bitter, sour and salty.

Western science now recognizes the East’s umami (savory) as a basic taste. But even the age-old concept of basic tastes is starting to unravel, as current belief is that there is no accepted definition of basic taste, and that the rules are changing as we speak.

Our ability to sense the five accepted categories comes from receptors on our taste buds. These tiny sensory organs appear mostly on the tongue, the roof of the mouth and in the back of the throat. In the mouth itself, though food scientists continue to discover new receptors and new pathways for gustatory impressions to reach our brain, and there are some new taste sensations vying for a place at the table as a sixth basic taste.

The latest “sixth taste candidate,” kokumi, a taste impression identified in an amino acid that interacts with our tongue’s calcium receptors. Widely accepted in Japan since 2010, it’s beginning to gain traction in the Western hemisphere as well. It has been the subject of scientific inquiry in Japan since the 1980s, recently propagated by researchers from the same Japanese food company, Ajinomoto, who helped convince the taste world of the fifth basic taste, umami, a decade ago.

Best described as “rich” and “taste” or “mouthfulness” and “heartiness”; it is almost as much a feeling as a taste. This results in enhancement of flavors already in the mouth, providing a sensation of richness. Braised, aged or slowcooked foods supposedly contain greater natural levels of kokumi, as do foods like garlic, onions, and scallops.

As a contender for “the sixth taste” it is ahead of other concepts, but the verdict is still out — for now it remains a concept in its infancy that is worth exploring.

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The Five Basic Tastes

When someone asks you how something tastes, your answer could be “good” or “delicious.” But if you really want to get specific, that answer could be broken down in a number of ways: five in fact. There are five universally accepted basic tastes that stimulate and are perceived by our taste buds: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. Let’s take a closer look at each of these tastes, and how they can help make your holiday recipes even more memorable.

Sweet

You probably have or know someone who has a “sweet tooth.” It has a nicer ring to it than sweet tongue, doesn’t it? Sweetness is often described as the pleasure taste, signaling the presence of sugar, which is a core source of energy and hence, desirable to the human body. It is no wonder that this is a taste that even babies gravitate to.

Furthermore, when used in a combination, sweet complements well with the other basic tastes. Adding sweetness such as a drizzle of sweet balsamic glaze to a traditionally salty vegetable dish like roasted brussel sprouts would take it to the next level.

Salty

The simplest taste receptor in the mouth is the sodium chloride receptor. Salt is a necessary component to the human diet and enhances the flavor of foods. However, the average American tends to consume way more than needed (about 2-3 times above the FDA’s recommended daily limit), and our palates adapt to crave more salt. Interestingly enough, when people cut back on salt in their diets, taste buds can adjust again and adapt to be satisfied with less.

As a flavor enhancer, adding salt to traditionally sweet dishes is necessary to amplify the sweet notes. A pinch of salt is core to most baked dessert recipes. Even if it is not listed in the ingredients, sprinkling some sea salt flakes or smoked salt over holiday ginger bread cookies brings out the sweetness of the sugar and enhances the ginger flavor.

Sour

Sourness is a taste that detects acidity. These taste buds detect hydrogen ions from organic acids found in foods. The mouth puckering sensation is common in citric fruits such as lemons and oranges, as well as tamarind and some leafy greens. The sour taste can also be obtained from foods soured through fermentation such as sauerkraut and yogurt, or through the addition of vinegar.

Many salad dressings feature vinegar as a key ingredient, which is a perfect way to add sour notes. You could also try adding lemon or orange zest to vinegar or even cream based dressings. Or, simply zest the top of your salad to help drive this craveable flavor sensation.

Bitter

Bitter is the most sensitive of the five tastes. A large number of bitter compounds are known to be toxic, which is why many perceive bitter
flavors to be unpleasant. Hundreds of substances, mostly found in plants, taste bitter. However, a little bitterness can make food more interesting and have become beloved, like the hoppy taste in beer. Furthermore, there are cases where some bitterness could be healthy. Antioxidants, which aid in metabolism, account for the bitter taste in dark chocolate and coffee.

Dark chocolate shavings on top of your favorite holiday dessert could be a great addition to create a fun bitter flavor party.

Umami

Umami is an appetitive taste, sometimes described as savory or meaty. It is the most recently identified and accepted of the basic tastes. In the early part of the 20th century, a Japanese chemist named Kikunae Ikeda attempted to identify this taste common to asparagus, tomatoes, cheese and meat. But, not one of the four well-known tastes could describe it adequately. What he pinpointed was the presence of glutamic acid, which he renamed “umami”, Japanese for “good flavor”. Though one of the core flavors of Eastern cuisine imparted by soy sauce and MSG (monosodium glutamate), it wasn’t accepted as a basic taste in the West until 1985.

Why not add some savory umami flavors to your traditional holiday stuffing recipe this year by adding mushrooms into the mix?

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Pantry Must Haves

Nothing is more frustrating than making multiple runs to the grocery store because you forgot to get something for dinner tonight. Why not stock up on these main ingredients that are so flexible, you won’t run out of ways to use them when the need arises. Our chefs polled real working moms and then added in their own on trend ideas.

Frozen Meatballs

  • meatball sandwich
  • use as a pizza topping
  • bbq’ed in a crock pot

Ham Steak

  • Cuban sandwich
  • fried rice
  • in an omelet

Shrimp

  • tacos
  • salad topper
  • with pesto pasta

Cheese Tortellini

  • cold in pasta salad
  • mini appetizer skewers
  • soup

Canned Pumpkin

  • sauce for ravioli
  • pumpkin butter
  • pumpkin waffles

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Retro Slow Cookers Bring On Flavorful New Trend

Slow cooker use is a huge trend now, but it has roots dating back to the early 70’s. Its resurgence in popularity can at least partly be attributed to cookbook publishers that jumped on the bandwagon and started to use the theme of “set and forget,” referring to the easy cooking method of slow cookers. With slow cooker penetration in US households at 83%, twice what it was a generation ago, and demand for easy preparation it was bound to find success in today’s fast paced world.

slowcookerOf course when we mention slow cookers your mind wanders to slow cooked meats and vegetables, like pot roast or maybe chili. But slow cookers can do so much more. Check out Chef Claire’s Meyer Lemon Blueberry Cake recipe in this issue to get an idea how you can make a sweet snack with very little effort.

As parents are busy during the day, making dinner every night can become exhausting and more of a chore than a treat. With the slow cooker in mind, putting all the ingredients in the pot and letting it cook all day keeps any traditional dinner ideas easy to make and clean up after.

Here are seven reasons why slow cookers have become so popular again: ‹

  • Slow cookers are a one-time purchase ‹
  • You can use cheaper ingredients when using slow cookers and still achieve the desired taste and texture ‹
  • They use very little energy while cooking ‹
  • Slow cookers make eating healthy much easier ‹
  • Everyone has the ability to cook using slow cookers ‹
  • Clean up for cooking is just one pot ‹
  • They can save time by preparing the food in the morning and having it cook all day

With slow cookers becoming so popular, people have been creating more exotic recipes like slow cooker squash lasagna, cider-braised chicken tacos, veggie-stuffed peppers, and pumpkin maple pulled pork just to name a few. You can even go to the store and buy pre-made slow cooker sauces or just skip directly to a frozen meal designed to be prepared in your slow cooker.

These trendy items are a far cry from the bland meals one normally thinks about when stewing ingredients all day long. For a zesty on trend idea, find the Al Pastor pork shoulder recipe from our culinary team in this issue. It will give your old taco meat a run for its money. For more ideas direct from our culinary team check our website for their slow cooker recipe book…coming soon!

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Spotlight On Flavor: Apple Maple

Autumn is fast approaching, which means it’s apple season! Whether that means picking apples at the orchard, baking apple pie, or canning apple sauce, there’s no question that apples are the quintessential fall fruit.

applemapleWhile traditional pairings such as caramel and cinnamon are still present on menus, food service providers are finding even more ways to introduce apple into their menus. Menu penetration of apples has grown 5.1% in the past four years. With the popularity of breakfast any time of the day in food service or serving “brinner” (breakfast for dinner) at home, it’s no surprise that maple syrup and apples have become a popular pairing.

Maple syrup and apples as a combination has grown 21.8% in menu penetration the past four years, and 15.3% in just the past year. French toast and waffles are a couple of the most popular dishes incorporating the complementary flavors, but there are also several new launches in chicken sausage that pair maple syrup with apples. In retail, the maple syrup and apple pairing is made even more explicit as two recent global launches use the combination as a jam/jelly.

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It’s All An Experience… An Eating Experience

POP, SPICY, CRUNCH, BURST, CHEWY, SMOOTH…OH MY!

Millennials have been helping to reshape the way food and drinks are now being delivered into all markets. Thanks to them growing up in the age of food shows, food trucks and Pinterest, they have had the opportunity to experience all varieties of foods at more manageable price points. According to the Hartman Group, eating occasions fall into three categories. There are instrumental occasions where eating is just because we have to. There are savoring occasions, where consumers are seeking higher quality and more sophistication through culinary driven food experiences involving flavor and texture. And, there are inspirational occasions. These represent the epicenter of emerging trends, highlighting small craft production like heirloom to molecular gastronomy.

Per the study from Hartman, savoring occasions are starting to make headway in our daily eating occasions. Out of the ten daily eating occasions recognized by Hartman, six are identified as being instrumental and four as savoring (40%!). It is anticipated that as consumers move towards more of a snacking orientation, there will be an increase in savoring occasions and the desire for foods that not only add unique flavor but a textural experience. From Greek Style yogurt with sriracha and pumpkin seeds to chicken strips enrobed with crispy Panko. Stay tuned…the food and drink industry is geared-up to WOW your senses.

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Trigeminal Sensations, Beyond the Five Basic Tastes

Have you ever wished that you weren’t such a “basic taster”?

You know, the five basic tastes; sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. Well, now is your chance to become more taste savvy. When we eat we recognize the five basic tastes, but what about all of those “other tastes” that cross our taste buds? Where do sensations such as cooling, astringency, and spiciness fit in? They are known as trigeminal sensations. These “other tastes” are triggers sent to the brain via the trigeminal nerve. When combined with olfactory and taste components, these trigeminal sensations can actually enrich the perception of food flavor more than we have previously realized. Trigeminal sensations are often associated with compounds found in certain foods; menthol for cooling is found in mint, spilanthol comes from a variety of plants, causing a tingling effect on the tongue (think wine and green tea) and capsaicin in chilies is what gives them their signature spiciness.

One of the “cooler” new sensations making its mark on menus occurs when eating the flowers of a Szechuan pepper plant. These tiny buds (aka “buzz buds”) actually make your taste buds “hummmmmm”. As the body of research behind taste and sensory perception continues to grow, chefs are finding new ways they can use the idea of trigeminal response to deepen the flavor of their food and elevate the dining experience for their guests. Newly Weds Foods is supporting this approach to taste enhancement with the development of Trigem Seasoning Blends. They are great on baked snacks and in a multitude of other applications. Contact your sales representative for more information.

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Meal Kits: Culinary Creations On Your Doorstep

Meal kits are becoming a big industry. Technomic predicts that the meal kit market could grow to five billion dollars over the next decade. Blue Apron is the biggest meal kit company in the world as it ships over eight million meals every month. After becoming subscribers, people then go online and choose from recipes Blue Apron provides. After people receive their package, they find a box with all of the ingredients and directions on how to cook it.

mealkitsThere are many benefits to this way of handling dinner. The most important aspect is that meal kits are teaching people how to cook and giving them confidence in their abilities. They also allow people to save time by eliminating the grocery shopping and the searching for those hard to find ingredients. Meal kits also can accommodate different types of diets like organic, vegan, and vegetarian. Lastly, they encourage people to try new foods by giving people the ingredients delivered right to their door, and having very easy to follow instructions.

There are some downsides to meal kits though. These kits are more expensive than traditional grocery shopping, with the average per person meal price around $11.50. Another concern is the nutrition, with critics saying the portions are too big and the food contains too much sodium or fat. The final concern with meal kits is the packaging. Many customers do not like the excessive and wasteful packaging these meal kits come in. There is not a perfect packaging solution yet as the concept of meal kits is very new to the market.

A survey taken by Mintel showed 21% of people have used a meal kit service, while 40% of millennials surveyed have used a meal kit. According to this survey, the this trend is catching on and will continue to grow.

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Chef, Plus 1 To The Rescue

TGIF, the weekend is finally here and we are looking forward to some time at home. Except I forgot tonight is the final band concert for the 8th graders. “Looks like a carry out night.” And Saturday we need to get up early to take Sam to his golf tournament. This will leave us just a few minutes to pick up what’s needed at the hardware store to finish our home projects. We can get a coffee and muffin on the way and then eat lunch, near the course, while Sam finishes his round. At least we can have dinner at home. Except Sam is starving after golf so a snack on the go is a must, and now we’ve run out of time to prepare a good home cooked meal. Eating at home for sure on Sunday, if we have time after finishing the yard work and the painting we started last weekend. Oh yeah, Mary is flying home from DC on Sunday, so someone will need to make an airport run. Ran out of time again.

“Let’s make sure we get some dinners planned at home next week.” Sound Familiar?

Help! I want a home cooked meal, but I never seem to have time.

Chef, Plus 1 to the rescue; Plus 1 ideas can help save precious time, making it easier to plan ahead and let you “chef-up” your meals. By adding some unique and quick touches to common food items you can make any meal a little more special and flavorful.

PLUS ONE – PLAN AHEAD

  • ‹ When you roast a chicken always roast more than one since the oven is already on. Now you can eat the parts you like the most first, and save or freeze the rest for another day. ‹
  • Grilling is time consuming, because good things take time. While the grill is on add a few more items that can be used later. If you are cooking burgers and dogs for today, try grilling Italian sausage and onions at the same time, for later in the week. Just combine with a jar of tomato sauce to make it your own.

PLUS ONE – CHEF IT UP

You can Plus 1 (chef it up) any recipe or food prep by taking just a few quick steps. ‹

  • Sprinkle a little flake salt (smoked) on top of your steak just before serving ‹
  • Drizzle a little balsamic glaze (store bought & reduced) over a salad after plating ‹
  • Char or toast the bread when you make a sandwich ‹
  • Buy good olive oil, it makes a difference

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Protein Snacks

With summer vacation behind us, we are back to a regular routine with work and school. As our lives become even more fast paced and we adjust to accommodate our busy schedules, so must our attitudes change towards food. Snacking has become the norm for many Americans seeking to energize and satiate their hunger on the go. Ninety percent of Americans snack during the day and snacking now represents almost 50% of all eating occasions. In fact, 8% of Americans have replaced all meals with snacking throughout the day. It is no wonder that consumers are now seeking high protein snacks to give them the satisfaction and energy that a full meal would provide, and food service providers and consumer packaged goods companies alike have rallied to provide solutions.

protien1In food service, we see many QSR’s and c-stores providing affordable, smaller portioned, handheld, and on-the-go options on their menus. Whether it’s convenience store roller grills or the value menus at your local fast food chain, the options are neatly presented and accessible.

protien2In retail, there is a plethora of new snacking launches incorporating animal and plant proteins. On the animal protein side, companies have launched meat snacks portioned for one. New jerky brands and flavors are popping up, and meat is becoming a key ingredient in snack bars. Plant protein snacks are also attracting consumers, with ancient grains such as chia & quinoa to pulses like lentils or chickpeas being incorporated into crackers and tortilla chips.

We expect to see further innovation activity surrounding protein snacking in the coming years with an even wider range of flavor and ingredient offerings that appeal to the consumer on the go.

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