Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The fifth taste, umami, is now at the forefront of modern cuisine. Gourmet magazine’s Ruth Reichl and Jonah Lehrer, author of Proust Was a Neuroscientist, tell us more about what umami is and why it has such a powerful effect on taste.

The Umami Festival
runs from April 8th through April 18th
at Roulette, 20 Green St. b/w Canal and Grand
For more information, go to


Jonah Lehrer and Ruth Reichl

Comments [16]

martha from nyc area

How exactly is the 12 hour, french influenced chicken broth made?

Apr. 10 2008 11:14 AM
Joe from Harrisonburg, VA

In answer to Barbara, I had the same questions and as an M.D. and food-lover decided to look this up from an anatomic-physiologic point of view. This turned out to be difficult, but as best I can tell, the key is that "taste" is different than "flavor". As you correctly note, "flavor" is determined by a combination of sight, smell, texture, temperature, moisture, state of mind, etc., as well as taste. The taste receptor thing is also complex; here the key is that the 4(or 5) types of taste receptor nerves (defined anatomically and physiologically) never occur alone but in bundles in anatomical "taste buds" on the tongue. These buds in turn vary in how many and which of each type of taste nerve it contains. It is because of the distribution of these taste buds on the tongue(e.g., those with a predominance of "sweet taste nerves" are on the front of the tongue) that people commonly refer to as the 4(or 5) "tastes". I hope that I haven't muddled things further.

Apr. 09 2008 05:47 PM
Barbara from ny, ny

The fact that our mouths have receptors for 4 (or 5, with umami) tastes cannot mean that that's all there are. What would be the taste of, say, tarragon, or broccoli, which do not fit into any of the 4 or 5 categories? Perhaps what is meant is that those 4 or 5 are what we can taste when the sense of smell is not operating (this happens to me when I get a bad cold). I'd love some elucidation on this.

Apr. 08 2008 06:25 PM
zen from ny

Your guests just debunked the theory that a glass can afect the taste of wine, however earlier the importance of smell was addressed. Is it not possible that a glass of a different shepe directs a different amount of the bouquet to the nose, thus afecting the taste ???

Apr. 08 2008 02:00 PM
Jacob from New York

While different wine glasses may not affect the taste of a wine, they certainly affect the aromatic qualities.

Apr. 08 2008 01:59 PM
jayhearts from Rockland County

I beleive "Adolph's Meat Tenderizer" was based on papaya which pre-digests meat.

Apr. 08 2008 01:51 PM
lorenzo from JC

"Everything seems to be coming from corn these days" because it is so incredibly subsidized
by the U.S. government

Apr. 08 2008 01:50 PM
Chicago Listener

"Accent" was just MSG !?!? I suddenly feel ill.

Apr. 08 2008 01:50 PM
judy from NYC

I get the MSG reaction also. I used to be afraid I had a disease till the "syndrome" was identified. The most intense reaction, for me, is caused by MSG in is soup.

Apr. 08 2008 01:49 PM
Karen from Orangeburg, NY

It was interesting to hear about the emphasis on glutamate-- it is a protein and may be involved as a neurotransmitter. Many people with neurological related disorders have to avoid it. As it is so prevalent in prepared foods, and is often not on the label because it is part of consituent ingredients, it is difficult to avoid-- and dangerous for many people.

Apr. 08 2008 01:45 PM
David A. Goldfarb from Washington Heights

I make my own chicken, beef and veal stocks and freeze them in Ziploc bags, so I can store them on end and file them like books in my freezer. They last quite a long time that way--probably 3-6 months. It's not that hard to keep a pot of stock on the stove, particularly on days when I'm working at home, and homemade stock improves everything.

Answering the previous poster, I skim the fat and sometimes keep it for other things, and then I clarify the stock in the traditional way with egg whites and shells (the yolks go into ice cream or pastry usually). Everything gets used.

Apr. 08 2008 01:38 PM
Gary from New Orleans

I'd be interested in hearing your guest's comments about MSG which is a glutamate. I remember being a kid and eating 'Accent' flavoring right out of the container because it just was delicious.
There are many food items not readily associated except by the umami essence.


Apr. 08 2008 01:38 PM
Mariano from Flushing

Monosodium glutamate is considered a "flavor enhancer" Is this part of the umami taste?

Apr. 08 2008 01:36 PM
Bob from NJ

Is the effectiveness of MSG related to Umami

Apr. 08 2008 01:33 PM
Anne from Midtown Manhattan

How long does home made stock keep? I sometimes make chicken stock and am not sure how long I can use it. Also, should I skim off the fat from the stock?

Apr. 08 2008 01:32 PM
christina from Brooklyn

I work at a very involved coffee shop where we grabbed on to the umami flavor when cupping coffees a few years ago. The latest coffee I remember trying and connecting to the umami flavor profile was one from Rwanda, although I can't remember the farm name. Interesting topic!

Apr. 08 2008 01:28 PM

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