When you want chocolate, nothing else will suffice unless it is that sweet, creamy taste of chocolate sliding across your yearning taste buds that sends signals bouncing around your brain that your craving has been satisfied. Taste can be a powerful sense, and it is best to not ignore what your taste buds want. It can be an indicator of what your body really needs, or it can be as simple as needing your favorite comfort food to soothe your mind from a stressful event.
At the Healthy Living Summit I attended in August, the keynote speaker Dawn Jackson Blatner had some interesting ideas on taste that I had not heard before. One that particularly resonated with me was the concept of umami. Umami is a Japanese word that refers to the savory taste that humans crave that can also be described as “brothy” or “meaty,” which should not be confused with craving salt or a salty flavor. Umami is not as easy to find in a vegetarian diet, but the umami flavor that your tongue craves can be found in a few different food items, some that you might not expect:
• Parmesan cheese
• Green tea
As you can see, this is a decent assortment of foods, so every vegetarian or anyone looking for a meatless umami experience should be able to sate their umami urges, but what if you are like me and hate the most obvious food that lends itself to a meat-like texture and flavor? Yes, I hate mushrooms. HATE THEM. They feel weird in my mouth (I’ll spare you my vivid descriptions), they look gross, and they grow out of caca! I have ingested a few in my lifetime, mostly chopped up ones that hid behind other types of food I was eating, but if at all possible, I’ll do what I can to eradicate them from my plate, which brings me to the next flavor idea that Dawn presented, which is flavor-flavor pairing.
This is a taste concept where you pair an unliked food – mushrooms for example – with a liked food, perhaps tofu covered in a delicious gravy-like sauce. If you are enamored enough with the tofu, which amazingly manages to mimic meat as much as tofu can, you might not be as repulsed by the chopped up mushroom bits that make up part of the sauce. This real life example is one that I came face to face with when ordering the tofu marsala at Hunter Gatherer last time I ate there. The dish was amazing, save for those horrid fungal chunks lurking beneath the sauce, but being brave and closing my eyes and just chewing through the shrooms didn’t hurt the integrity of the dish for me and made me feel like a better person. This concept is what made Jerry Seinfeld’s wife famous with her Sneaky Chef cookbook, though I don’t think it’s the most reputable way to get children to like vegetables. A more honest way would be to have a light hand in putting cheese sauce on their broccoli, or spinach on their pizza, but that’s another set of thought on tastes for another day.
Taste can be a powerful sense, but don’t let it overpower you. Rein it in and use it as a guide, whether you need the nutrients that a particular craving leaves you with, or if you need the comfort of the memories that a certain taste can provide.