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Friday, November 5, 2010

The Five Tastes

Did you know that human taste buds have receptors for five different tastes? Sweet, Salty, Sour, Bitter and Umami.  Everything we eat has one or more of these tastes, and combining more than one makes for more complex and delicious flavors.  Packaged baby food tends to be very one-note, often lacking any complexity of flavor, and always lacking basic seasoning (salt, pepper, herbs, spices, aromatics, etc.).

The first four tastes are pretty obvious, but if you haven't heard of umami, it is the Japanese word for "yummy" and refers to the presence of glutamic acid (each taste has a specific acid associated with it).  Umami is the term used to describe an earthy, aged flavor found in items like soy sauce, aged cheeses, mushrooms and meat.

I've tried to make sure William experiences all of these tastes, including combinations of them. I want him to experience complex flavors now, so that they don't seem too foreign and challenging to him in the future.

Here are some examples of individual ingredients from each taste group and ways to combine them:
Sweet- butternut squash, applesauce, sweet potato
Salty- salted butter, cottage cheese
Sour- plain yogurt
Bitter- asparagus
Umami- ground beef, pecorino Romano cheese

Salty + Umami- mushrooms sauteed in butter (see previous post)
Sweet + Salty- Butternut squash with cottage cheese, sage and black pepper
Sour + Sweet- Plain yogurt with applesauce and cinnamon
Bitter + Salty + Umami- Pureed asparagus with butter and pecorino Romano cheese
Umami + Sweet- Ground beef sauteed with finely diced sweet potato and onion (makes a "hash")

Thinking of food in this way, and playing around with combinations of the five tastes is a great way to grow as a cook, and to expand your family's repertoire of meals and your baby's enjoyment of food. In other words, play with your food!

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