Thursday, 10 December 2009

In Search Of OOMMAAAAMMMEEE Part 1

There is a buzzword that has been bandied about rather a lot throughout the foodie twitto-blogosphere over the last few months which has left me, in equal measures, both intrigued and confused. I am quite used to this state of mind as it is an everyday occurrence. But there is something about this concept that is bugging me over and above the usual flotsam and jetsam floating around in my cranium. I am starting to see it here, there, everywhere and every time I do the numbskulls start to hammer the processing unit that is my brain with a large stick, screaming all the while "What does it mean? What does it mean?" It is of course the word umami, Japanese in origin which has been thrust out there to describe the curious proposal of a fifth taste sensation along side the established salt, sweet, sour and bitter. Hoorah! The palate just got an upgrade! But what exactly is this fifth taste? Why its erm flavourful, yummy, tasty, meaty, brothy, delicious, savoury, yes savoury that's it! You know all that kind of stuff and best of all, it now comes in a tube! Yahoo!

Well call me a pedantic eejit if you like but didn't we always have these sensations? I mean don't the original four combine in some way to give us the same fireworks, the mouth-watering experiences you describe? Hasn't it always been like this? You mean my mum has been cooking with this stuff all the time? And who am I talking to anyway?

To be honest, maybe it's the science behind the idea of umami that scares me. You see I am a bit like the peasant farmer character who centuries past who would run screaming from field whenever there was an eclipse. "Aieeee! Bogrore The Mountain Cruncher is eating the sun! Aieeee!". And take what happened today when I read on Wikipedia that "Umami tastes are initiated by these specialized receptors, with subsequent steps involving secretion of neurotransmitters, including adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and serotonin". I tell you, shortly afterwards my eyes rolled back, my mouth dropped open and I collapsed to the floor with a nose bleed. However, after picking myself up half an hour later, I also discovered that umami has been tested on monkeys and showed that it "excites neurons in the orbitofrontal cortex of the brain, showing spatially-specific characteristics" And I can kind of got some relation to that.

The monkeys I mean.

The long and the short of it is, although I think that some people probably do understand it better than I, like Sig of Scandilicious (check her post for a more academic take on the subject but beware of further nose bleeds) I can't help but think that there is an element of the Emperor's New Clothes about umami. Hell, even the word sounds comical to me. Another Essex-based eejit suggested to me a while ago that it reminded him of Vic Reeves' cry of "UVAVU" from Shooting Stars. With that in mind I have decided to go on an adventure to get to the core of umami, to try to understand it and to reach the next plane of culinary enlightenment. I have lots of things to taste along the way. The hardest part will be trying to get hold of breast milk (yes apparently it is full of umami flavour) but we shall see. Wish me luck.

Ingredient - Marmite


14 comments:

Grethic said...

Great post and perfect timing - you've seen that Marmite are doing a special?
Blatant self plug coming up - vote for me Here - I've had a name change and a colour change in the vain hope of winning a jar of the stuff.

Lizzie said...

Just buy a bag of MSG from your local Chinese supermarket - it was made to add that ooooh-ma-meeee flavour to dishes.

The Ample Cook said...

You are a complete and utter twit. But an hilarious one :o)

meemalee said...

You're such a plum, Danny.

Also, what Lizzie said.

Sarah, Maison Cupcake said...

E-Rar-Nu indeed!

Joe Davis said...

Hucking Filarious

At first I thought it may have been the next level up from this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ev_ob4mVwg

Thought the Vic and Bob connection was very good.

Perhaps this is the taste sensation that I'm not supposed to get as I have no sense of smell... Interesting...

Am I missing out?

goodshoeday said...

Love its especially the video - still laughing as I type :D

I too am slightly sceptical I mean after all the guy who identified it did so in 1908 and we are only just talking about it - seems like an ad-man's sales trick conspiracy to me by those peddling 'umami rich' goodies - wonder who's going to get the most of those riches hey.... :0

gastrogeek said...

hahahahaha I didn't think you were seriously going to do it! Brilliant FU

Dan said...

Great post Dan - proud to be the 'eejit'....thanks for the mention. It is of course the only way to say it.
As for the vid, it's the best and also the most retarded thing I've seen for quiet some time. Seriously mate, that's some accolade. Well done.

Helen said...

Why not work up to a bowlful of MSG with a garnish of marmite and parmesan with a drink made from soy sauce and breast milk? YUMMY!

Helen said...

Oh my God I didn't realise that was a video until I just looked at the post again! Love it. That's one hefty spoonful of Marmite there dude. I can see you are serious about this challenge..!

scandilicious said...

Dude, you are on crack.

Still, a very funny post ;-)

Ollie said...

UVAVU! You're so right!

Cracking post, Danny. "The Gastrician" in the first issue of Fire & Knives says that something tasted of 'ohmammy', which I liked.

Browners said...

So... when are you going to try breast milk? Looking forward to your post a lot. Maybe you can squeeze some out of ULREEEKAKA...