delicious

29 it is in our delicious stories

Umami is the Japanese word for delicious flavour.

Until French chef Auguste Escoffier and Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda proved otherwise, it was thought that the human tongue could only detect four tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, and salty.

Ikeda was able to identify the amino acid L-glutamate behind the delicious seaweed soup his wife would make him; this led to the creation of monosodium glutamate – the connecting of the acid with a salt being necessary for stability.

Another interesting dimension is that the amino acid is only released from life-forms by proteolysis: ‘a shy scientific term for death, rot, and the cooking process’*

All of this set me to wondering about our experiences of life.  There are sweet and sour experiences, salty and bitter ones, but what about the ones we can only describe as delicious.  What if delicious adds something more to the other flavours?

‘Helping is, therefore, both a routine process of exchange that is the basis of all social behaviour and a special process that sometimes interrupts the normal flow and must be handled with particular sensitivity.’**

What if helping is the basic component of the delicious life in a similar way to how L-glutamate is essential to delicious taste?  As it were, our different experiences of life make it possible for us to be better helpers of others?

With the knowledge that something has to die or decline for this amino acid to be released, I found myself wondering about the five elemental truths, identified in ancient cultures as children moved into adulthood, towards a contributing life.  They each require something to die in order for a larger life to be lived:

Life is hard
You are not as special as you think
You life is not about you
You are not in control
You are going to die.^

What if each of these truths is meant to be completed in a delicious way?

Maybe the salty and bitter and sweet and sour and delicious things in life help us to know we are alive?

Umami.

(*From Jonah Lehrer’s Proust was a Neuroscientist.  Apparently humans produce 40 grams of L-glutamate a day and need to replenish it.)
(**From Edgar Schein’s Helping.)
(^See Richard Rohr’s Adam’s Return.  In a meeting with two others at lunchtime today, we decided to share a cheese and maple syrup muffin, to see what a savoury-sweet muffin tasted like.  I was telling them about these thoughts and one mentioned how restaurants can order the course of a meal so they flow through each flavour.)

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