Posts filed under Values

Part 3 - Tomorrow's Trends Today and the Dangerous American Diet

By Ana Kinkaid

Currently food consumers are evolving into three very interesting groups: Baby Boomers, Middle Agers and Gen Yers.   

Baby Boomers, age 65+, make up the largest consumer group and they are the wealthiest. However, because they are largely grounded in the European tradition of multi-course meals with traditional ingredients - all historical based, they will spend their money only in specific ways. They are also aging and concerned about long term finances and the ever increasing cost of health care.

Baby Boomer 3, With Wine.jpg

Middle Agers, age 30-65, want something to taste great also to be convenient and easy to enjoy. They are not interested in expensive gourmet foods as they have little disposable income. They, too, are concerned about health but they have little time between job and children to get to the gym or take a run.

Gen Yers, (short for “Generation Youth”) age 18-30, are the most open to innovation and new food ideas. They are also the most willing to spend money on food. Yet they largely lack any in-depth knowledge of cuisine so their food choices are mostly driven by advertising. They are easily attracted to any product marked “New and Improved” or “Healthy” as well as anything that sounds exotic or international.

It’s easy to assume then that umami might interest only these young adults as a mysterious Japanese-only ingredient in miso soup or sushi. Nothing could be further from the truth. The umami effect is present in the cuisine of every nation around the world.

Consider, for example, some of the foods enjoyed on a regular basis in Western Cuisine: Aged ham, bacon, tomatoes, sauerkraut, anchovies, mushrooms, Worcestershire sauce, firm aged cheeses, egg yolks, potatoes, Chinese cabbage, spinach, aged beef, chicken broth, carrots, soup, ketchup, aged olive oil, tuna and, shellfish – clams, oysters, mussels, geoduck. They all contain umami elements. 

Their impact on flavor doesn’t stop there because when two or more ingredients from the different type classes of umami are combined, they significant increase the flavor far beyond the 1 + 1 = 2 basis.                                                                      

How the combined ingredients are prepared can also add to the flavor impact. Roasting, aging, fermenting, browning, drying or slow cooking all further enhance the final flavor.  

Some of America's favorite foods are it's favorite foods because of the very fact that they contain umami, even if no one knows the word umami.  

Consider a humble bowl of the ever popular French Onion Soup. It was originally an end-of-day soup enjoyed by poor weary French miners just a hundred years ago and now enjoyed coast-to-coast in America.  

How is umami created in this dish? First one brown the onion – that adds umami. Then chef adds beef broth – that’s more umami. Simmer slowly – more umami. Then there the aged bread – the umami is building up in layers, ever increasing the flavor. And finally, aged Swiss cheese is melted on the top. The result is an “Umami Bomb”. 

Consider a more elegant dish, often served in a fine restaurant: The Caesar Salad.  

The Caesar salad was originally created in 1924 in Tijuana for the stars of the silent film era who loved vacationing south of the Border to circumvent Prohibition. Soon it made its way north to California where it continued to be a hit with Hollywood’s rich and famous at the Brown Derby for the likes of Clark Gable and Jean Harlow. It was even a childhood favorite of Julia Child 

So does a Caesar Salad classify as another “Umami Bomb”? Most Assuredly! Just consider the ingredients in a properly made Caesar Salad: Romaine lettuce (no umami here, just a place to park all the wonderful umami flavors), a coddled egg (yes), anchovies or Worcestershire Sauce (yes), toasted croutons (yes), aged olive oil (yes) and Parmesan cheese (yes, yes, yes).  

Think of some of  other favorite American foods – pizza, that’s aged sausage, tomatoes, cheese: it all works together because of umami. Pasta with meatballs and either red or white sauce: browned meat cooked slowly, tomatoes or clams cooked slowly and then grated Parmesan cheese. Oh, and wine, too – because it’s aged that contains umami too.  

Last, but certainly not least, consider clam chowder. There’s New England style chowder for the purist loaded with potatoes and clams, all slow cooked. Then there’s Manhattan style chowder for the New Yorker with tomatoes added – increasing the umami even more.  

Oyster Stew is equally loaded with umami based ingredients. So is Billi Bi, the legendary mussel soup created at Maxim’s in Paris for the departing American tycoon Billy Brand in the late 1800’s. It is credited with winning Maxim’s the first three star rating ever in the Michelin Guide. That speaks for itself.  

This list could go on and on, but it’s vital to understand the other reason why umami is emerging as a dominate culinary trend.  

The simple fact is that the national American diet is in trouble, big trouble. Americans are fat and getting heavier by the day with no end, it seems, in sight.  

If this seems an over statement, just consider that presently 2/3 of all U.S. citizens are overweight or obese. One third of all school age children are equally overweight or obese. Even 1/4 of the nation's children age 2-5 top the charts as too heavy.

O.K. so we Americans are carrying a few extra pounds – what’s the big deal? Since few us are planning to pursue a career as a New York model or a Hollywood movie star, what’s the harm in enjoying a favorite food even if means an extra pound or so? Is being slightly plump now a social crime?  

No, it's not a crime but it is dangerous. That's because there are three popular American food groups that link directly to three major diseases that are damaging to the heart, the brain and the body's overall ability to function. Each of these diseases has the capability of severely reducing the quality of one's life and even causing an unnecessary early death.


The Hidden Killers

 Fast Foods or “Oh, My Aching Heart” - Saturated Fats (Heart Disease)  

Americans love fried foods. Americans love the rich flavor oil adds all those fast foods waiting so conveniently at roadside outlets. It’s so easy to get a burger or a bucket and head home 

But many are heading, instead, to the hospital. All those hidden fats allow dangerous plaques to form, clogging the arteries to the heart and blocking the vital blood flow to the heart. Without that oxygen-bearing blood, the heart cannot function properly and a myocardial infarction or heart attack occurs.  

The result is that heart attacks are the leading cause of death in America, accounting for one-in-six deaths. Over 720,000 deaths annually are linked directly to coronary disease. 

Snack Foods or “What a Headache I’ve Got!”  – Salts (Strokes)

When it’s time to watch a game on T.V. or host a get-together, Americans love the convenience (and taste) of snack foods from potato chips to pretzels, from microwaved popcorn  to corn chips, Cheetos, Kringles, Dorito’s – the list goes on and on and so does the salt level they contain. 

When the body cannot process the excessive salt consumed in the American diet, it dumped it into the body’s blood stream. The body then tries to counter balance this excess salt by drawing more water into the blood. The added water increases the pressure on the walls of the blood vessels in the brain and causes them to burst. The result is a hemorrhagic stroke that can kill or paralyze.

Strokes are the 3rd most common cause of death, striking down 1 in 19 individuals. Strokes are also responsible for the largest number of severely disabled individuals in America.  Very often the survivors of a killer stroke recover only to discover they have lost the ability to speak, to walk, even to move. Even with extensive therapy only 10% of these patients are able to recover completely and return to a normal life.

Traditionally strokes most often struck older individuals but today as more and more young people eat the large amounts of salt hidden in the American diet the age range for strokes is falling to include many people seemingly in the prime years of their lives. The loss of their productive exceeds over $128 billion annually.

Convenience Foods or “Sweet Enough to Die For” – Sugars (Diabetes)

Convenience or packaged foods are largely the result of World War II. During that period America had to supply 16 million soldiers with food. Canned and packaged foods were the only way to feed so many soldiers in the field.

Back home, foods were being rationed so that factories could have addition produce to process into high energy K rations for the troops. The women on the home front were making bombers and bullets, not cookies and cakes.

When peace finally came in 1945, the soldiers came home. Their wives had been too busy supporting the war effort to learn to cooks as their mothers had plus many on the basic ingredients, like sugar, flour and eggs, hadn’t even been available. The young soldiers, many in the early twenties, were already used to processed food from boxed and cans.

The food industry, which had during the war years developed into a multi-million dollar industry, wasn’t exactly eager to lose their profit. So, they launched a major publicity campaign to convince all those young brides that cooking was only modern if it came from a box or can.  Cooking from scratch with fresh ingredients was portrayed as old fashion and too time consuming.

And just to make sure everyone enjoyed the mixes, the manufacturing companies kept the sugar in. They even increased it. 

The consumption of all that sugar in the American diet has led to sky-high levels of blood sugar. The body responds by secreting increased levels of insulin into the body. When the body can no longer produce enough of the counter balancing insulin, the resulting damage sets the stage for the development of diabetes and a lifetime dependence on drugs and restrictive special diets.

Today diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in America. Annually 1 in 10 adults dies due to complications from this dreaded disease. Each year over 1.7 million new cases are diagnosed.  Once an illness seen only among the aging, the most common form of diabetes, Type 2, is now rapidly increasing among teenagers and young adults due to the large consumption of sugar laden foods and drinks.

The Problem Is Only Going to Get Worse

Today excessive saturated fats, salt and sugars are in over 90% of the foods purchased by Americans.   By 2050 attacks will kill 1 in 4 Americans. Strokes and diabetes will claim 1 in 3 American lives.

Americans are already aware of the growing cost of dealing with these emerging health care problems. The average American family of four now pays approximately $12,700 annually just for health insurance. The cost of an average hospital stay in the U.S. is now at $33,079.

As a result, Americans are looking for ways to maintain and improve their health before become ill.  Reducing the excessive fats, salts and sugars from the diet is one way to actively improve one’s health.

The Food Industry, which spends millions to research the interests of consumer, is well aware of the demand for healthier products.. Their response is to declare a product “better for you” because they have removed all the additional fats, salts and sugars.

The result is most often a flat, tasteless product. The consumer gallantly does try these products once or twice but then slowly drifts back to the "better tasting" but less healthy choice. The result is a continuing problem as waistlines expand and medical bills soar!

The consumer wants a different kind of product and that’s where insightful and ethical food production and marketing come in  through the incorporation of umami thanks to companies such as Nikken Foods USA.

Presented at Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association 2014 Conference with many thanks to Taylor Shellfish FarmsNikken Foods USA and 

Your Culinary World Copyright Ana Kinkaid/Peter Schlagel  2014


Part 1 - The History and Heritage of the Fifth Taste

By Ana Kinkaid

Once upon a time, there was an ancient dream - a story told over and over of a magic substance that when added to something found in everyday life would result in something wonderful, something amazing, something glorious.

                                                                        Maier’ s Atalanta Fugiens, Emblem 8

                                                                        Maier’ s Atalanta Fugiens, Emblem 8

Called an elixir, novels and operas have been written about it, philosophers have sought it and saints have claimed it. Kings and queens have offered diamonds and emeralds to ancient alchemists to obtain it.

Yet it was a perceptive judge, insightful chef and a determined scientist who finally found the substance that in food is the very essence of what ancients sought.

In 1793 there lived in France a young lawyer named Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, known simply as Savarin to the culinary world. Having earlier represented members of the nobility in legal matters, his loyalty to the French Revolution was in question and so was his life.


                                                                                          Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

                                                                                       Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Like many of France’s intelligentsia, he fled to the new republic of America, whose recent revolution had been supported by French military training and the actual bullets fired at the final battle at Yorktown.

In America he taught French, played the violin in a Philadelphia chamber orchestra, studied medicine and chemistry and enjoyed roasting a turkey with no less a person than Thomas Jefferson at Monticello.

                                                        Monticello - Jefferson's Beloved Country Home

                                                        Monticello - Jefferson's Beloved Country Home

When Napoleon came to power, the extremes of the French Revolution were replaced with calm, making it safe for Savarin to return to France. Because so many lawyers had literally lost their heads during the Revolution, there was a great need for experienced lawyers such as Savarin in France. Upon arriving, Savarin was appointed the lead judge of the Court of Appeals, a court that evaluated the legality of laws, not individual cases, somewhat similar to our Supreme Court.

From the security of that position, which he held for the rest of his life, he wrote The Physiology of Taste. Published  in 1826, two months before his death, it noted the presence of  something special, beyond the four basic tastes of sweet, salty, sour and bitter, in soups, browned  beef and the shellfish that he loved.

                                                                         The Physiology of Taste   - Never Out of Print!

                                                                        The Physiology of Taste - Never Out of Print!

He did not know what it was exactly, only that its presence made good foods taste fabulous.

Nearly a hundred years would pass before another culinary great, Chef Auguste Escoffier, would seek the answer to what was the magic ingredient that made such a difference. 

Born in France, he rose to fame as the “King of Chefs and the Chef to Kings” at London’s Ritz and Savoy Hotels. 

There he rediscovered in 1890 that magic ‘something’ in his career-defining veal stock. In his legendary cookbook, Le Guide Culinare, he declares this stock, made from slowly browned bones and meat, as the core of the Five Mother Sauces on which all other French sauces are based.   

When prepared correctly, each of these sauces has that certain something that makes French foods to what we define as “French Food.”

Yet at the same time, there was a young scientist, named Kikunae Ikeda, who lived in Kyoto, who was having dinner one evening with his wife and children. As is traditional in Japanese cuisine, the meal they were enjoying started with a warm cup of seaweed soup – the same miso based soup many of us have enjoyed when dining in a Japanese restaurant. 

The soup they were sipping has long been part of Kyoto’s legendary Buddhist temple cuisine. The original recipe for the soup had come from China with the famed scholar Dogen, who was also the tenzo or cook at the Shojin Ryori Temple where no meat was ever served. Instead the cooks there turned to the richness of sea for flavor and protein. 

It was that same mysterious rich full flavor that Ikeda asked his children to name. One said salty, another said beefy though there was no beef in the broth. It was Ikeda’s wife, who when it was her turn, described the core taste as “delicious!” 

                                                                                                          Miso Soup

                                                                                                          Miso Soup

Everyone laughed and said that yes that was the taste. But how can ‘delicious’ be a taste when the other four flavors of sweet, salt, bitter and sour are so defined? The question haunted Ikeda, who was an inquiring scientist as well as a thoughtful father. 

It was one thing to know that the “deliciousness” exists, but Ikeda wanted to know exactly what it was and how it worked. 

Soon he was researching what it was in the soup that made it taste so great. Years of trial and error followed. Bowl after bowl of soup was analyzed but the defining substance remained hidden, elusive. Yet Ikeda never gave up. Finally in 1908, he found the phantom element on his microscope slide. 

                                                                                         At Long Last, There It Was!

                                                                                         At Long Last, There It Was!

Exhausted, yet excited, he wondered what to call his new discovery. Finally with a smile, he chose a name based on what his wife had originally given the taste – delicious essense or “umami” in Japanese. 

Ikeda realized that his discovery had vast commercial application that could benefit humanity. If food was made more flavorful, more people would purchase and enjoy healthier cuisine. The result would be a reduction of disease through better diet.

 He turned to a young industrialist, Saburosuke Suzuki II, who was successfully producing iodine from seaweed. And though Ikeda had found that sea kelp was a prime source for umami, Suzuki declined Ikeda’s request that he produce the new compound. 

                                                                                                         Now Available!

                                                                                                         Now Available!

The long years of trial and error research had taught Ikeda not to give up easily. He finally convinced Suzuki and the magic product, long sought after by chefs and mystics, was available to the public. 

Want to know what it is? That's tomorrow's story - Part II

Presented at Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association 2014 Conference with many thanks to Taylor Shellfish FarmsNikken Foods USA and Green Paper Products.

Your Culinary World Copyright Ana Kinkaid/Peter Schlagel  2014