Japanese Confections

Wagashi

Beyond Salty and Sweet: A Budding Club of Tastes

Sweet, salty, sour and bitter — every schoolchild knows these are the building blocks of taste. Our delight in every scrumptious bonbon, every sizzling hot dog, derives in part from the tongue’s ability to recognize and signal just four types of taste.

But are there really just four? Over the last decade, research challenging the notion has been piling up. Today, savory, also called umami, is widely recognized as a basic taste, the fifth. And now other candidates, perhaps as many as 10 or 20, are jockeying for entry into this exclusive club.

“What started off as a challenge to the pantheon of basic tastes has now opened up, so that the whole question is whether taste is even limited to a very small number of primaries,” said Richard D. Mattes, a professor of nutrition science at Purdue University.

Taste plays an intrinsic role as a chemical-sensing system for helping us find what is nutritious (stimulatory) and as a defense against what is poison (aversive). When we put food in our mouths, chemicals slip over taste buds planted into the tongue and palate. As they respond, we are thrilled or repulsed by what we’re eating.

But the body’s reaction may not always be a conscious one. In the late 1980s, in a windowless laboratory at Brooklyn College, the psychologist Anthony Sclafani was investigating the attractive power of sweets. His lab rats loved Polycose, a maltodextrin powder, even preferring it to sugar.

That was puzzling for two reasons: Maltodextrin is rarely found in plants that rats might feed on naturally, and when human subjects tried it, the stuff had no obvious taste.

More than a decade later, a team of exercise scientists discovered that maltodextrin improved athletic performance — even when the tasteless additive was swished around in the mouth and spit back out. Our tongues report nothing; our brains, it seems, sense the incoming energy.

“Maybe people have a taste for Polycose,” Dr. Sclafani said. “They just don’t recognize it consciously, which is quite an intriguing possibility.”

Dr. Sclafani and others are finding evidence that taste receptors on the tongue are also present throughout the intestine, perhaps serving as a kind of unconscious guide to our behavior. These receptors influence the release of hormones that help regulate food intake, and may offer new targets for diabetes treatments, Dr. Sclafani said.

Many tastes are consciously recognized, however, and they are distinguished by having dedicated sets of receptor cells. Fifteen years ago, molecular biologists began figuring out which of these cells in the mouth elicit bitter and sweet tastes.

By “knocking out” the genes that encode for sweet receptors, they produced mice that appeared less likely to lap from sweet-tasting bottles. Eventually, the putative receptors for salty and sour also were identified.

In 2002, though, as taste receptors were identified, the evidence largely confirmed the existence of one that scientist had been arguing about for years: savory.

Umami is subtle, but it is generally described as the rich, meaty taste associated with chicken broth, cured meats, fish, cheeses, mushrooms, cooked tomatoes and seaweed. Some experts believe it may have evolved as an imperfect surrogate for detecting protein.

Since then, researchers have proposed new receptor cells on the tongue for detecting calcium, water and carbonation. The growing list of putative tastes now includes soapiness, lysine, electric, alkaline, hydroxide and metallic.

“The taste field has been absolutely revolutionized,” said Michael Tordoff, a biologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center. “We’ve made more progress in the last 15 years than in the previous 100.”

One candidate for the next basic taste appears to have emerged as the front-runner: fattiness. The idea has been around for a while, and many scientists thought it was not a specific taste, more like a texture or an aroma.

But researchers recently identified two taste receptors for unsaturated fats on the tongue. And fat evokes a physiological response, Dr. Mattes has found that blood levels of fat rise when we put dietary fat in our mouths, even without swallowing or digesting it.

Hours after a meal, the taste of fatty acids alone can elevate triglyceride levels, even when the nose is plugged. But fat, like umami, does not have a clear, perceptible sensation, and it is hard to distinguish a texture from a taste.

Dr. Mattes says that fat may have a texture that we like (rich and gooey) and a taste that we don’t (rancid).

If so, the taste may serve as part of our sensory alert system. When food spoils, he notes, it often contains high levels of fatty acids, and the taste of them may be “a warning signal.”

Although there is still no consensus beyond sweet, salty, sour, bitter and savory, the research makes clear there is more to taste than a handful of discrete sensations on the tongue. Before long, scientists may have to give up altogether on the idea that there are just a few basic tastes.

“If you’re talking three, four, five, six, you can still call it a pretty exclusive club,” Dr. Mattes said. “If you start getting beyond that, is the concept really useful?”

Source: The New York Times

Eating Probiotics Regularly May Improve Your Blood Pressure

Eating probiotics regularly may modestly improve your blood pressure, according to new research in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension.

Probiotics are live microorganisms (naturally occurring bacteria in the gut) thought to have beneficial effects; common sources are yogurt or dietary supplements.

“The small collection of studies we looked at suggest regular consumption of probiotics can be part of a healthy lifestyle to help reduce high blood pressure, as well as maintain healthy blood pressure levels,” said Jing Sun, Ph.D., lead author and senior lecturer at the Griffith Health Institute and School of Medicine, Griffith University, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. “This includes probiotics in yogurt, fermented and sour milk and cheese, and probiotic supplements.”

Analyzing results of nine high-quality studies examining blood pressure and probiotic consumption in 543 adults with normal and elevated blood pressure, researchers found:

  • Probiotic consumption lowered systolic blood pressure (the top number) by an average 3.56 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and diastolic blood pressure (the lower number) by an average 2.38 mm Hg, compared to adults who didn’t consume probiotics.
  • The positive effects from probiotics on diastolic blood pressure were greatest in people whose blood pressure was equal to or greater than 130/85, which is considered elevated.
  • Consuming probiotics for less than eight weeks didn’t lower systolic or diastolic blood pressure.
  • Probiotic consumption with a daily bacteria volume of 109-10 12 colony-forming units (CFU) may improve blood pressure. Consumption with less than 109 CFU didn’t lower blood pressure. CFU is the amount of bacteria or the dose of probiotics in a product.
  • Probiotics with multiple bacteria lowered blood pressure more than those with a single bacteria.

“We believe probiotics might help lower blood pressure by having other positive effects on health, including improving total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, cholesterol; reducing blood glucose and insulin resistance; and by helping to regulate the hormone system that regulates blood pressure and fluid balance,” Sun said.

“The studies looking at probiotics and blood pressure tend to be small,” Sun said. “Moreover, two studies had a short duration of three to four weeks of probiotic consumption, which might have affected the overall results of the analysis.

Additional studies are needed before doctors can confidently recommend probiotics for high blood pressure control and prevention, she said.

Source: American Heart Association

Cake for Afternoon Tea

Ingredients

5 oz unsalted butter
1 cup superfine sugar
1 tbsp finely grated lemon rind
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
2 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup lemon juice
2/3 cup milk

Icing

1½ cups icing sugar, sifted
1½ tbsp lemon juice

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
  2. Grease and flour a 9-inch fluted ring tin. Place the butter, sugar and lemon rind in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat for 6 minutes or until light and creamy. Add eggs and beat well. Fold through the flour, baking powder, lemon juice and milk.
  3. Spoon the mixture into the tin and bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until cooked when tested with a skewer. Allow to cool in the tin for 5 minutes, and then turn out onto a wire rack.
  4. To make the icing, mix sugar and lemon juice until smooth. Pour over the cooled cake. Allow the icing to set and cut into slices to serve.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Source: Donna Hay


Today’s Comic

Gadget: A Microwave that Can Be Taken Anywhere

‘Mediumwave’

Adjusting power and time.

The cooker is easy to clean and the lid is dishwasher-safe

Read more …..

In Pictures: Decorative Bento

Packed Lunch of Chinese Pork Wonton

Ingredients

16 sheets wonton wrapper
100 g ground pork
2 stalks green onion, chopped

Marinade

1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp cooking wine
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground white pepper
1 tbsp cornstarch

Sauce

3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1/2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp vinegar
1/2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp chili oil
1/4 tsp ground Szechuan pepper

Method

  1. Mix pork with marinade ingredients. Set aside for 10 minutes.
  2. Add half of the green onion to pork and stir until gluey.
  3. Divide pork filling into 16 portions. Put one portion of filling in the middle of a wonton wrapper. Fold the wonton wrapper into a semi-circle. Pull the two corners together and pinch to form a wonton. Repeat with the remaining wrappers and filling.
  4. Cook the wontons in boiling water until done.
  5. Mix together remaining green onion and sauce ingredients together in a bowl.
  6. Toss the wontons in the sauce before packing into lunch box.

Makes 16 wontons.

Source: Hong Kong magazine


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