Friday, December 24, 2010

Eat Your Seaweed!

Ever wonder why seaweed is so good?  Sounds like a strange thing to be so scrumptious.  Or why Parmesan cheese tastes so good on tomato sauce and why anchovy is put on pizzas and in sauces and why fish sauce is so common in Vietnamese and other Asian preparations?  These foods contain the neurotransmitter, glutamate.  Glutamate plays a role in cognitive functions because it does so much work in all those wonderful synapses and happenings that go on in our brain and nervous system (reason why you should not use PCP or take animal tranquilizers-they block glumatic acid from doing it's work and that's why hallucinations occur.  Due to the blockage our brains are not getting the right acids to get our synapses to play together in harmony).  Glutamic Acid is considered to be a flavor.  First researched and studied in German labs and then named by a Japanese researcher as a flavor called, "umami."  Kombu broth, a key player and a seaweed I use on my current menu at One Sister Underground and used in Japanese cooking for broths and stocks like Dashi, was found that when evaporated little brown crystals are left behind resulting in glutamic acid.  Umami is known as our fifth flavor following sour, bitter, salty, sweet.  When glutamate or glutamic acid is mass produced it is known as monosodium glutamate, MSG.  Not good!  Just like anything that is altered (for the most part), hydrogenated butter for example-margarine, it changes the role it plays in our systems and doesn't perform the work as it was naturally intended.  The point is that we can get this lovely taste and flavor enhancer very naturally.
This is why Caesar dressing is so good.  Why Italian grandmothers and chefs trained in Italy use Parmesan rinds in their broths and sauces.  Why we put soy sauce on food and mushrooms on meat  Supposedly methods like these date back to early empires, using dried fishes to make sauces and broths.  Try to cook a meal using these natural glutamates... add anchovy paste and tomato to your braising liquid for short ribs, add mushrooms to the finished product and top with Parmesan cheese.  You'll love it.

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