THE GOCHISO GOURMET: Who’s your sweetie?

Continuing on our journey over those papillae also known as taste buds, we come to the flavor sensation favored by most people, the perception of sweet. Whereas there are many individuals who dislike bitter, salty or sour flavors, almost everyone likes sweet. No, make that adores sweet. Or at the very least, we usually don’t detest sweet. Children, if given unsupervised, unrestricted access to sweets, will literally consume until they explode. I don’t think that will ever happen if they are given platefuls of vinegar and lemons or arugula and bittermelon or bottles of shoyu or patis. But give them platefuls of doughnuts, candies and ice cream and they will eat themselves sick.

And it’s not just those larval-stage humans with this affliction to sweets. You know who you are. Those of you with the dining mantra of “life is short, eat dessert first.” I even live with one of you. The Mrs. regularly views the dessert menu before choosing her appetizer or entrée. If there’s a dessert selection (or two or three) that she just “needs” to sample, she’ll order smaller or lighter appetizers or mains just to assure she has room for the sweets, which I don’t really understand since I’ve never had a sweet tooth. I mean, the one dessert that I crave is Todd English’s Roasted Banana Tiramisu that he used to serve at his Olives restaurant in the Bellagio in Las Vegas. And because it’s a take on the classic tiramisu, it’s not really sweet at all. I may not have the usual amount of sweet receptors as the rest of the population, or it may simply stem from an unfortunate childhood incident after I consumed a whole, solid chocolate Peter Rabbit during Easter and ended up getting to know the porcelain alter in the bathroom more intimately than I wanted to… But in any case, sweet does have a role in taste and dining and once again, it’s to balance those other flavor sensations.

The Obvious

Dessert obviously is where sweet plays a major role. But your standard desserts are usually heavy just on sweet without any balancing sour, bitter or salty. And after a large hearty meal, the last thing I want is to be weighed down by excess sweet. The French did find a partial remedy to the after dinner sweet by pairing it with alcohol. You see, alcohol is a notoriously greedy molecule demanding that your liver process it before other foods. Well alcohol can’t be processed by itself. It needs carbohydrate. And sugar is a carbohydrate. So imbibing higher octane alcoholic beverages with dessert helps to burn off some of those ingested sugar molecules so you don’t have that prolonged after dessert sugar rush. But unless you imbibe beyond reason, you won’t be able to burn off all of those sugar molecules.

But there is light at the end of the dessert tunnel. Over the past several years, pastry chefs have been using flaked sea salt in their desserts to provide a textural and flavor contrast to traditional desserts. Like topping chocolate covered caramels or simply adding it to caramel sauces. And by now, who hasn’t tried chocolate covered bacon? When they first hit the dining scene, it seemed like a temporary trend but the smoky and salty flavors combined with the bitter and sweet flavors of dark chocolate. Yes, chocolate and bacon is here to stay!

The Not So Obvious

Of course, when sweet gets added to savory dishes, it’s not as obvious. But as salt is a crucial element in desserts, so too is sweet a critical element in savory courses. Just use a lighter hand when adding sweet, as the intent is not to make the dish taste sweet, but using the sweet as a foil to balance other flavor sensations. That’s why fruit chutneys make great accompaniments to roasted poultry and pork dishes; a little sweet, a little savory. Or why caramelized vegetables also enhance any savory dishes. Caramelizing vegetables releases natural sugars. This doesn’t give you that frank sugar sweetness, but instead, more of a mellow caramel sweetness. When I’m pressed for time and don’t have the 30 or so minutes to properly caramelize vegetables, I reach for the next best alternative, honey. While honey does have a noticeable sugar sweetness, using a judicious amount helps balance the other flavors without making your savory course taste like a dessert. And now that I’ve found agave syrup, I’ve also added it to my repertoire of sweet flavors for savory dishes.

Balancing the Sweet

Ever since sampling the lemon pound cake at the Haleiwa Coffee Gallery on the North Shore of Oahu, I set out on a quest for the perfect lemon pound cake. Since my modified version is as healthy as desserts come, I’ve made this on numerous occasions even for friends and family with dietary restrictions – just keep the serving size reasonable. The sweet balances the sour (lemon) and bitter (lemon zest) and if you sprinkle a little coarse sea salt on the glaze, you’ll have four of the five major flavor sensations.

Tatsumoto Family Secret Lemon Pound Cake. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Tatsumoto Family Secret Lemon Pound Cake. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Tatsumoto Family Secret Lemon Pound Cake

1 stick butter

2 ½ cup sugar

2 teaspoon lemon extract

3 tablespoon macadamia nut oil

3 eggs

2 ½ tablespoon lemon zest

¼ cup lemon juice (split into two 2 tablespoon portions)

3 ¼ cup flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

8 ounce reduced fat sour cream

2 cup powdered sugar

3 tablespoon breadcrumbs

Mix softened butter with sugar. Add lemon extract, macadamia nut oil, 1 ½ tablespoon of lemon zest and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Add eggs — one at a time — until thoroughly incorporated. Sift together flour, salt and baking soda. Alternately add flour mixture and sour cream to butter/sugar mixture. Start and end with flour. Grease Bundt pan and coat with bread crumbs. Shake out excess bread crumbs. Put batter in Bundt pan and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hr 10 minutes or until toothpick/bbq stick comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes then on wire rack. Mix other half (2 tablespoon) of lemon juice and rest of lemon zest with powdered sugar and drizzle on pound cake. Let glaze cool/harden before serving. Enjoy one slice. This recipe is fully compliant with an ADA Step I diet. If you have more than one slice, digest for three hours then proceed to engage in aerobic activity (heart rate at least 75 percent of max heart rate) for 30 minutes.

Balance Your Buds

So the next time you sate your sweet tooth, do so with balance. Just stimulating those sweet receptors is boring. Combine sweet flavors with salty, bitter and sour for flavor and taste in harmony. Stimulating just your sweet receptors is like expecting a great concert from just the lead singer with no back-up band. Unless that lead singer is Kenny Rankin singing a cappella, you’ll need the supporting musicians or in the case of your palate, those other taste sensations. Because variety isn’t just the spice of life, it gives life to your palate.

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the Univ. of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at gochisogourmet@yahoo.com.

 

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