Tuesday, 8 June 2010

A new taste to savour

Sometimes we think we know everything... or at least we think we know enough just so as not to look stupid. Suddenly we read about something and find out that there still things that we do not know. At times like these, the most apt cliche that comes to mind is : we learn something new everyday.

I was reading the latest book by Malcolm Gladwell last night. It is a bestseller titled `What The Dog Saw, and other adventures'. It is a collection of articles and stories that Gladwell wrote for The New Yorker, an American magazine where he is a staff writer since 1996. It is a work of non-fiction and so far I have just finished reading the 5th story out of 19. Very interesting stories on a diverse range of subjects and I would have continued reading had I not considered the fact that I needed some sleep. The five stories I have read touched on salesmanship, the tomato ketchup, the financial options market, hair dye and the birth-control pill. How do you create interesting pieces out of seemingly mundane topics? This is the particular skill that Gladwell possesses that has made him an award-winning author. He has written three books prior to this and all are bestsellers. I have the first two : The Tipping Point and Blink.

So what was the new thing that I learned last night? Many things actually... but the one that I pick is this : umami.

Apparently, there are five known fundamental tastes in the human palate : sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. I know the first four, of course, as I'm sure all of you do... but umami? Gladwell explains that umami is the proteiny, full-bodied taste of chicken soup, or cured meat, or fish stock, or aged cheese, or mother's milk, or soy sauce, or mushrooms, or seaweed, or cooked tomato. The word is not in my Longman's Dictionary that I keep on the shelf by my desk so I had to look it up online. The online dictionary further explains that the word is of Japanese origin and describes the meaty taste that is produced by amino acids and nucleotides. Perhaps the best example given is that of monosodium glutamate or more famously known as MSG.

Wow... I certainly know that taste. It is something that I have tried avoiding (or at least minimising) for many years. Only that I'm not sure if I can use the word in everyday speech as yet.

Next time someone asks me how does the chicken soup taste, dare I reply... umami?


drwati said...

hmmm that must be what authors of cookbooks always described as rich and creamy...will take note of the author, he sounds interesting..

Justiffa said...

Was thinking of getting one masa ronda2 mph ari tu.. but forgot why i didnt LOL (skarang ni asyik lupa je haish). he's very observant, loved his tipping point & blink.

Hey you must be very the bz ek, lama xde entry ;p take care!

Zendra-Maria said...

oooh mommy!!!

lili said...

Interesting... must get one since I've nothing to read at the moment. Been reading fiction all my life.. hehe..some changes, like you said before, would do us good!

Tommy Yewfigure said...

Ahhh the good old Ajinomoto…kekeke, explained why there’s so many ‘botak’ Japanese men running around….hahaha.

No, I stay clear of that stuff a long time ago. Most Asian restaurant I go to nowadays have a strictly ‘No MSG’ sign posted on its door. I get instant dizzy spell if I taste any & will wake up the next morning like a dog with a very irritating dry throat. I tell u horr, this stuff will kill u quick, so avoid it at all cost!


Pat said...

That sounds like a book both Chuan and I would love! I must get my hands on a copy!!!

And, I've never heard of umami either! Thanks for that!

Btw, I've given away all my dictionaries lah. They were just gathering dust on the shelf! I Google everything I need to know - from spellings, to meanings, to strange new things like 'umami'!

My daughter and I are learning French now. And I can even Google French stuff - to do my homework, and to generally find our more!

I don't know how I'd live if the internet were no more! I think I'd bawl!!!!!

Oldstock said...


If you can, try reading his second book, Blink. There's a chapter where he discusses doctor-patient relationships and the correlation to medical malpractice lawsuits.

Oldstock said...


Didn't think that you'd notice the long absence. Yes, been a bit buzy... but also something else came up that sort of put a spanner in the works. I've a few really important things to sort out but can't write about it just yet.

Oldstock said...


You're calling out to your mom or you just had tasty soup?

Oldstock said...


Gladwell's stories are based on extensive research and interviews. In the story about hair dye for example, he tells how L'Oreal got their famous tagline, `Because you're worth it.'

Although most of his stories are based on American products or consumer markets, his observations are universal.

Oldstock said...


I've never used ajinomoto when I first started cooking for myself during uni days. On the other hand, my mom is a loyal MSG user. I guess that's why when I eat at mom's house, it's always double or triple portions. Sedaaaap...

Luckily for me, the wife is a non-MSG user too.

Oldstock said...


While I refer to online dictionaries quite often, nothing beats thumbing through the thick books to search for meanings of words. I like the feel of flipping pages and scanning lines of text.

pakmat said...

salam oldstock..just be careful with your japanese..the wrong alphabets might get a different meaning..:)

mamasita said...

O ok..if I forget the umami word I can just say ajinomoto?

Oldstock said...


You mean a different meaning in Malay ke? Ok noted :-)

Oldstock said...


Yes, you can say ajinomoto or MSG, which is pure umami.