Saturday, November 05, 2005

Umami, second childhood, Penguin Books

For some time, I was trying to remember the word, which describes the fifth primary flavour.The other four are: saltiness, sweetness, bitterness and sourness. Then I came across a note I had made and mislaid, which reminded me that the word is umami. It is a Japanese word and was coined by a Japanese researcher called Kikunae Ikeda in 1907. He was trying to find what it was that made the Japanese stock made from seaweed and dried tuna so alluring. He identified two chemicals - glutamic acid and inosinic acid, which were largely responsible for the flavour. It is a taste common to asparagus, tomatoes, cheese and meat. In its artifical form it is known through the salt made as a seasoning - monosodium glutimate. This has earned itself a bad reputation as an ingredient of Chinese take away food and other fast foods, and is reputed to make you thirsty, to create artificial hunger pangs and have other bad effects. Be that as it may, glutamic acid, in its natural form, is a significant ingredient of breast milk.

While waiting for my lift home after the checkout at Sainsbury's this morning, I try to pass the time by searching for beautiful or interesting things. But the cross-looking shoppers offer very little in that direction. Then I notice that one trolley, proudly pushed by a parent, is equipped with a carrier suitable for a very small baby. In it, lies, amidst the cereals, bottles, detergents and tins, a regal looking child, pink and pristine. As I am approaching my own second childhood, I nearly give way to, but fortunately resist, the impulse to ask in which aisle babies can be found.

I have loved Penguin books all my life. I still do. Just recently, I have come upon those mini-penguins called Penguin 60s, containing extracts or short stories from well known authors, in an Oxfam bookshop. I snaffle them up, because, at 49p each they are far nicer and better value than cards to send to friends, and fit neatly into a standard envelope. I find a new hoard in the Chapel Place Oxfam.

No comments: