The Flavor Game – Sweet And Salty

The drive was taking an awfully long time. Traffic, although not too congested, was heavy enough to slow things down. Mom was getting irritated by the look on her face. The speed of her thumb thumping the steering wheel was getting faster and more vigorous. My mind was wandering, thinking about this visit to the dentist. It was probably the first visit I could remember. I kept feeling the tooth that was troubling me with my tongue. It felt painful but it kept me occupied for the duration of the trip. We finally arrived, and I was beginning to have second thoughts about agreeing to the visit. What’s going to happen? My mind was working overtime!

Sitting on the dentist’s cold chair, a chill went down my spine as I viewed the dreaded-looking dental instruments neatly laid out on a tray. Suddenly, the dentist was sitting next to me with gloves and a mask. I felt like fainting. “Please open your mouth,” he said. I could barely move. I then felt the cold steel probing my teeth. As he located the bad tooth, I felt a sharp, searing pain. “Doc, you’ve got to fix this,” I said to myself. “It’s got to come out,” said the dentist. I just nodded and told myself to be brave. I was given an injection which was surprisingly not as painful as I had anticipated. A while later I heard the dentist say, “Done.” My bad tooth was gone. I didn’t feel anything. What an anti-climax!

We are born with a sweet tooth. It’s nature’s way of teaching us to seek out sweetness as sugars are necessary for the body as a source of energy. What our bodies are looking for is carbohydrates, and sugars are the simplest form of them.

Glucose, also called dextrose, is a simple sugar (monosaccharide), and the most common source of chemical energy that is directly used by our body cells. It is commonly found in fruits and honey and is the third sweetest sugar.

Fructose, or levulose, is the sweetest simple sugar. High fructose corn syrup is a common ingredient in processed foods used to sweeten things up. Our bodies use fructose more slowly than glucose and sucrose, causing a slower rise in blood sugar level, and making it a better choice for diabetics. A word of caution: fructose needs to be converted to glucose by the liver before it can be consumed, and excessive consumption can lead to obesity and also type II diabetes.

Sucrose is the scientific name for table sugar, those wonderful white crystals that we adore, and is the most common source of sweetness. It is made up of two simple sugars (disaccharide), glucose, and fructose, and has the second sweetest taste after fructose.

Lactose is a compound sugar made up of glucose and galactose and is the sugar found in milk. Most adults (75% of the world’s population) are “lactose intolerant,” causing most of us to have digestive problems after consuming too many dairy products. As we grow older, we lack the enzyme, lactase, to digest lactose, thus the cause of our problems.

Apart from being a very pleasurable experience, the taste of sweetness helps mask or balance bitterness and sourness from other ingredients. Sweetness enhances the perception of food aromas telling us that the food is a good source of energy and has always been strongly associated with love or “l’amour,” (as the French call it). What would Valentine’s Day be without the gorgeously sweet taste of chocolates!

Salt is regarded as nature’s flavor enhancer. If you were stranded on a deserted island, and you only had one wish, you’d probably wish for salt. It works wonders for enhancing the taste of food and plays an important role in brining, curing, and food preservation. Back when refrigeration was not available, salt was used to preserve meat by drying and allowing it to be stored for an extended period.

Without salt, a person could die. Salt or sodium chloride is 40% sodium and 60% chlorine, and our body uses sodium to maintain fluid levels. It is also necessary for the health of the heart, liver, and kidneys, regulates blood fluids, and prevents low blood pressure. Too much salt though is detrimental to our health. It can lead to kidney disease, hypertension or high blood pressure, and stroke.

Saltiness is one of the five basic tastes. Counterintuitively, salt has a dramatic effect on sweet dishes. Sprinkle some salt on strawberries for a tastier treat. Instead of adding sugar to a bitter dish, try adding salt. It is more effective in balancing the bitter taste. A pinch of salt, such a wise choice.

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