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. Don’t think that’ll ever
happen if they’re 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’ll eat
themselves sick at the very least.
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.
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 but don’t give you
that frank sugar sweetness but 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
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
1 stick butter
2 & ½ cup sugar
2 teaspoon lemon extract
3 tablespoon macadamia nut oil
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 T lemon zest and
lemon juice (only 2 tablespoons). 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 3 hours
then proceed to engage in aerobic activity (HR at least 75% of max HR) 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.