Do you remember those dining experiences, either at home, a relative or friend’s table or in your favorite restaurant where you left the meal feeling delectably satisfied? This is a pic from our 35th anniversary dinner this year. We were both satisfied (with the fabulous meal) and happy (I absolutely love this man)!
And that perfect meal was not a sissy meal of a sprig of boiled broccoli, sliver of tasteless chicken breast and teaspoon of cheesy noodles or just the opposite, a “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing” meal, leaving you totally stuffed and uncomfortable, but at the same time, not satiated!
No, I’m talking about a meal where each mouthful was a flavor “experience” that left you with those pleasant dreams of gastronomic adventures to come. And I’ll bet all of those flavors you imbibed at that “perfect” meal were predominantly from authentic roots!
I’m going to make the case for you that we innately know what foods are good for us. Foods that are truly flavorful and delicious also happen to be nutritious AND satisfying. However, two things have happened to our food supply in the last century that has confounded our built in food instincts:
1) The yield on a great portion of our food supply has gone up exponentially making food more affordable. However, the price for that increase in yield was a dilution of flavor and nutrition.
2) Artificial flavors have taken over to make up for that dilution.
AND with the marrying of these two factors, worldwide obesity and chronic disease has skyrocketed!
Now don’t worry, it’s not all doom and gloom (unlike the political landscape right now), there is a happy ending to this story, we just need a little flavor knowledge…..
So first, what do I mean by the word flavor? Flavor, borrowing the definition from The Flavor Bible is a compendium of factors namely:
Taste– the sensations of sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami (or meaty richness) that are perceived by our taste buds.
Aroma-the odor seized by our nose and thought to be responsible for as much as 80% of the flavor factor.
Mouthfeel-the amalgamation of food’s qualities, namely: smell, texture, temperature and taste and the impression these attributes leave in our mouths.
“The X Factor”-the power food has to affect our entire being through first visual presentation but then followed closely by our emotional, mental and spiritual selves.
So that “perfect” meal I talked about with those authentic flavors should look something like this meal, recently prepared by culinary students studying at Indian Hills Community College, to raise funds for our non-profit corporation MACA (Midwest Amabassadors for the Culinary Arts) to support culinary education:
Each dish had a main star, i.e. scallops, quail and chocolate. Please note that the primary players were not overshadowed with too many secondary ingredients/flavorings (and of course, no artificial ingredients), no, they just enhanced them!
Let’s contrast those authentic real flavor dishes with a decided contrast of artificial flavors, all meant to, in this case, make a tasteless corn chip triangle come to life, giving the illusion of “nacho cheese” flavor. I give you the ingredients of the NACHO CHEESE DORITO:
1. Tasteless Foods Marries Artificial Flavors– The Dorito Effect written by Mark Schatzker unlocks a great deal of the mystique of how artificial flavors have gained such a lock on the American diet AND how they have actually confused our palates.
It all started when Archibald West, executive at Frito Lay, in 1962 happened upon a small Mexican restaurant that served corn tortillas while taking a family vacation. The “crunch” is what hooked Arch on these chips. At first, he was the mastermind behind selling those crunchy yet bland chips, called the “Dorito” on a mass-marketing level for Frito-Lay, but that particular marketing plan failed. Arch knew he was onto something though. He could change the Dorito’s persona into something else, for one of his good friends was a mogul at Lawry’s seasoning. His next sentence was the monumental game changer: “Make Doritos taste like a taco…..”. And it did (with a heaping amount of help from artificial flavors)! And the Dorito, as we know it today was born!
I say monumental game changer because Doritos came out at the perfect time. Our food supply over the last century had increased exponentially because of major advances in yield, both from a farming and genetic standpoint, but flavor (and yes, nutrition) were the “dilution effect” victims, reduced to only their “bland” former flavor selves! As an example, poultry geneticists A/K/A professional chicken breeders have dramatically improved chicken growth over the last 50+ years: the broiler of today weighs 1.5 pounds more, looks plumper, gets to that growth spurt with 1/3 less feed AND GROWS IN ½ THE TIME than the broiler of the 1950s! Yet the taste has definitely suffered, but I’ll let Julia Child do the talking on this subject:
“The American poultry industry had made it possible to grow a fine-looking fryer in record time and sell it at a reasonable price, but no one mentioned that the result usually tasted like the stuffing inside of a teddy bear.”
Yet at the same time, the artificial flavor industry was taking off! Gas chromatography, developed in the 1950s can actually separate the multitude of compounds in each flavor and then bring them together for imitation.
This was a game changer for McCormick in developing their imitation vanilla, or “vanillan”. McCormick had to develop an imitation vanilla because their natural source, emanating from Madagascar was at war and the vanilla beans were on the chopping block. Flavorists, or expert sniffers, were trying to match the exact flavor notes of vanilla with words like “woody”, or “pruny” but it was missing something. The gas chromatograph identified the missing suspect as “resinous” and Imitation Vanilla was born at McCormicks! Which also marked the genesis of ALL aroma artificial flavors! On the non-aroma, umami side, or the meaty earthiness portion of flavor, artificial umami boosters like autolyzed yeast, torula yeast and disodium inosinate were created to keep you coming back (like it or not) for those savory treats!
2.Blandness and Lack of Nutrition Go Hand in Hand- So you might say now, “I get that our food supply might be a little blander than it was at the turn of the century, but the drab-tasting food price we paid was a higher yield to not only feed more people but make it more affordable! That’s is really a small price to pay!”
And I say, “Not so fast Sherlock!” When we eat these cheaper protein (animal/fish) grain-fed sources, we are setting ourselves up for the pro-inflammatory consequences of chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s. Grain-fed protein sources in general, i.e. pigs, cows, chickens and even fish have an imbalance of the essential fatty acids of Omega 6 to Omega 3. Omega 6 sources of fat (also the pro-inflammatory fat) are your corn, soybean and safflower oil. Omega 3 sources of fat (this is the inflammation quenching fat) are walnuts, flaxseed oil, canola oil and the star, cold-water fish (salmon, tuna and sardine sources). Now understand that 100 years ago, when grain-feeding was not in vogue, animals/fish consumed their natural food sources of grass/algae and the balance was a healthy 1:1 or maybe even 2:1. Now, however, the balance of Omega 6 to Omega 3s is more like a pro-inflammatory 20 to 1! Not only that, the total fat content (remember, it’s not the good kind of fat) is much higher in these grain fed animals/fish. Case in point: In 1870 a 3.5 oz. of chicken contained a little less than 4 grams of fat but the 2004 version for the same amount of ounces, has packed on 20 grams of fat! For a more in depth discussion regarding nutritional benefits see The Grass-fed vs. Grain-fed Beef Debate: You are what you eat, eats! and A Healthy Acronym, “CYH with EPA/DHA“.
In addition, palatant is incorporated in the feed of livestock to nudge the growth factor (poundage) even more for the farmer. Palatants are artificial flavor enhancements (sweeteners and aromas) produced by flavor factories with flavors like butterscotch and caramel, increasing yield by anywhere from 5% for calves to 30% for lambs! So now we also have a load of sugar in our animal protein source that we don’t need!
On the produce side, again, yield rules the day! Tomato plants 100 years ago were twelve feet tall with a yield of 5 ripe tomatoes, however now that tomato plant tops six feet tall with ten ripe tomatoes! Now our modern day produce in general looks and feels like it did in days gone by, but instead of nutrition (and yes flavor), additional water and carbohydrate are the fillers, better known as the “dilution effect”. Dr. Donald Davis, biochemist at the Biochemical Institute, University of Texas set out to compare the nutritional value of 39 vegetables and fruit in 1950 compared to 1999. Here is what he found:
“Of 13 major nutrients in fruits and vegetables tracked by the Agriculture Department from 1950 to 1999, six showed noticeable declines — protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin and vitamin C. The declines ranged from 6 percent for protein, 15 percent for iron, 20 percent for vitamin C, and 38 percent for riboflavin.”
3. Proof That Man Does Have Nutritional Sense- So now the question is, do we as humans have an innate sense of what good nutrition really is? The answer is a resounding yes, based on Dr. Clara Davis’s 1939 study of toddlers put in charge of feeding themselves. This was a ground-breaking study of 15 babies and toddlers of unmarried mothers and widows that agreed to have their children in an eating/orphanage experiment. These children ate, by free-will, from a choice of 34 nutritionally diverse foods, i.e. bone jelly, bananas, milk, grains, chicken. The astonishing results showed that the babies chose the most nutritious choices to eat, not the sweetest. They ate according to their activity and physical needs: more protein during growth spurts and carbs and fat during peak activity. One baby had a Vitamin D deficiency and even ate cod liver oil by choice! These kids had absolutely no clue what the food pyramid was, yet they were thriving!!!
Dr. Weston Price, a dentist that was the author of the book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration was decades before his time when he visited 13 isolated “primitive racial stocks” in the early 1900s to observe their diets and the health associated with those diets. All of the groups consumed foods that were indigenous to their surroundings, i.e. African tribes ate the meat, milk and blood of milked animals and the Yukon Territory Indians ate only wild animals they could hunt for there was no fruits and vegetables in an area that reach 70 degrees below zero during the bitter winters. These same Indians instinctively knew to eat the adrenal glands of their prey, which was a rich source of Vitamin C, thus scurvy was unheard of for them. All thirteen of these groups were absolutely thriving physically and mentally with the diet (although sometimes very limited) indigenous to their surroundings. Another case for man instinctively knowing what is good for him!
And as further proof for the nutritious = delicious theory: Horticulturalists Drs. Steve Goff and Harry Klee in their 2006 Science Journal paper , discovered 20 important flavor compounds in tomatoes are produced from important nutrients like essential amino acids and Omega 3s!
4. Artificial Flavors and the Deadly Trifecta- So what if we changed our thinking that our current worldwide obesity and chronic disease crisis is not because we have lost our nutritional compass and simply succumb to our newly formulated artificial flavors, coupled with the deadly trifecta of just the right amounts of : fats, salt and sugar. These foods being labeled hyperpalatable by Dr. David Kessler in his book The End of Overeating. See Curtail Your Cravings! for a more in-depth discussion on this addictive trifecta, with tips to manage those food addictions.
No, our relationship to food has not changed. We still crave every aspect of flavor I mentioned, that is: taste, aroma, mouthfeel and the “x factor” or body, mind and soul. But, as Mark Schatzker points out in The Dorito Effect, “flavor’s relationship to food has changed.”
The best way I can help you visualize this problem is this: I’m sure you’ve all gone out to a restaurant that has the server walk around with the dessert du jour at the end of the meal. Sometimes those desserts are made of plastic for exhibit purposes. Now the dessert looks delicious, it might even smell delicious, but really, it’s just a hollow replication of the real thing and it wouldn’t satisfy you on any level. The same is happening to our cravings for food that fail to satisfy us. We might be momentarily placated by eating a bag of Doritos, or bathing our tasteless tomatoes in ranch dressing, but deep down it really can’t gratify us nutritionally, also known as the “x factor” of body, mind and soul! We (worldwide) have succumbed to the human form of palatant and we just keep chasing the taste!!!!
5. Time to Get Flavor/Nutrition Back To Our Foods!- I told you all is not lost though, we can make a happy ending out of this conundrum by following some of my simple suggestions:
a. Get rid of those fake flavors!- You all know the usual fake ingredient suspects like artificial flavors in your energy drinks, boxed mac & cheese, crinkly package suspects and artificial coffee creamers (not to mention the unhealthy sugar, salt and fats) Those are no brainers to avoid.
However, one of the tougher fake flavor products to avoid is salad dressing.
We all (which also used to include me) think a good salad dressing you and your family love is going to take too much work to prepare. Take for instance this bottle of Western salad dressing. It does have healthy ingredients in it but the majority of ingredients are not so friendly, i.e. high fructose corn syrup, soybean oil, color added, propylene glycol alginate:
Compare that to this homemade version of sweet dressing:
The only ingredients in it are a clove of garlic, extra virgin olive oil, stone ground Dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar and maple syrup! All healthy ingredients (maple syrup actually has one of the lowest glycemic indexes for a sugar) and it absolutely tastes great! PLUS, I whipped this together in just a couple of minutes!!!
b. Buy Pasture Raised Animal Protein- Make an effort to buy pasture-raised animal protein. I know it’s a little more pricey but nutritionally (and deliciously) it’s definitely worth it. I will encourage you first to perform a taste test of pasture-raised vs. factory-raised meat. Below is a little taste test I performed the other night. You can see the different price point of cage-free vs. factory raised.
Randy and I tried each bird:
I will be honest, in this test, even though the cage-free bird had a cleaner taste and noticeably less fat, I probably will not buy this brand of cage-free bird again. Randy and I agreed, it’s not a noticeable improvement in taste for the price difference. I will continue to look for a chicken source that is cage-free and worth the price.
However, when I conducted a taste test of grain-fed vs. grass-fed beef I did see a huge improvement of taste of grass over grain fed. Our source (our local grass-fed beef producer) was definitely worth the price difference! To see this test, just check out: The Grass-fed vs. Grain-fed Beef Debate: You are what you eat, eats!
c. “What’s For Dinner” Needs Authentic Flavor Boosts– Below is a picture of what I consider just a microcosm of the natural flavor boosters you can use to make that dinner of yours sing!:
Please note, as I mentioned in the beginning, these flavor boosters should strictly enhance the main star of the dish, not take over! But the really beautiful part of all of these flavor booster suggestions is that not only do they intensify the flavor of the main ingredient, they are also nutritionally an A+ rating!!!
1) Herbs & Spices- These are the dynamic duo of both flavor enhancement and antioxidants!
a. Herbs-Fresh or dried, both are amazing! One of my favorites is Herbs De Provence. It’s a French spice that is a mixture of oregano, thyme, marjoram, rosemary and lavender. It’s terrific on meat for that first sear of flavor:
This is a Herbs de Provence seared Pork Loin with Red Pan Gravy, served over Farrotto (or Farro prepared like risotto):
a. Spices– Get to know your spice combinations for different ethnicities, like this spice combo for Indian dishes:
I’ve used all four of these spices in my ROASTED CARROTS WITH AN INDIAN SPICE TWIST dish listed below. I pledge to you, it’s absolutely delicious!!:
2) Umami is Where It’s At- I’ve talked to you about the fake umami ingredients to avoid. However, these two natural umami flavor enhancers, fish sauce and anchovy paste, are stars:
If you don’t have either of these two stars in your cupboard, RUN TO THE STORE AND GET THEM! Both heavyweights are anchovy based. Obviously the anchovy paste is but the fish sauce is actually the liquid drained from fermenting the anchovies!
Below are two umami inspired dishes:
The dish on the left contains the fish sauce and the dish on the right contains the anchovy paste. What is so cool about both dishes is that these products strictly enhance the dishes with umami (A/K/A meaty unctuousness), they don’t overpower them! For the recipes see Discover the Goodness of Ancient Grains: Quinoa and Pulling the Weeds From the Garden of Your Life.
3) Take a Clue from the French- We can learn a lot from the French in just our day to day cooking! These two basics cooking ideas from the French are my favorite flavor enhancers:
a.) Mirepoix– This aromatic vegetable mixture is the basis of the majority of the leading sauces created by fine dining restaurants:
It’s a mixture of onion, carrots and celery (usually in the ratio of 50% onion, 25% celery and 25% carrots) but I really can’t even describe the immense depth of flavor it lends a sauce, you really need to try it yourself!
I MUST digress a little here and talk about the family that onions belong in, the Allium Family, which consists of onions, garlic, leeks, green onions and chives. Just to drive home the importance of this food family as supporting flavors for the majority of most of our meals (and it really should be your meals too): What the Kardshians are to social media, Allium Vegetables are to flavor boosters! They definitely fit into the groove of delicious equals nutritious! For recipe ideas please see SUPERFOOD RECIPES: Allium Vegetables.
Sorry for the interruption! I just get extremely excited about marrying delicious with nutritious foods!
I recently roasted a couple of chickens. You can see I placed the mirepoix on the bottom of the roasting pan:
After roasting the chickens, I removed them. I skimmed off the fat then deglazed the pan with chicken stock, with the mirepoix still in it and let the sauce reduce by 1/3. The next step is to strain the mirepoix from the sauce. Bring the strained sauce back to the burner and put the thickener of your choice in. This completed sauce will give you a sauce tasting experience that will knock your socks off! My husband calls it “Liquid Gold“!
b.) Court Bouillon This is an amazing flavorful poaching liquid for fish or vegetables you can easily put together in a flash:
Chicken broth, bay leaf, carrots, celery, parsley, garlic and onion are what I used but you can play around with it and use the ingredients of your choice. Just bring all of the ingredients to a boil and take it off the burner. Then put the de-thawed fish of your choice in the poaching liquid and put the lid on it for about 5 minutes. A delicate fleshed fish is best for this method, like cod. Below is a dish I used this method on (I used cod), it’s called Poached Cod in Court Bouillon with Red Pepper Coulis Served Over Herbed Quinoa:
You will love the delicately flavored fish taste and texture that emanates from this cooking method! You are just going to have to try it yourself to see what I mean! For the recipe see Making a Memorable Meal on a Typical Wednesday Night.
And honestly, what is so absolutely cool about cooking is that you will continue to learn, until your dying day, all the infinitesimal authentic flavor enhancement options to make your dishes sing deliciously and nutritiously!
Recap of : MAN INATELY KNOWS THAT DELICIOUS equals NUTRITIOUS!
1. Tasteless Foods Marries Artificial Flavors.
2. Blandness and Lack of Nutrition Go Hand in Hand.
3. Proof That Man Does Have Nutritional Sense.
4. Artificial Flavors and the Deadly Trifecta.
5. Time to Get Flavor/Nutrition Back To Our Foods!
a. Get rid of those fake flavors!
b. Buy Pasture Raised Animal Protein.
c. “What’s For Dinner” Needs Authentic Flavor Boosts.
Recipe time!!! The entire dish I describe below is a shining example of what I mean by natural flavor enhancements! From the three types of mustard (ground mustard, mustard seeds and Dijon stone ground mustard) the salmon is seared with to the four Indian spices (coriander, cumin, chili powder and turmeric) added to the roasted carrots. You won’t be able to deny this dish’s mega delicious (and nutritious) qualities! Please enjoy!!!
TRIPLE-MUSTARD SALMON OVER RED QUINOA
ROASTED CARROTS WITH AN
INDIAN SPICE TWIST
3 T. Toasted wheat germ
1 T. yellow mustard seeds, crushed
4- 6 oz. skinless salmon fillets
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 1/2 T. Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1 T. virgin olive oil
1/2 cup low-fat sour cream
2 T. Chopped cilantro
1/2 tsp. lime juice
- In a shallow dish, combine the wheat germ and mustard seeds. Season the salmon fillets with salt and pepper. In a bowl, blend the dijon mustard with the dry mustard and spread it over the skinned side of the fillets. Dip the mustard side of the fillets in the wheat germ mixture until thickly coated.
- In a nonstick skillet, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the fillets, crust side down, and cook over moderately high heat until browned and crisp, 3 minutes. Turn the fillets and cook over moderate heat until barely cooked in the center, 3 minutes longer. Transfer the salmon to plates and serve crust side up.
- Garnish-Mix sour cream with cilantro and lime juice. Ladle one dollop on each serving.
*Adapted from “Food & Wine Annual 2012”
ROASTED CARROTS WITH AN
INDIAN SPICE TWIST
*2 T Virgin Olive Oil
1 T Fresh Thyme (or 1 tsp. dried thyme)
½ tsp. cumin seeds
½ tsp. coriander seeds
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T butter (preferably grass-fed)
½ tsp. turmeric
½ tsp. chili powder
Salt & Pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
- Set roasting pan in the oven (empty) for 2-3 minutes.
- Cut each carrot into 2 inch pieces then cut lengthwise into each piece two times. Each piece should yield 4 carrot cuts.
- Put all pieces in a bowl and add olive oil and thyme. Mix.
- Put carrots in the oven for 20-25 minutes until they have a slight char. Turn them over every 10 minutes.
- Toast the cumin and coriander seeds in a dry sauté pan on the stovetop until the seeds are fragrant. Crush seeds with a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder.
- Melt butter, add extra virgin olive oil then add crushed spices along with turmeric and chili powder and put in the bottom of a large mixing bowl.
- Add roasted carrots to spiced mixing bowl.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
*Do not use extra virgin olive oil for this part of the recipe, the high roasting heat will cause it to smoke, thus cutting down on the health benefits of this dish.
**Recipe adapted from New York Times.