September Musings

September is the cantilevered bridge straddling the seasons, with one side wistfully hanging on to summer and the other side tilting toward fall. September quickens the pulses and kick-starts us out of the languid laziness of late summer inertia. Even though it is the last month that our deciduous trees are leafy green, it teases us with provocative glimpses of the foliage riot to come. Crisp is the word of the month: crisp, cool mornings; crisp, juicy apples and crisp, tight spirals into the end zone (thanks, Tom B).

Whether it is back to school, back to business or back to reality, September also means back to the kitchen. The fast-food indiscretions of summer are behind us and it’s cool enough to stoke up the stove and get cooking again. Try some Teeny Tiny organic spice combinations along with some umami foods to jazz up the autumn offerings.

Yummy Umami

Just as there are primary colors from which all other colors are derived, there are “primary tastes” that make up the flavors found in food. Up until about thirty years ago, these tastes were generally classified as sweet, sour, salty and bitter. A fifth taste was finally recognized in 1985 and given the Japanese term umami which translates as “pleasant savory taste”. The taste of umami is based on the presence of the amino acid glutamate (the salt of glutamic acid) and certain ribonucleotides such as inosinate and guanylate. Umami is a subtle taste that potentiates other flavors, improving the overall taste of a food. Whereas MSG is an isolated and concentrated form of glutamate, many foods naturally contain glutamate which is an important factor in their flavor complex.

The concept of umami goes back to at least 1908 when Dr. Kikunae Ikeda, a chemistry professor at the Imperial University of Tokyo, was studying the flavor profile of kombu, a seaweed staple in Japanese cooking. Dashi broth made from kombu had a particular taste that could not be described by any combination of the original four tastes. Dr. Ikeda discovered that glutamate was responsible for this distinct taste and coined the term “umami” to identify it. Umami is also present in foods containing the nucleotides inosinate (primarily in fish, seafood and meat) and guanylate (in mushrooms and certain vegetables). These nucletides can work synergistically with glutamate to create unique umami flavors.

Umami foods rich in glutamate include seaweed, soy sauce, miso, wine, cheese, worcestershire sauce, tempeh, walnuts, mushrooms, green tea and tomatoes. Human breast milk also contains significant amounts of glutamate (10x the amount in cow’s milk) which, along with lactose, may be important in enticing a baby to drink more.

The View from the Tree House

The 2013-2014 Massachusetts legislative session ended on July 31 without a vote on the GMO labeling bill. Despite the fact that over 70% of our legislators (146 of 200) supported the bill, it didn’t have enough momentum to come up for a vote. This is an election year and we would encourage you to vote for state senators and representatives that support this bill. The MA Right to Know GMO’s is a good website to keep track of the proceedings and which candidates support the bill. It is important that we pass a strong bill and lend support to Vermont‘s effort to take on Monsanto and their ilk.  A tag-team of Massachusetts and Vermont could prove to be a tipping point in getting other states to join in allegiance against this and other corporate monstrosities. Let’s hope that 2015 is the year that the anti-GMO juggernaut gets rolling into high gear!