Food stuff 

LEARN TO TASTE

Remember the high school science experiment where you blindfold your classmates, pinch their noses shut and offer them an apple and an onion to munch? Most people, if they can’t see it or smell it, can’t taste the difference.

The perception of taste depends on a lot more than the taste buds, says registered dietician Catharine Powers. Recently in Detroit to promote a new line of juices from Ocean Spray, Powers conducts a similar experiment using gourmet jellybeans.

I picked blue. It tasted sweet, it tasted gummy, but I couldn’t detect the blueberry flavor until I let go of my nose.

"People think taste is happening on the tongue," Powers says. "You can taste the sweetness on the tongue, but flavor is really a much broader experience."

In our fast food society, we gulp our food and wash it down with sticky sweet pop. "It goes from the lips to the stomach without people even tasting it!" Powers notes.

Learning to taste is a process that can be developed by following simple steps. To begin with, slow down and enjoy your food. Chew to unleash the volatile compounds in the food that release smells. Select food that is flavorful. Go for local produce. Use herbs and spices. Then cook it right.

Powers taught nutrition at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., for 15 years. Young chefs, she says, are like a lot of Americans who have grown up on fast food. At the Culinary Institute, they are taught the importance of visual presentation, texture, smell and taste.

Teaching nutrition to chefs in the early ’80s was a challenge. Many thought it was either taste or nutrition. Even today, many restaurants use more fats than the prudent cook would use at home. "It’s a shortcut," Powers says.

Today’s portion size ranks among the victories for good nutrition in restaurants, Powers points out. Meat servings used to be 8 to 12 ounces; now they are usually 5 or 6 ounces. Restaurants are also using a greater variety of fruits, vegetables and grains.

In addition to jelly beans, Powers brought along one of Ocean Spray’s new products, a blend of apple, grape and cranberry juices. Other flavors mix cranberries with raspberries, key limes, Granny Smith apples, Georgia peaches and Concord grapes. The juice I sampled was tart, but it had a refreshing quality missing from the sugar-enhanced cranberry cocktails and juice drinks (which usually have only around 25 percent real juice).

The leftovers sat in our refrigerator (this never happens with chocolate) until I solicited family opinion.

"Good," said my 12-year-old, pouring a second helping.–Elissa Karg

TREATS

Gourmet cuisine abounds at Tribute (31425 W. 12 Mile, Farmington Hills) this Monday, Oct. 4, at a benefit dinner for the pro-American food James Beard Foundation. Four of the top chefs in America will whip up dishes for the event. Call 248-848-9393 ext. 104 to make reservations – cost is $185 per person. … Meet Tribute’s renowned chef, Takashi Yagihashi, at Borders Books and Music, 34300 Woodward, Birmingham, where he will give a cooking demonstration from 5-7 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 3.

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