Looking at the weather forecasts on the BBC, for the Brits, it's the season to be miserable:Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or winter depression, affects almost 1 in 10 Britons. Fortunately for those who contract "SAD", there is an antidote in endorphin-releasing ingredients, and chefs and mixologists in the downcast corridors of Europe or the islands to the northwest, find salvation in putting smiles back onto their menus.
We're often taxed in these columns by some of our readers on the intellectual side, so we're going to turn this into a mini quiz. Nobody out there doesn't know the four tastes: sweet, sour, salty and bitter, but now there's a new one. We're not sure of its origins, but "umami" sounds very much like a piece from the unwritten pages of the Zulu oral dictionary. Chefs will tell you, it's the reason we sometimes crave grilled meats, noodles and sushi - because they're high in umami, the endorphin releasing agent. Foods that are lathered in umami provide the "tastiness" factor which makes us salivate and comforts us when we eat them.
The endorphin release makes them compelling, which explains the often-heard maxim "I need my sushi fix". Miso paste, soy sauce and seaweed (note the Japanese connection) are also rich in this little jewel of the culinary world, while it's also found in non-Japanese foods like parmesan cheese, fish sauce, very ripe tomatoes and ceps. Though chilli releases other things which, depending on your tolerance levels, makes it either memorable or forgettable, umami is addictive nonetheless, even in things like burgers. And if chili is not for you, try a rich Jackie Cameron chocolate brownie, and you can feel the happiness engulfing you pretty much as soon as you take your first bite.
Of course, umami is not restricted to food. A famous pick-me-up is the invigorating sweet potato daiquiri, which contains grated ginger stem and Thai red chilli. It's rich and sweet, while the low-GI influences of the potato and coconut milk quells the hunger for sugar cravings. What about an energising vodka, beetroot and goija berry cocktail, earthy and smooth? Or a rum and chocolate and freshly-squeezed carrot juice cocktail? Sip it, and you'll taste the chocolate instantly, followed by the vanilla spices and carrot. It not only warms, it's a passionate drink.
As we pen this note, it's the 17th April and its 31 degrees in Mooi River. Why should we be worried about the Brits or the Europeans anyway, who could just as easily be here at Hartford in the most blissful climate in the world? Because we care.
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