The flavors that we savor

My brother-in-law and I both said all the things you’re supposed to say when you’re about to eat a meal that someone has taken the time and trouble to prepare. We said that everything looked wonderful and that everything smelled delicious and that the variety and color of the fare were much better than we deserved. Then we both reached for the hot sauce at the same time. I poured it over the roasted pork on my plate, and over the potatoes and over my salad as did he. Sue looked at us both and said, “Why do I bother to cook?”

We both said that we would rather put hot sauce on her food than anyone else’s, but it seems the compliment was lost on her. She picked up her plate and went to eat in another room by herself.

I don’t want to take on the food sciences, but it seems they have been extremely slow in climbing onto the hot sauce bandwagon. They keep saying there are only five real flavors: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and a new one, umami, which is the thing that makes meat and cheese taste, well, so scrumptious. All this ignores the sixth and much more popular flavor: hot sauce. Its exact flavor profile may be shrouded in mystery, but spicy hot is a basic flavor group made up of horseradish, curry and wasabi and a slew of other spices that that make bad food tolerable and good food great.

A seventh basic flavor has to be fried. Try to think of a food that can’t be improved by simply frying it. Blueberries and milk are all I’m coming up, with and the blueberries might work. They are also about the only two things I wouldn’t want smothered in hot sauce. If you think about it, this idea that there are only five kinds of taste buds on your tongue has a lot of holes in it. Eighth flavor: fish! How does fish fit into the sweet, sour, bitter, salt, umami theory? How about fried fish? Or fried fish with hot sauce?

I can hear the scientists now: “You’re forgetting that 90 percent of flavor is smell. If we held your nose and blindfolded you, all you could taste is sweet, sour, etc. You couldn’t tell the difference between an onion and an apple, between pig’s feet and head cheese, between Limburger and Stilton!”

Which is one very good reason why you should never let a scientist blindfold you and put a clamp on your nose. There’s no telling what disgusting stuff they might make you eat – veal kidneys, fried grasshoppers, fish heads. Still, even a scientist could taste hot sauce, even if we blindfolded him, battened down his snoot and made him drink a glass or two.

Which brings us back to Sue’s pork. If you held your nose while you ate it, she would certainly say, “Why do I bother to cook?” and take her plate into another room and eat in peace. So we apologized and choked down some pork without hot sauce and said she was right, what were we thinking?

And what were we thinking? We should have distracted her before using the hot sauce.

“Did you hear someone upstairs?”

“It sounded like someone banging on the back door, to me.”

She would turn around just long enough for us to make sure our dinners had all six basic flavors.

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at

Copyright 2010, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.

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