I’m reading a really good book. It’s entitled What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell. If you know Gladwell at all, you probably know him from his other books The Tipping Point, Blink or Outliers.
What you may not know is that he has been a staff writer for New Yorker magazine since 1996, and What the Dog Saw is a collection of his essays from that publication.
One of the essays is about ketchup. Now, how can anyone write an entire essay about ketchup? Easy. Ketchup, specifically Heinz Ketchup, may be the best tasting food on the planet. It isn’t about preference. It is about physiology.
I’m not going to rewrite Gladwell’s essay here. But it is extremely interesting. It tells that at the turn of the 20th century, there were many, many types of ketchup. And, as crazy as this sounds, there were two different camps competing for the palate of an American public that had no idea how much it was missing something it didn’t even have. The ketchup establishment (as Gladwell puts it) made its ketchup with loads of benzoate, a preservative that, well, preserved the ketchup and most everything that the ketchup went into. Then, there were (Gladwell’s words again) a renegade band of ketchup manufacturers who thought that the preservation problem could be solved by culinary science. And the leader of the renegade band was Henry J. Heinz.
Heinz developed a formula for ketchup that does something so simple yet, is so difficult to achieve that virtually no other food has. It appeals to every sense of taste that humans possess – salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami – all at the same time. (Umami is obviously the least known, but is our ability to taste proteins like those found in aged cheese, soy sauce and chicken broth.)
It is why Heinz Ketchup is the undisputed leader in ketchup. There’s Hunt’s and Del Monte and hundreds of store brands. But, really. Do you like any brand of ketchup better than Heinz?
While I’m reading the book I get a shipment of green coffee from my supplier, Sweet Maria’s. I love these guys. Not only do they have an excellent offering of green coffee beans from around the world, but they also provide lots of information on coffee as a crop, a food, a commodity and just something to enjoy.
Inside the shipment was an article on the difference between drinking and tasting coffee. I am too often a coffee drinker. I like coffee best when it is hot, and so I am apt to get it in my mouth and down the tube as quickly as possible. When I do that, I skip over the areas of my tongue where I taste certain flavors. The tip of the tongue is where we taste sweet and salty. The sides of the tongue are where we catch the sour. And the back of the tongue is where we find the bitter and umami in our food.
So I’m trying to become a coffee taster – allowing it (at various temperatures) to flow along all of my taste buds in an effort to get the complete flavor of my coffee.
Between tablespoons full of Heinz Ketchup, of course.