Have you ever had soil soup? If not, you might assume you won’t like it. But according to a rise in chefs using dirt as a culinary tool, maybe you should think again.
Chef Yoshihiro Narisawa recently created a soup made from the distilled soil of his hometown, trying to prove a point to his restaurant patrons that those who live in urban areas have a responsibility and connection to the earth in which they dwell. The soup wasn’t meant to taste good, but when the chef actually tried it, he was surprised to find out that he liked it.
According to Narisawa, soil appeals to the palate with a burst of flavor from umami, the proteins within the dirt’s microorganisms. Other chefs have been experimenting with the substance as well, such as chef Joan Roca of Spain, who created a dish using distilled soil he then turns into umami filled foam.
Umami is a Japanese word meaning “pleasant savory taste,” but in recent years its been redefined as a scientific term used when describing the taste of glutamates and nucleotides. Many describe the taste as meaty or brothy, leaving a mouthwatering coating over the tongue. This interesting sensation is due to a relationship between molecules in the umami, and special receptor cells on the human tongue.
Up until recently, the tongue was mapped out as having just four basic areas of taste: sweet, salty, sour and bitter. But umami has recently been recognized as the fifth, with scientists admitting their might be even more sections than the previously accepted quadrants of the tongue.
And it’s really not that strange when you start to think about it. People have been eating dirt for thousands of years, not to mention the cravings pregnant women get for dirt, clay and chalk. In fact, there is even documentation of Hippocrates referencing the consumption of soil more than 2,000 years ago.
Studies have considered the idea that dirt can protect the stomach by acting as a shield against bacteria. In addition, dirt consumption most often happens in tropical areas where food borne illness and microbes are most prevalent. People seem to eat dirt most often when they are experiencing stomach problems. Dirt is sort of being compared to your common antacid!
“Clay can either bind to harmful things, like microbes, pathogens and viruses, that we are eating or can make a barrier, like a mud mask for our gut,” says researcher Sera Young from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.
And not only is it possible that clay and dirt might help guard against unwanted bacteria, it can actually aid in the absorption of other, good nutrients that are entering the body.
So where else can you find umami? Look for it in fish sauce, Parmesan cheese, and even tomatoes. According to many chefs, understanding how to cook with glutamate rich foods will positively change the way you use your senses, adding that extra something to your palette.
Photo credit: Image: Sujin Jetkasettakorn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net