Willi Explains Umami

Garden writer Willi Galloway stayed recently at the Buffalo. In town to give a talk in the Master Gardener winter series, Willi is a treasure trove of information about growing and cooking vegetables (and she shares at her lively website DigginFood.com). I like to think about the cohort she represents: young city couples who dig up their lawns to plant edibles, and come home from work to keep bees and tend the land.

When gardening information threatens overload, as it can in a lecture, it’s good when some one thing – or two – sticks in my mind. Willi provided many gems, starting with her “how to decide what to plant” guidelines: “choose a genetically good vegetable, build healthy soil, optimize photosynthesis, and employ consistent watering” – solid resolutions for the new season.

In spite of my love of them, I don’t grow many vegetables – and none, like tomatoes, that need hot weather and sun. So when Willi revealed that left-behind potatoes in the garden bed might be the source of late blight in tomatoes, it wasn’t so important for me. But friend wrote to me after the talk: “We used to rejoice in volunteer potatoes – but no more.”

Willi is writing a book about growing and harvesting vegetables for optimum taste and nutrition in cooking. In her research she discovered much about how those attributes are linked – freshness being key to both. Science now seems to support what makes common sense.

A couple of posts ago, I puzzled over the way to describe the taste of salsify (oh that again). Willi describes how we perceive flavor by combining three factors: taste, texture, and aroma. She listed five primary taste sensations: salty, sour, bitter, sweet, and umami. Umami? Willi calls that a “meaty, mushroom-y, delicious taste.” Ah ha – that’s salsify.

2 thoughts on “Willi Explains Umami

  1. Pingback: “Grow, Cook, Eat” « her spirits rose…

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