September Food Word Origins: macadamia nut, Monte Cristo sandwich, cherries jubilee

Cherries Jubilee
Cooking up some cherries jubilee.

It’s the end of the month so you know what that means: a roundup of the most interesting origins of foods celebrated in September. Last month we kicked things off with s’mores, sponge-cake, and chop suey. This time we have five more delicious food words and where they (might) come from.

macadamia nut

“Perhaps the best of these [recent introductions to Hawaii] is the Macadamia Nut, sometimes called the Queensland Nut from its native habitat.”

Mary Dillingham Frear, Our Familiar Island Trees, 1929

The delicious macadamia nut (celebrated each September 4) was named after Scottish chemist and politician, John Macadam. At 28 he set sail from Glasgow to Australia, where he became friends with botanist Ferdinand von Mueller. Mueller was taxed with naming flora “discovered” by European settlers, and chose to name the nut-bearing tree after Macadam.

John Macadam shouldn’t be confused with John Loudon McAdam, the Scottish engineer who invented macadam, or Charles Macintosh, the Scottish chemist who created a method to make garments waterproof, such as his namesake, the mackintosh raincoat.

hot dog

“The ‘hot dog’ was quickly inserted in a gash in a roll, a dash of mustard also splashed on to the ‘dog’ with a piece of flat whittled stick, and the order was fulfilled.”

Paterson Daily Press, December 31, 1892

A hundred and third plus years ago, you’d be lauding sausages served hot every National Hot Dog Day on September 10. That’s what the term hot dog originally referred to (with the popular, yet hopefully untrue, belief that sausage contained dog), says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). It was also used as a mass noun. From a September 14, 1884 issue of the Evansville Daily Courier: “Even the innocent ‘wienerworst’ man will be barred from dispensing hot dog on the street corner.”

hot cross bun

“Good Friday comes this Month, the old woman runs With one or two a Penny hot cross Bunns.”

Poor Robin’s Almanack, 1733

Every September 11 honors the hot cross bun, which is  sweet and “marked on top with a cross of frosting, traditionally eaten during Lent.” The 1733 citation above is the earliest recorded, says the OED, and while “hot” is still always included in the name, it’s now usually served cold.

linguini

“When peas are used, rarely is the sauce poured over the linguine or fettuccelle.”

Garibaldi M. Lapolla, Good Food from Italy, 1954

Every September 15, you can fete this long, flat pasta, the name of which comes from the Italian lingua, meaning “tongue.” The earliest recorded usage in English of linguine is 1920, according to the OED. From a U.S. Patent Office publication: “Macaronic Foods, Including Bombolati, Linguini, Foratini, [etc.].” Italian immigrants had been coming to the U.S. since the 1890s, and while immigration tapered off around 1920, says the Library of Congress, by then more than four million Italians had settled in the U.S.

Monte Cristo sandwich

“The Monte Cristo sandwich has always served as a sort of Rosetta Stone in my explorations of this planet.”

Thadius Van Landingham III, “Count the Monte Cristos,” The Stranger, May 11, 2006

Like the eponymous count of Alexandre Dumas’s 19th-century novel, the origins of the Monte Cristo sandwich are shrouded in mystery. According to the Food Timeline, the battered and fried ham and cheese sandwich celebrated every September 17 is probably a variation of the croque monsieur, the term of which first appeared in English in 1915, says the OED. As for the Monte Cristo, Food Timeline says it was most likely “first served in southern California” and was “very popular in the 1950s-1970s.” However, what it has to do with a rich and enigmatic nobleman, your guess is as good as ours.

cherries jubilee

“Thursday, it was Beef Wellington and Cherries Jubilee, and enough Sevruga Caviar to make the QE2 one of the Russian’s largest single customers.”

Rebecca Leung, “Farewell to the Queen,” CBS News, January 23, 2004

Lauded every September 24, this decadent dessert is made up of cherries in a flaming brandy sauce served over vanilla ice cream. It was supposedly created for Queen Victoria’s jubilee celebration, says Food Timeline. However, what isn’t clear is if it was for her golden jubilee in 1887, celebrating the 50th anniversary of her accession to the throne, or her diamond jubilee in 1897, the 60th anniversary.

A jubilee can refer to a specially celebrated anniversary, a season of celebration, or rejoicing itself. The Online Etymology Dictionary says the word comes from the Old French jubileu, “jubilee; anniversary; rejoicing,” which ultimately comes from the Hebrew yobhel, meaning “jubilee” but formerly “a trumpet, ram’s horn,” or literally “ram.” The site goes on to say the original jubilee was a year of emancipation of Hebrew “slaves and restoration of lands, to be celebrated every 50th year,” and “was proclaimed by the sounding of a ram’s horn on the Day of Atonement.”

[Image: “Cherries Jubilee” by something.from.nancy, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

August Food Word Origins: s’mores, sponge-cake, and chop suey

800px-Sponge_cake_at_Top_Cantonese_Restaurant

Every month seems to be chock-full of food holidays. For instance, August has no fewer than five pie days. While it all might be a bit much, so many delicious special occasions still make us hungry, not just for treats but for words.

Here we take a look at the origins of some of the most interesting (and yummy) celebrated dishes of this past month.

s’mores

Heavenly crisp (Also known as S’mores)… Toast two marshmallows over the coals to a crisp, gooey state and then put them inside a graham cracker and chocolate bar sandwich.”

Snyder and C. F. Loomis, The Outdoor Book, 1934

Chances are you’re familiar with this deliciously gooey snack celebrated every August 10. But did you know it wasn’t always known by its contracted name? While the earliest s’mores appears in print is 1934, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), some-more predates it by 11 years. From a September 1925 issue of the newspaper, Norwalk Hour: “At the supper, two Camp Andree ‘dishes’—‘Kabobs’ and ‘Some-mores’—were introduced.”

creamsicle

“Pour into thin glass and insert an Orange Creamsicle. Serve soda spoon and straws on the side.”

Let’s Sell Ice Cream, 1939

Creamsicle, like popsicle, is still an official trademark name of the Unilever company although it might be used now to mean any similar frozen sweet. While a popsicle is basically frozen sugary fruit juice on a stick, a creamsicle has vanilla ice cream at its center with another layer of ice in a variety of flavors. Lauded each August 14, the earliest appearance of creamsicle in print was in 1932, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary.

sponge-cake

“You know how interesting the purchase of a sponge-cake is to me.”

Jane Austen, Selected Letters, June 1808

That’s right, the earliest known citation of the light and airy dessert is from none other than the Pride and Prejudice author, according to the OED. We’re guessing, however, Austen didn’t coin the term and that the baked good must have existed well before her mentioning it. You can celebrate the sponge cake every August 23.

waffle

“Everywhere, too, you get wafen; our wafles, and made and eaten in the same way.”

Aaron Burr, Private Journal, August 26, 1809

Yes, that Aaron Burr. While Burr’s usage is one of the earliest, the delightful-sounding compound waffle frolic predates it by 65 years: “For my own part I was not a little grieved that so luxurious a feast should come under the name of a wafel frolic.” The word waffle comes from the Dutch wafel.

chop suey

“A staple dish for the Chinese gourmand is chow chop svey [sic], a mixture of chickens’ livers and gizzards, fungi, bamboo buds, pigs’ tripe, and bean sprouts stewed with spices.”

Current Literature, October 1888

Legend says this dish of mixed meat and vegetables in a corn-starch-thickened sauce was invented on August 29, 1896 by a visiting Chinese statesmen. However, the above citation from the OED clearly debunks that. The Smithsonian chop suey most likely comes from Chinese immigrants who settled in the U.S. in the mid-1800s, “adapted to locally available foods and tame European-American tastebuds.” The word originates from the Cantonese shap sui, which translates roughly as “mixed bits.”

[Image: “Sponge cake at Top Cantonese Restaurant,” Roland Tanglao, CC BY 2.0]

8 Old-Timey Names for a Soft Drink

In coke, I trust

Depending on where you live in the United States, you might have a different name for a sweet, carbonated beverage. Live on the west coast or in the northeast? It’s soda. The midwest? That’s pop. Parts of the south? Coke (even if it’s Sprite).

But how about what Americans used to call fizzy sugar water? With our friends at the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), we bring you eight old-timey names for a soft drink.

soft beer

This old-fashioned name was used especially in Maine. A 1925 quote in DARE says that “even today in the remote northern part of Maine, carbonated beverages are referred to as ‘soft beer.’” According to the American Heritage Dictionary, small beer refers to weak or inferior beer, and, by extension, unimportant, trivial things. To think small beer of is to think lowly of someone or something, says the Oxford English Dictionary.

soda dope

This old-timey term might have been used especially in North Carolina. Also sodey dope, sody dope, or just dope, a southern colloquialism for a soft drink.

tonic

While some of us might equate tonic with tonic water, a quinine-flavored carbonated drink, in New England, it refers to a carbonated soft drink in general.

bottled drink

This vintage phrase was chiefly used in the South, especially North Carolina. Also bottle drink.

cold drink

If you happen to be in the Lower Mississippi Valley and someone offers you a cold drink, you can expect a non-alcoholic, carbonated, bottled beverage that won’t necessarily be cold, at least according to one quote in DARE.

drink

“I need a drink!” some of us might say when we crave a cocktail. But in the southern region, such a term refers to a booze-free, bubbly beverage.

soda water

To some of us soda water might refer to “a solution of water, sodium bicarbonate, and acid,” but to some, especially in Texas and the Lower Mississippi Valley, it refers to carbonated water that’s been sweetened and flavored.

belly wash

This saying originally referred to a drink, usually alcoholic, of poor quality, but in some regions of the U.S. it means any soft drink, usually carbonated. Usage is scattered throughout the country. The Journal of American Folklore cites a 1964 quote from a central Pennsylvania resident: “We had a plant in our town which bottled pop, and we boys would go to the ‘belly-wash factory.’”

What do you call a carbonated soft drink? Tell us in the comments!

The language of instant noodles

Chicken ramen

Top Ramen. Oodles of Noodles. Stroke in a bowl. Whatever you call instant noodles, you have one man to thank: Momofuku Ando, born on this day in 1910.

Originally from Taiwan, Ando moved to Osaka in his early 20s. After World War II, he witnessed the ravages of war, including food shortages. In response he embarked on a quest to invent noodles that were “tasty, inexpensive and easy to prepare.” In 1958, at the age of 48, he introduced Chicken Ramen, and 13 years later, Cup Noodles, inspired by Americans using Styrofoam cups as makeshift ramen bowls.

Since then the popularity of instant noodles has spread around the world, and with it, its different monikers. Today we slurp up the language of instant ramen.

Kappu men (Japan)

Let’s start where it all began. Instant noodles are often referred to by the genericized brand name, kappu men, what Americans know as Cup Noodles. Kappu is a “Japanification” of the word “cup” while men is the Japanese for “noodles.”

Pao mian (Taiwan)

Pao mian translates literally as “add hot water noodles.” (Pao Mian Ba, which means something like, “Let’s make instant noodles,” is known as the Codecademy of China.) Some Taiwan natives might also call instant noodles sun lih men. a brand introduced in the late 1960s.

Fang bian mian (China)

Those in the mainland turn to fang bian mian for a quick meal. The catchy rhyming phrase translates as “convenient noodles.” However, searching for fang bian mian on Weibo, a popular microblogging site, may turn up no results. The term was blocked back in 2014 because of its circuitous connection with Zhou Yongkang, a retired senior leader convicted for corruption.

Doll noodles (Hong Kong)

Hong Kongers in a rush might grab a bowl of gong je mein or doll noodles. Named for the little guy on the Nissin package, the term now refers to any brand.

Ramyeon (Korea)

Spicy ramyeon or ramyun comes from a brand name too, Shin Ramyun. Want to add some zing to your instant meal? Here are 13 ways of livening up a bowl of ramyeon.

Indomie (Indonesia)

Indomie is a brand that was introduced in Indonesia in the late 1960s, and has “become synonymous with instant noodles.” Warung indomie are small shops that sell cooked instant noodles, regardless of brand.

Maggi (Malaysia)

Maggi is a popular brand that’s become synonymous with instant noodles in general. They’re eaten at home and served in mamak food stalls. Maggi goreng is a kind of stir-fried dish that uses instant noodles. In 2015, Maggi noodles were banned in India for several months over health concerns.

Instant mami (Philippines)

Mami is a kind of noodle soup said to be invented by chef and entrepreneur Ma Mon Luk, who was born in China around 1896 and emigrated to the Philippines in 1918. Mami supposedly comes from a combination of the inventor’s name, Ma, and mi-ki, the Chinese word for egg noodles.

Mama (Thailand)

While Mama instant noodles aren’t the only brand in Thailand, they might be “the byword for for all types of instant noodles” in the country. Mama noodles are often used in other dishes such as phat mama, stir-fried instant noodles, and yum mama, noodle salad that uses instant noodles. Or you might make like Thai-American model Chrissy Teigen and add Mama instant noodles to your mother’s homemade tomyum broth.

Miojo (Brazil)

In Brazil, instant noodles might be called miojo, named for the brand that celebrated the 50th anniversary of its presence in the Brazilian market in 2014.

Maruchan (Mexico)

This brand is so popular in Mexico, one paper dubbed the country Maruchan Nation. Another name for instant noodles might be sopa para flojos, or “lazy people’s soup.”

Two-minute noodles (Australia)

Got two minutes down under? Then you can make a meal of instant noodles.

Pot Noodles (United Kingdom)

A popular brand introduced in the late 1970s, Pot Noodles have been associated with what’s called “lad culture.” The Oxford English Dictionary describes lad culture as “attitudes and behaviour considered to be typical of a ‘lad,’” or:

A young man characterized by his enjoyment of social drinking, sport, and other activities considered to be male-oriented, his engagement in casual sexual relationships, and often by attitudes or behaviour regarded as irresponsible, sexist, or boorish.

A 2013 New Statesman article calls Pot Noodles “Lad Culture in snack form,” complete with “drooling, retrograde sexism,” and a pretty offensive ad campaign. Since then, however, Pot Noodles has attempted to change their tune.

Coffee Talk: Regional Idioms to Describe Coffee

Chuck wagon of the Ole Southwest, plenty of meat, potatoes, frijoles and coffee about to be consumed

You might be aware that we at Wordnik love our coffee. In a classic post we explore caffeinated language from around the world, from the Italian espresso to the French café au lait to the Australian flat white.

Today we’re delving into how we talk about coffee in the U.S., and to help us are the editors at the Dictionary of American Regional English, also known as DARE. In case you didn’t know, DARE is a fantastic resource of language specific to states and other regions. For instance, what you call a frying pan might be called a skillet elsewhere. What you call pancakes might be flapjacks or griddle cakes in other parts of the country.

But we’re here to talk about joe. Pour yourself a mug and drink in these regional terms.

Strong enough to walk

Why call a bold cup of java strong when you can call it blackjack? Blackjack is a term used in Wisconsin and in “lumberjack lingo” in New England and the Great Lakes. Another lumberjack term for strong coffee is Norwegian or Norski in states like Minnesota and Wisconsin, which have long histories of Norwegian settlers. Norwegian coffee also refers to coffee with an egg in it.

Shanty coffee seems to have originated in the New York area and is so-called as it was made by fisherman who lived in shanties, or little cabins or huts. Cowboy coffee is named for, you guessed it, the cowboys who boiled it. Six-shooter coffee is a cowboy term that comes from the idea, says DARE, that “it’s thick enough to float a pistol or because there’s six tablespoons for a four-cup pot.”

Strong enough to walk could refer to any strong-flavored food or drink but especially coffee, and centers in the South and Midland regions of the U.S.

Weak as water

Descriptions for weak coffee percolate across the U.S. as well. In Texas you might hear it called duck coffee, perhaps with the idea of a liquid a duck would swim in, i.e., water. In Pennsylvania it might cambric coffee, after the fine, thin fabric. In scattered regions, it might be dishwashy or dishwater.

In the Southwest, weak coffee might be derided as black water; as coffee-water in Georgia, Kentucky, and Mississippi; and as pond water in the South and South Midland. Also in the South and South Midland is branch water, from the original meaning of the term, water from a stream rather than a well, perhaps due to the light brown color often associated with streams.

In the Inland South and Appalachians there’s stump water, originally rainwater collected from tree stumps and used in folk magic and home remedies for ailments such as skin conditions. Perhaps by extension, stump water also means anything weak, often coffee. In other regions, the term water bewitched is used to describe highly diluted coffee or tea, often in the phrase water bewitched and coffee (or tea) begrudged.

Slumgullion, referring to a weak or disgusting beverage, was perhaps first used primarily in the western United States but now can be found in other regions as well. In his 1915 book, Travels in Alaska, John Muir describes a cup of coffee as “muddy” and “semi-liquid…which the California miners call ‘slickens’ or ‘slumgullion.'”

How do you take your coffee?

If you take your coffee black, you could call it black, or you could call it naked like they do in Mississippi and Texas, or stark naked like in Massachusetts. Or you could make like those in the Middle Atlantic, Central Atlantic, and Ohio Valley regions and call it barefooted.

Conversely, coffee with milk or cream would have its socks on, as they might say in parts of the south, or be seasoned, as they say in Pennsylvania and Kansas. Coffee and might refer to coffee and a donut or roll, or coffee with milk or cream. (Cider-and, by the way, is cider with alcohol or other ingredients, says the Oxford English Dictionary.)

Boston coffee is half cream, half coffee (perhaps named after the Boston cream pie?) in Louisiana, Texas, Illinois — but not in Boston.

What exactly do you mean by ‘regular’?

A regular coffee is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.

In Boston and Massachusetts, a regular coffee will get you one with cream or milk. In Rhode Island, it’s cream or milk and sugar. In Chicago it’s black while in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Virginia, regular is caffeinated rather than decaf. Finally, in New York, a regular coffee has milk or cream, and possibly sugar (or two sugars, as Gothamist insists).

Coffee, figuratively

We’ve discussed idioms about a literal cup of coffee, but how about idioms with the word coffee? Coffee coat is another name for a housecoat used in Wisconsin. Grinding coffee is a way of jumping rope in Tennessee and perhaps elsewhere: one jumper stays in place while another jumps around her, like the wheels of an old-fashioned coffee grinder.

Coffee cooler is a military term for an idler or shirker, perhaps with the idea of an untouched hot beverage cooling off, while a coffee-strainer is nickname for a bushy mustache.

Be prepared if someone invites you to a coffee-drink in Louisiana: they’re talking about a wake. If someone in the South Midland or Texas says you don’t know split beans from coffee — in other words, you’re stupid or ignorant — you might consider giving them a drink of black coffee, or a severe reprimand, as they say in Pennsylvania.

How do you talk about your coffee?

A Brief History of Cotton Candy Names

Cotton Candy

While National Cotton Candy Day is celebrated on December 7 in the U.S., the brightly-colored ethereal sweetness is enjoyed any time all over the world, and under many different names. Here we take a brief look at the history of those names.

Before cotton candy, there was spun sugar. According to How Stuff Works, 15th-century Italian pastry chefs were geniuses with the stuff, creating entire scenes from golden syrup drizzled from broom handles.

However, because spinning sugar by hand was such an arduous task, the sweet treat didn’t hit the masses until John C. Wharton, a candy maker, and William J. Morrison, a dentist (you read that right) designed a machine to speed up and automate the task. The inventors dubbed the light and airy result fairy floss, which made its debut at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.

By the mid-1920s, the sugary concoction came to be known in North America by the name we all know, cotton candy, although it’s still referred to as fairy floss in Australia and New Zealand. (In Sydney, you can also get your hands on fairy floss ice cream.)

In British English, the toothsome treat retained the floss portion of fairy floss and took on candy. The earliest citation for candy-floss in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is from 1951, while in South Africa the gossamer goody is known as tooth floss, which sounds like dental floss’s evil twin.

Some other languages follow, like American English, the cotton route. In Spanish the term is algodón de azúcar, “sugar cotton.” The Polish version is wata cukrowa, also “sugar cotton,” while in Italy it’s known as zucchero filato, or “sugar thread.”

In Korean, it’s somsatang, where som means “cotton,” and satang, “candy,” while in Japanese, watakashi  — cotton (wata) candy (kasha) —  is also the surname of a “character” associated with Utau, a Japanese singing synthesizer application, named perhaps for a sweetness so light she almost doesn’t exist.

The Dutch take a different spin on their name for spun sugar. Suikerspin translates as “sugar spider,” where suiker is sugar and spin is spider. The English word spider ultimately comes from the Proto-Germanic spin-thron-, literally “the spinner.”

What else does this delicate delight resemble besides cotton? How about Dad’s bushy facial hair? Or at least that might have been the thought process of whatever French person came up with barbe à papa, or papa’s beard. Barbe à papa is also the inspiration for a series of children’s books called Barbapapa, which is about a pink, amorphous character trying to fit in, as well as perhaps the Japanese cream puff chain, Beard Papa’s.

A Persian sweet similar to cotton candy is pashmak, which translates as “wool-like.” Pashmak is made from sesame oil and sugar and is supposed to resemble sheep’s wool. A Chinese version is dragon’s beard candy, which in addition to spun sugar contains peanuts, dried coconut, sesame seeds, and glutinous rice flour. Why dragon’s beard? In Chinese art, the lucky mythical creature is often depicted with wispy chin hair.

By now, you might be craving a pink puff, and we say have at it. Just be sure to floss afterwards, and not with the sugary kind.

The Language of Taste

Umami Burger in LA, CA

Last week the 2015 nominees for the James Beard awards were announced. Among the nominated are mostly chefs and restaurants, but also included are food writers. Food plus words, what’s not to love?

In celebration, we’re taking a look at the language of taste.

gustatory

“She was if the word gustatory had grown legs and got a dress.”

William Giraldi, “The Style of a Wild Man,” The Wall Street Journal, September 17, 2011

Gustatory means related to the sense of taste. Gustatory receptor cells are chemoreceptors that detect taste, says How Stuff Works, while gustatory hairs are “spindly protrusions” on each receptor cell. The gustatory hairs interact with molecules and saliva to stimulate the sensation of taste.

The word gustatory comes from the Latin gustare, “to taste.”

kokumi

“Food scientists have been studying kokumi compounds in hopes of exploiting their enhancement qualities to create healthier, lower-salt or -sugar versions of foods that still taste good.”

Lisa Bramen, “The Kokumi Sensation,” Smithsonian.com, January 27, 2010

Kokumi translates from Japanese as “heartiness” or “mouthfulness,” says Smithsonian.com. It refers to “compounds in food that don’t have their own flavor, but enhance the flavors with which they’re combined.” Such compounds include calcium, protamine, and glutathione.

palate

“Even Howell admits that his palate is at its sharpest in the morning, when he claims to spend a full 45 minutes pondering his first cup of coffee.”

Corby Kummer, “The Magic Brewing Machine,” The Atlantic, December 1, 2007

Palate refers to both the roof of the mouth and the sense of taste. The Online Etymology Dictionary says the roof of the mouth was “popularly considered [to be] the seat of taste, hence [the] transferred meaning ‘sense of taste.’” Both meanings are from the late 14th century.

papilla

“We like to think of these bumps as our taste buds, but actually, these bumps are known as papillae.”

Amanda Greene, “Making ‘Sense’ of Flavor: How Taste, Smell and Touch Are Involved,” The Huffington Post, September 27, 2013

A papilla is a round or cone-shaped protuberance “on the top of the tongue that contain taste buds.”

The Huffington Post describes four different kinds of papillae. In the center of the tongue are filiform, “small, skinny papillae that almost look fur-like,” and which don’t contain taste buds.

On the front and sides are fungiform, “round dot-like papillae” that typically contain three to five taste buds each. Foliate and circumvallate are in the back, and contain the mother lode of taste buds: more than 100 each.

Papilla comes from the Latin word for “nipple.”

parageusia

“Despite its name (‘parageusia’ is a medical term meaning ‘a bad taste in the mouth’), Zellersfield believes the public will taste sophistication in this beer.”

Amber DeGrace, “Upcoming beer releases worth traveling to try,” Lancaster Online, February 20, 2015

Parageusia is “the abnormal presence of an unpleasant taste in the mouth, sometimes caused by medications.” The word is Greek in origin and comes from para, “against, contrary to,” and geusis, “taste.”

sapor

“While the Italian beans (Italian cut green beans) looked from-a-can, they tasted amazing, benefitting from bacon sapor.”

Matt Wake, “Little Diner’s gargantuan Happy Burger lives up to its rep and Huntsville restaurant’s pot roast is pretty legit too,” AL.com, July 8, 2014

Sapor is a taste or flavor, and comes from the Latin sapere, “to taste.” Sapere also means to be wise and gives us words like savvy, sapient, sage, and savoir faire.

supertaster

“People with lots of papillae usually experience tastes more intensely — they’ve been dubbed ‘supertasters.’”

Allison Aubrey, “Why ‘Supertasters’ Can’t Get Enough Salt,” NPR, June 21, 2010

It could be said that supertasters have hypergeusia, an abnormally heightened sense of taste (to be ageusic means to have no sense of taste).

One might also assume that supertasters need less salt. After all, according to NPR, supertasters “need less fat and sugar to get to the same amount of pleasure than a non-taster does.” But a study actually found that supertasters prefer “high-sodium items” such as chips and cheeses.

Why this is the scientists aren’t sure. One speculation is that “as people perceive smaller differences in things, it becomes more desirable to seek those things out.” Another hypothesis is that supertasters find “bitter flavor notes” unpleasant and salt “knocks down bitterness.”

The term supertaster was coined in the early 1990s, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

tongue map

“Although there are subtle regional differences in sensitivity to different compounds over the lingual surface, the oft-quoted concept of a ‘tongue map’ defining distinct zones for sweet, bitter, salty and sour has largely been discredited.”

Claiborne Ray, “A Map of Taste,” The New York Times, March 19, 2012

The tongue map was developed by German scientist D.P. Hanig in 1901, says How Stuff Works. It was first discredited in 1974, and again most recently in a 2010 paper in The Journal of Cell Biology.

umami

“Chefs including Jean-Georges Vongerichten are offering what they call ‘umami bombs,’ dishes that pile on ingredients naturally rich in umami for an explosive taste.”

Katy McLaughlin, “A New Taste Sensation,” The Wall Street Journal, December 8, 2007

Umami, sometimes called the fifth taste after sweet, salty, bitter, and sour, is Japanese in origin. It’s a rich, savory flavor, often associated “with meats and other high-protein foods.”

In the early 1900s, Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda identified the flavor and coined the word. Because Ikeda wrote in Japanese, umami’s first appearance in English wasn’t until the early 1960s, says the OED.

Now scientists say there might be a sixth taste: fat. Other tastes up for consideration are alkaline, the opposite of sour; metallic; and water-like.

For even more delicious words, check out some of our favorite food terms.

[Photo via Flickr:”Umami Burger in LA, CA,” CC BY 2.0 by G M]