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There Are Now Six Basic Tastes. And The Newest One Is A Nightmare For Some.
Along with news of the world's creeping neo-prohibition and my life in heavy metal.
The first time I went to Finland, I was given a salty black licorice candy called salmiakki. It was a brand called Sisu, which is an untranslatable Finnish word meaning something like stoic grit and resilience in the face of adversity. Eating the salty licorice for the first time, I believe I understood the essence of sisu.
Salty licorice is just not a taste that Americans grow up loving. In fact, most of the world does not. According to the Disgusting Food Museum in Malmö, there are only six nations that love the salty licorice: Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, and the Netherlands.
So unique is the taste of salty licorice that researchers believe its key ingredient represents a sixth basic taste of human beings (alongside sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami). As I write in my latest piece for Wine Enthusiast:
According to Science Daily, USC scientists found that taste-bud receptors can detect ammonium chloride, a chemical found in many waste products, which can potentially signal toxicity. Some say it tastes like window cleaner. But ammonium chloride is also a key ingredient in a popular Nordic candy: salty licorice.
“If you live in a Scandinavian country, you will be familiar with and may like this taste,” says Emily Liman, one of the researchers.
During a wild night in Helsinki long ago, I drank a salmiakki-flavored vodka. Basic taste or not, that’s one spirit I will never be revisiting.
Still, even unsalted licorice by itself is a divisive taste:
Hervé This, the food scientist who famously coined the term “molecular gastronomy,” has for years pointed to licorice to argue that humans possess more than five basic tastes. Unsalted black licorice is not precisely sweet, sour or bitter. This is likely why black licorice is such a divisive flavor among people who didn’t grow up eating it. After all, there’s a reason why so many Americans eat around the black jellybeans.
I talked about the “acquired taste” for licorice- or anise-based spirits in Everyday Drinking earlier this year in a piece about my love of pastis.
As I say this week in Wine Enthusiast:
In the world of booze, this polarization has often played out in relation to anise-flavored spirits, which are reminiscent of licorice. They tend to be a hard sell for Americans. Ouzo, arak, absinthe, sambuca have their fans, for sure, but I know just as many people who are turned off by them. It’s notable, especially given that we’re in an era when super bitter amari have risen to popularity. Booze that reminds people of black licorice, however, has yet to crack the zeitgeist
Is Alcohol The New Tobacco?
In another recent column for Wine Enthusiast, I looked at the creep of neo-prohibition forces in the U.S. George F. Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, recently suggested that new booze guidelines might recommend two drinks a week for Americans. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization is changing the way it talks about alcoholic beverages, as well. In a document entitled “Turning down the alcohol flow,” it’s clear that the WHO wants to treat alcohol like tobacco: “Just as with tobacco, a global and comprehensive approach is required to remove alcohol marketing, as far as possible, from all contexts.” Click to read more of my piece in Wine Enthusiast:
What the drinks industry seems to have trouble grasping is that the neo-prohibition side is seizing the narrative. Over the past decade, there has been a serious push to “de-normalize” the drinking of alcoholic beverages.
Meiningers spoke with Ana Isabel Alves, executive director of the Portuguese Association for Wine and Spirits, who explained that, for years, alcohol health warnings focused on drunk driving, minors or pregnant women. “We are used to seeing news about alcohol beverages and the WHO in the press,” Alves said. “But the narratives have changed.” The new story, Alves said, is “about making alcoholic beverages less socially acceptable, like with tobacco.”
My Life In Heavy Metal
We discuss what to do about “bullshit” in wine, what aspects of wine should be banished from the earth, and I reveal my embarrassing taste in music. (Spoiler: It is likely the polar opposite of metal).
Blood of Gods was kind enough to give me a PDF of the interview, but you should subscribe to this one-of-a-kind publication.