Heritage Tastebuds: Building a New Heritage Cookbook (Part 2)

Our cherished family recipes have changed since modern wheat came on the scene. (See Part 1) Unfortunately, our tastebuds have followed suit.

Delicious vs. healthy?

We give away a lot of muffin samples at farmers’ markets, health food stores and food shows. Most people are surprised at how good it tastes—especially surprised because they immediately get the sense that what they are eating is not just yummy, but also REAL FOOD. They don’t expect that from a muffin. But there’s one comment we hear occasionally that makes us laugh: “It tastes...healthy.”  

To be described as “healthy” is sort of a compliment and an insult at the same time. Either way, the euphemism is easily understood. “Healthy” equals “No, thank you.”  

Those folks don’t usually go for seconds. To them a muffin is not food, its a treat—a cupcake without the frosting. Think I'm exaggerating?

The sorry state of prepared foods

Recently, I've had the opportunity to take some classes at a popular Canadian culinary institution. One evening we were given a Bran Muffin recipe that raised my eyebrows.

Before I go on, I'll say I would recommend the class and highly respect the chefs. They are professional, passionate and dedicated. But this bran muffin was an interesting window into the world of commercially prepared food.

To give you the basic idea, the amount of sugar and oil was greater in weight than all the wheat  (oil + sugar = 1,017 grams) > ( white flour + whole wheat flour + bran = 1,000 grams)  

Think about that. We have an important Canadian cooking school teaching that a standard bran muffin is mostly sugar and fat. And not good fat. They never claimed that this was a “healthy” recipe, but let’s be honest, most people still consider a bran muffin a healthy alternative.

I don't fault the chefs. They have to compete in the marketplace. So the bran muffin has become another victim of the ubiquity of white flour and our industrial food standards. If you want people to eat flavourless flour and stale bran, you have to saturate it in sugar and fat to make it palatable.

And after a few decades, that becomes the norm.  

We can train our tongues

If you grow up in a culture with spicy foods, chances are it will take a pretty strong chili to make you sweat.  If there’s sugar in everything on your plate, your desert will need MORE sugar to make it seem sweet by comparison. It just makes sense.

When an entire generation grows up with Wonderbread as the staff of life, it’s not surprising kids won’t eat their vegetables. Our tastebuds have become lazy.

We have been trained to expect highly refined carbohydrates made palatable with cheap flavour “enhancers” like sugar, corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, and salt. It is lazy for the tongue and lazy for the digestive system. For a long time, anything labelled “healthy” was the same thing, just made with some sort of equally cheap approximation that is even less satisfying—margarine instead of butter, Saccharin instead of sugar, quinoa flour instead of wheat flour.

No wonder “healthy” equals “No, thank you.”

But that can change.

Cultivating “Heritage Tastebuds”

The best chefs know that when you have quality ingredients, it's best to “enhance” them as little as necessary. If you let real food taste like itself, your tastebuds (and your body) will be happy.

It's time to start baking with a new paradigm: Your flour matters. The type of wheat matters. How it's grown matters. Wholeness matters. Freshness matters.

It’s not going to taste the same as what we had growing up. It’s going to be better. Rich, unique, varied, deeply satisfying our tasebuds, bodies, and our desire to connect with the land and our heritage.

There are people who will always find a freshly stone-milled ancient grain pancake a little too “healthy” for their breakfast. That's fine.

They can eat Fruit Loops.

[An interesting side note -- If you want evidence that our tastebuds are NOT set in stone, check out the links below. Even fast food companies recognize that taste is culturally sensitive!]