Thursday, February 02, 2006

Umami, I Don't Feel So Good

When my sore throat appeared earlier this week, not only did I crave my usual teas and honey along with a soothing garlic "tea," but I also found myself craving Chinese food.

More to the point, I wanted a repeat of the sweet potato stir fry I made back in the fall, and I wanted extra ginger-lime potsticker sauce to slurp down. (Yes, I'm just that funny to prefer swallowing spoonfuls of a tamari-based sauce to cough and cold medicine and the like.)

So I made the sweet potato and bok choy dish -- less a stir-fry than a braise, really -- Sunday evening, topped with crumbled nori, and I felt much better.

Since then, I've been craving Chinese food all week, and the spicier, the better. On Monday, I commissioned the lovely Phoenix to pick up broccoli with garlic sauce for me, and on Tuesday, I polished it off for lunch. And last night, I made a repeat of the sweet potato dish for dinner.

Allow me to point out that by now, my sore throat is but a memory.

I have my theories about the sudden "cure" for this illness. First, I think the extra heat (plenty of red pepper flakes and garlic in all the Chinese dishes) played a significant part in healing. According to my copy of The Complete Medicinal Herbal, chile peppers not only have antiseptic and antibacterial functions (good for knocking out the germs), but they also stimulate blood circulation and are especially recommended for throat problems.

But I would also attribute some of the healing to heeding my body's craving for salty and umami tastes. What's umami, you say? If you want a very detailed and fascinating description, Barbara at Tigers and Strawberries has done a series of posts on the topic, beginning with "Do You Know Umami?"

In a nutshell, though, umami is the savory, sometimes meaty taste that you find in soy sauce, some cheeses, fermented foods, and, well, meats. Chinese food -- and other Asian cuisines -- tends to be loaded with umami, whether or not MSG (a flavor enhancer that brings out umami) is used, mainly because of it use of many soy products.

And somehow that combination of pungent peppers and salty, umami tamari made me feel so much better.

I'll round out the cure tonight with a visit to my favorite Chinese restaurant for their vegetarian buffet, and I've got extra potsticker sauce on hand if I suffer a relapse.

And I know now how to treat the next sore throat:

Drink lots of honeyed tea and call for my umami.


At 2/21/2006 1:50 PM, Blogger Barbara Fisher said...

Barbara of Tigers & Strawberries, here.

I wanted to note that garlic, because if its high content of sulfur, and onions, both have antibiotic properties, and were used as wound dressings in WWI, and sometimes in WWII, when medics ran out of sulfa drugs to give the men to prevent peritonitis.

The umami connection, though, I think has to do with the body's desire for easily digested nutrients. When one becomes ill and one's immune system is compromised or made weak, the body tends to crave liquid foods. Solutions that contain umami-rich ingredients, such as broths, miso soups, and soy sauces, all contain easily digestible proteins and amino acids--the building blocks of proteins.

Immunoglobins--those protective antibiodies that are carried in your blood stream and are made by white blood cells--are made up of what?


Therefore, when one is ill, it makes sense for the body to crave protein rich substances that are easily digestible--hence chicken soup, miso soup or tamari-soy sauce--because these are used to build more immunoglobins for your body to use to fight the infection.

Does that make sense?

At 2/21/2006 2:33 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Even better! Thanks for the information, Barbara!


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