Sense Series: Sweetness
Welcome to our new blog series on taste! Throughout the year we will be highlighting the various “qualities” of our sense of taste that make up flavors that we know and love.
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, we’re covering…sweetness!
What is Taste?
Our sense of taste is a complicated science. In fact, facets of it are continuously being studied and repeatedly reworked into theories. How come some foods taste bad and others good? Why do sensitivities to certain tastes vary from one person to the next?
Here’s how taste works: On the surface of the tongue, there are hundreds of small bumps called papillae. Each of these bumps contain several taste buds made up of taste receptor cells that send signals via nerves to the brain that, in response, perceives a specific flavor.
Humans are able to distinguish five basic tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and savory (or umami). A common misconception is that there are separate regions on the tongue designated for each type of taste. In reality, each taste can be sensed by all parts of the tongue, however each cell has a unique ratio and sensitivity level to the five tastes.
With this in mind, along with the fact that adults have over 2,000 taste buds, it makes sense why so many different flavors exist. And that’s not even mentioning other stimuli such as smell, touch, and temperature, which the brain also takes into account. In a practical sense, taste even helps humans (and other mammals) determine if a substance is safe to eat. Toxic plants, for instance, often have a bitter taste which signals the body to reject it.
All About Sweetness
Sweetness may be the favorite of the five senses. In general, most people enjoy sweet foods, albeit in varying levels. And it’s no wonder why. According to an article published by the National Library of Medicine, sweet taste receptors (which may also be found in other areas throughout the body) “are heavily involved in nutrient sensing, monitoring changes in energy stores, and triggering metabolic and behavioral responses to maintain energy balance.” In other words, they signal helpful sources of energy for the body, like carbohydrates.
Sweetness also enhances the flavor of food and helps to balance out other tastes. This is the reason combinations like salted caramel (salty + sweet) or fruit with cheese (sweet + savory) go so well together. The same is true with all of the five taste senses. Finding that perfect balance between each of the flavors is what makes cooking an art (and a science).
Types of Sweetness
The perception of sweetness in cooking can come from many sources. Here are some of the most popular:
- Sugar (sucrose) – a disaccharide, ½ glucose and ½ fructose; the sweetness “standard” for all other types; derived from the sugar cane/sugar beet; can take different forms including various sized granules or even liquid
- Brown sugar – sugar with varying amounts of molasses still remaining (or added back)
- Molasses – byproduct of sugar, produced after refining sugar cane or sugar beet into sugar
- Glucose – a monosaccharide; one of the body’s preferred sources of energy in the form of carbohydrates; found in bread, fruits, vegetables, dairy
- Fructose – a monosaccharide found in fruit, vegetables, honey
- Honey – naturally sweet; composed of fructose and glucose
- Maple syrup – naturally sweet; concentrated from sap; mostly sucrose
- Agave nectar – syrup extracted from the agave plant; mostly fructose
Each of these natural sweeteners can be added to food to enhance the flavor. Take a look at a few of them in action in the sweet recipes below!
Chocolate Chip Cannoli Bites
A lighter take on the traditional deep-fried pastries, these cannoli bites use Martin’s Potato Bread (or your favorite Breakfast Bread flavor) formed into mini cups as the vehicle for a sweet ricotta filling flavored with cinnamon, sugar, vanilla, and mini chocolate chips.
Cinnamon, vanilla, and chocolate, while not inherently sweet themselves, are frequently associated with desserts and sweet treats. The addition of sugar helps to enhance the flavor and characteristics of each of these ingredients.
Individual Bread Puddings with Banana Sauce
These yummy bread puddings are baked in muffin tins, making them perfect individual portions for breakfast or even dessert, with a scoop of ice cream on the side. The muffins are made with Martin’s Cinnamon-Sugar Swirl Potato Bread, soaked in a classic custard mixture; then they are topped with a decadent caramelly banana sauce.
This recipe serves as a fun lesson on different types of sweetness; it includes regular sugar (sucrose), sugar-friendly pairings like cinnamon and vanilla, natural sweetness from ripe bananas (fructose), and also light brown sugar (which has a bit of molasses taste). In addition, the heating of the brown sugar (as well as the bananas) in the butter works to dissolve and caramelize the sugars, forming another layer of complexity in the level of sweetness.
Dessert Bread “Cookies”
This simple recipe puts our new family of Breakfast Breads in the spotlight. Each flavor has its own unique taste and quality of sweetness, whether from the help of sugar, raisins, cinnamon, brown sugar, or natural maple flavoring. These breads already make a great breakfast, right out of the bag, or toasted with butter. The hint of sweetness helps to enhance your senses and kick-start your day.
All that’s needed to turn these “breakfast” breads into dessert is a bit of homemade icing! It’s simple to make: just cream together softened butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract. Then cut your favorite breakfast bread flavors into fun shapes and let stiffen slightly on the counter or in a low-temp oven. Decorate your “cookies” with your homemade icing and colorful sprinkles and enjoy!
Note: Martin’s new line of Breakfast Breads are currently available in a limited market. Visit https://martinsbreakfastbreads.com to see store locations. If you’re outside of this distribution area, Martin’s Cinnamon-Raisin Swirl Potato Bread (which is available wherever our other breads are sold) works great for any of these recipes!
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