Since taking out the top honour on the second season of Masterchef in 2010, cook and TV presenter Adam Liaw has built an impressive career in the food world. He’s published seven cookbooks, pens culinary columns for a bunch of newspapers and is regularly back on our screens hosting a number of food and travel shows, including The Cook Up.
Now, Liaw can add podcaster to his august CV with the launch of How Taste Changed the World, a seven-part Audible Original podcast series. Each episode explores the science behind the five basic tastes – salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami – and how they have defined civilisation and could shape our future eating habits. To bolster his research, he spoke to other taste experts including Yotam Ottolenghi, Chinese cuisine specialist Fuchsia Dunlop and Tetsuya Wakuda.
“It originally started off as just a little bit of research into human taste, but we discovered that it was just connected to literally everything,” Liaw tells Broadsheet. “Once you make those connections, it just seems so obvious. Not only does it make cooking easier, it also explains so much of the world around us. It's a fascinating subject I think is not really explored enough.”
We asked Liaw to tell us his favourite Sydney restaurant dishes that best represent each of those five tastes.
Salty: Spanish mackerel fishball soup at Amah, Chatswood
“Seasoning with salt is so important to good cooking, and in clear broths it’s vital. These handmade fishballs are delicious and the way the seasoning of the fish combines with the broth is wonderful. The development of flavour from something as simple as salting fish has been crucial to the development of human civilisation.”
Sweet: Jersey brie burnt cheesecake at The Old Fitzroy, Woolloomooloo
“Sweetness is something we’re biologically attuned to like, but there’s also great complexity in sweetness. The explosion in sugar production since the 1500s has meant that most of our sugar comes from cane or corn, but the complexity of sugars in things like milk and cheese always makes a dish interesting.”
Sour: culatello with giardiniera at Bar Vincent, Darlinghurst
“Sourness is all about balance and the mild sourness of the giardiniera (lightly pickled vegetables) is perfectly offset by the fat cap of the cured culatello (an Italian ham). When we balance sour taste with sweetness or savouriness it becomes extremely pleasant.”
Bitter: breakfast burger with thick-cut bourbon bacon and a long black at Matinee Coffee, Marrickville
“Bitterness is something we think is a negative, but we all learn to love bitter foods and drinks like chocolate, tea and coffee. Sit at a nice local cafe and have some good food and a good bitter coffee; it’s a lovely experience. But if you talk to taste scientists, this kind of contextualisation around food, particularly bitter, is essential to our evolutionary biology.”
Umami: tonkotsu abalone ramen at Senpai Ramen, Chatswood
“Japanese and Chinese cuisines do umami extremely well, and ramen is probably the ultimate umami dish. Tonkotsu ramen is made from long-braising pork bones, which really extracts and develops the umami-rich proteins.”
Adam Liaw’s Audible Original podcast How Taste Changed the World is now streaming on Audible here. On June 1, Adam will be taking part in Vivid Sydney’s Ideas Exchange with Audible Live: Stories Made to be Heard, during which he’ll discuss the podcast in further detail. Tickets are $10 plus booking fee. Buy tickets online here.