This week, I’ve been eating quite a lot of jam.
This isn’t something I’d usually do. Jam, for me, is too straightforwardly sweet to really crave. But this jam is a little bit different: it’s a special sneak preview Manfood’s Negroni Jam, which is made with strawberries and all the familiar elements of a negroni (gin, red vermouth and Campari). The result is distinctly bitter, more like a strawberry marmalade than a traditional jam.
Not all tastes are born equal. Our tongues can detect five basic elements: sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami, but some are more challenging than others. Sweetness is beguilingly simple to like, which may be the result of evolution: in nature, sweet flavours are usually safe to eat, whereas bitter or sour flavours can signify danger.
But sweetness is also something I’m slightly sniffy about. I see it as a childish thing, something that we might consume with no thought at all, only instant gratification. Rightly or wrongly, I place greater value on the tastes that are a bit more tricky to love: the sour and the bitter. (Also, I am horrified by adults eating Haribo and Pecrcy Pigs. They might as well be wearing onesies and…oh, they do.)
The pleasures of bitterness have to be carefully learned. Think about the first time you tasted beer, or watercress, or really dark chocolate. We’re often repelled by them at first, and baffled that adults can find those flavours so compelling. But we taste them again, and they reward our perseverance
Or not. Some people never come to love the bitter parts of life. I regularly horrify people by getting them to taste my favourite afternoon pick-me-up, a Campari Soda (which I claim aids digestion; please don’t disabuse me of this).
And I must admit that I feel a slight twinge of moral superiority over this. Here I am, loving grown-up flavours, while others fall around me, puckering their mouths. How sophisticated I must be! How refined is my palate!
Would I like bitter flavours so much if everyone else loved them too? Who knows. After all, I can’t abide tripe, so I have to have something in my life that proves I’m fearless around food.
Who knows. I’m just going to keep on eating the jam. Maybe with a negroni on the side. It’s sophisticated to match food and alcohol, isn’t it?0