Thursday, May 3, 2012

Miso Meatballs Taste Like They Have Cheese in Them

[Not actually my meatballs]

I am making meatballs for the second time in about two months.  Meatballs are great.  We buy a 1 kilo package of מוצר בקר and make them with that, as opposed to pure ground beef.  מוצר בשר is cheap because it contains fillers, and is not 100% beef.  And I'm ok with it, although I wasn't always.  I used to make my meatballs only with pure ground beef.  And when we bought מוצר בשר for the first time I assumed the meatballs wouldn't taste so good.

I was wrong; they tasted amazing.  The truth is, meatballs are kind of "watered down" anyway, since both recipes call for milk (soy milk here), eggs, and breadcrumbs.  There are different kinds of meatballs, but I've come to embrace the kind that's full of spices and herbs and, well, bread.  So what do I care if I'm using beef with fillers?  All it means is the same cheap package will make me more servings come dinnertime.

מוצר בשר, however, is not the secret ingredient in my meatballs.  That secret ingredient is miso.  I mixed miso into my meatballs two months ago and they came out with a hint of Parmesan flavor.  Tonight I mixed in a little more, and when I tasted my creation it was meaty, savory and full of the funky umami taste we call "cheesy".  Great success.

Miso and Parmesan cheese both contain, among other compounds, large amounts of glutamate.  Glutamate is an amino acid which makes us taste umami, and it is delicious - especially in its convenient salt form, monosodium glutamate (MSG).  MSG, by the way, is totally safe.  Yeah, some people get headaches, but a lot of people don't, and lots of scientific tests have failed to find ANYTHING unhealthy about the stuff.  If you don't get the headaches, don't feel guilty about eating MSG.  In the words of Jeffrey Steingarten, "why doesn't everyone in China have a headache" (if MSG gives you headaches, that is).  Have I gone on this rant before?

That's why miso makes these meatballs taste like cheese.  Yeast and yeast extracts, by the way, also have lots of glutamates.  Have you ever noticed that there are lots of Israeli snacks that taste cheesy but are Parve?  Doesn't this strike you as a remarkable scientific accomplishment, worthy of global recognition?  That's how I feel, at least. Snacks that taste like cheese but don't have it probably could only develop in a place such as Israel, which makes me proud as a Zionist, and intrigued as a religious food scientist. I may not be able to mix meat and cheese, but with the proper tools I can attempt to mimic the taste!  I think my next experiment will be a dish of scalloped potatoes with a "cheesy" white sauce...

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