Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Flavor of The Nation

This week: is the US a one-flavor nation?


So there I was indulging myself with some hard candy/sweets stolen from the Little Guy’s Halloween stash. Unbelievably, the first three I put in my mouth were so revolting I had to spit them out. Cinnamon, effing hot cinnamon and weird, spicy cinnamon! What is it with Americans and their penchant for cinnamon? Everything here is cinnamon flavored.

Seven out of ten boxes of cereal in a supermarket will be cinnamon flavored, as are many pastries. What I’ve never understood however, is cinnamon chewing gum. It’s supposed to freshen your breath not make you smell like a halitosis-suffering dragon! And cinnamon flavored breath mints – isn’t that an oxymoron?

My fave cinnamon item however, has to be the tooth pick. I mean why go a second without the delightful taste of cinnamon in your mouth?

Americans have a huge sweet tooth in general and I have to be very careful when buying baked beans. Most cans of beans have a very sugary taste, even when they’re not too high in sugar content. (Tip- for more savory beans in the US, buy the cans labeled vegetarian.)

What, to my mind, should be a savory meal, is often laced with spices, and god knows what. Last Thanksgiving, I made a sweet potato casserole from a Williams-Sonoma (very posh) recipe that was so sweet I had to start again with half the recommended sugar and maple syrup. Half way through the first attempt I seriously thought I was making the pudding/dessert!

Oh how I miss sensible sweets like Parma Violets, even though they tasted like my grandmother’s pocket handkerchiefs.!


If we’re entering a debate on who has the more discriminating palate—Americans or Europeans—we can end it now. I know as well as anyone that Americans have four major food groups—salt, sugar, fat and pizza. And, as Toni points out, they tend to flavor everything they possibly can with cinnamon.

Back in the States, I put cinnamon on my toast, on apples, on pastries, in cider and any number of other food items. The only reason Americans no longer need to sprinkle cinnamon on everything is that everything now comes with cinnamon in it. On the other hand, I see nothing wrong with it; having been weaned on cinnamon, I rather enjoy it. In fact, I think I’ll go see if we have any in the spice rack. Coincidentally, we’re having pizza for dinner tonight—a little cinnamon will surely perk things up.

But before I go on, I need to digress a bit due to a word Toni used: Savory. I rarely heard it in America outside of gravy commercial, but here, people use it all the time: “You can’t put (food item) out now, it’s a savory!” or “These dishes can’t go together, one is a savory.”

I’ve kept silent for nearly nine years, but now I have to ask: “Just what the f*%k is that supposed to mean?” Is “savory”—along with what is and what is not—taught to little British children? It must be, for they use the word with great solemnity. I might not know what it means, but I know it is taken very seriously. When someone tells me I cannot have such and such because it is not a savory, well, that is not something I am prepared to argue with.

I suppose we don’t bother with it in America because—getting back to Toni’s subject—the line between a main course and dessert is very fine indeed. As Toni discovered, they are virtually interchangeable—you just need to add a smidge more sugar—and some cinnamon—to make almost anything into a dessert.

Cinnamon Apples

I’d like to think that my taste buds have shaken off the shocking sweetness and saltiness of American food and have come to appreciate the more subtle flavors of Continental cuisine. I have, after all, grown fond of haggis, fish-and-chips and the other major UK food group: curry. But when it comes to candy, I am afraid I find the local offerings a bit tame. The sweet tarts aren’t as sweet or as tart, the sour drops aren’t as sour and there isn’t any cinnamon in anything.

And, seriously, what is up with the Parma Violets? Whose idea was it to make a candy out of a dryer sheet?

What do you think of the new-found flavors in your host country?

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  1. A discussion about Americans love of sweet things (I'll cop to cooking tofu in maple syrup and adding honey to my pesto) and no mention of cinnamon and sugar's secret lover vanilla? For shame. If there was ever something that Americans were total freaks about its vanilla.

    Weirdly me and my roommate were actually having a discussion about Americans love of cinnamon the other day. We decided that Americans love cinnamon so much because it makes nearly everything taste awesome. Then again we're both American.

    As for the the wall of separation between savory and sweet, well I think worldwide the weird ones here aren't Americans, it's the British.

  2. I was told years ago that cinnamon is a great appetite suppressant and I have to agree. So I'm a big fan if I need to lose a bit of weight, but you can get so sick of it quickly...!

    I did laugh about the savory thing. I've never thought of it before, but I take savory and sweet very seriously - the former always MUST be before the latter. I'm Australian so it's not just a British thing.

  3. "I was told years ago that cinnamon is a great appetite suppressant and I have to agree."

    Don't see much evidence of that here in the US.

    I'm still in shock from spice gumdrops. I mean who thinks clove flavouring and gelatin make for a great combo?

  4. I should have added that I am partial to a cinnabon or a cinnamon and raisin bagel.

  5. Ha ha - the "dryer sheet" comment was brilliant! It really is a strange taste for a sweet but I love Parma violets!!!

  6. urgh, cinnamon. I detest the stuff, and once had to throw up after having to sit next to a cinnabon stand in an airport, I may have been ever so slightly hung over, but still, the overpowering cinnamon sweet smell was what sent me over the edge.

  7. Geeky: Hung over? You? Surely not ;)

    EPM: The "dryer sheet" comment is one of those things I wish I had written, but I did not. It was left on my blog by Mickey Boisvert - - when I did a post about candy some time ago.

    This Mid-30's Life (or can I call you "35ish" for short?: I agree with awindram, if cinnamon is an appetite suppressant, then why...well, you know know.

  8. The Cinnabon smell makes me slightly sick too. Most American snack stuff is way too sugary or salty for me; I'd rather get snacks from the Asian grocery store if I'm going to buy any.

    Cinnamon, though . . . thinking about making moussaka for dinner now . . . ;0)

  9. Cinnamon toothpaste was the weirdest one I have found over there........

  10. I quite like cinammon but I do agree that food is definitely over-sugared in the US. The other day at a brunch we got Littleboy 1 a side order of bacon (he loves bacon). After a couple of mouthfuls he announced he couldn't eat any more. I tried the bacon, and it was laden wtih maple syrup!

  11. You can even buy it with the syrup actually in the bacon so you don't have to pour it on. WTF comes to mind!

  12. Well, NVG, that's because maple syrup + bacon = delicious.

    It's a basic rule of cooking. When you combine something salty (bacon) with something sweet (maple syrup), what you get is something your tastebuds adore.

    Although usually I put the syrup on my bacon personally, it doesn't come that way. (Which is good, because I won't put maple syrup on if it's not real maple syrup.)

  13. I’ve kept silent for nearly nine years, but now I have to ask: “Just what the f*%k is that supposed to mean?” In refernce to Mike talking about savory. Me- rolling on the floor laughing (almost.)

  14. I mean reference.
    By the way my mom was a great cook and almost any dish was improved by just a spoonful of sugar.

  15. You have sweet and then you have savoury. Yin and yang. Savoury things aren't meant to be mixed with sweet things, unless you're having a Chinese Sweet N' Sour meal. The human tastebuds just can't cope with the deluge of tastes.

  16. I find this conversation very interesting. If you asked me to name a very American flavor, cinnamon would not have come to mind. It is so Indian. So maybe we feel we are being exotic by using this tropical ingredient? You'll love to know I served toast with butter, cinnamon, and sugar to my kiddos last weekend (my childhood breakfast). It was a little slice of heaven. Sweet, spicy + fat! A 'complete' meal :)

    Now I'll know when I have my new neighbors over for dinner to hold the cinnamon. Thank you! Great convo!

    An expat American living in the UK,

  17. I'm afraid I've converted every member in my (very English) house to cinnamon via the evils of cinnamon toast on a cold winter day...mmmmm!!!

  18. Yes, like a true American, I enjoy cinnamon very, very much.

    Now...if you think Americans are the only ones with a sweet tooth, let's talk about treacle. What the heck? I hate that stuff! The first time I tried a treacle tart I couldn't even finish it it was so sickly sweet. And I found British bakers loved to stick it in everything. Once I made cupcakes and a friend told me I could improve on them by adding a bit of treacle. Blech.

    Sadly I never tried the Parma Violets, though I do like dryer sheets...

  19. almost any dish was improved by just a spoonful of sugar.

    Just one, though. Remember Anne of Avonlea? Anne was cooking peas for dinner, and - for a change! - happened to remember to toss in a spoonful of sugar.

    Her friend Diana was helping and, although her mother never put sugar in the peas, she recalled that they did at Green Gables, so SHE put a spoonful of sugar in with them.

    Marilla was helping them both, and since she knew that Diana's family never put sugar in the peas, and that Anne never remembered, SHE put a spoonful of sugar in the peas too.

    And they had guests over as well....

  20. Michelloui it has been so long since I had cinnamon toast, am off to make some now. Can't believe I had forgotten about it. Thanks!

  21. Last week's Psych episode reminded me of this post. Shawn and Gus spend much of the episode at a "cinnamon festival" where they obsess over this cinnamon pie. (The recipe was never given in the episode. Sad!)

    You can watch it over at Hulu, but if you're not familiar with the show I wouldn't actually advise it. It's one of their "special references!" episodes (in this case, referencing Twin Peaks), and I never like those. They don't follow the same format as the regular shows, which I love, and I never get what they're referencing until I look it up on Google later.


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