My lentils have a tomato flavor with no tomatos. Sorcery.
February 21, 2012 7:23 AM   Subscribe

Why do lentils cooked with beet greens have a tomato flavor?

Yesterday, I cooked down some beet greens, pureed them with some (homemade) chicken stock and some carmelized onions (seasoned with dashes of salt, pepper and powdered ginger), and then cooked a batch of lentils in the pink mush for 20 mins until tender. The lentils taste like they were cooked in tomato puree. Honestly, if you ignore the pink tinge, the texture and flavor is exactly that of lentils cooked with a bit of tomato paste.

I am a pretty adventurous and decent cook, and generally can predict what different flavor combinations will result in. This one blows my mind. The beet green puree tasted like bland beets before I added it to the lentils, and at best I was hoping for a filling, if bland side dish, and was planning on chalking this up to a failed learning experiment. Instead, I have sorcery.

My google-fu is failing me, what would make lentils+ beet green puree taste like tomato?!
posted by larthegreat to Food & Drink (4 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The carmelized onions and chicken stock have both umami and sweet flavors which are a big component of most tomato sauce as well. That is the same idea as that behind Ritz apple pie, where the flavors call to mind apple pie eventhough there are no apples involved.
posted by TedW at 7:48 AM on February 21, 2012

Umami. Lentils have it, too..

Similarly, fresh young beets taste a lot like corn to me, but no one has yet agreed with me. Has anyone else tasted your dish and had the same reaction?
posted by maudlin at 7:51 AM on February 21, 2012

Best answer: I'm also blaming glutamate (ie. umami). You're combining foods that have a high glutamate content. Beets are high in glutamate too. MSG (basically powdered umami flavoring) is usually made from fermented beet residue left over from making beet sugar. (Though I'm not sure about the greens.)

Since you're combining the beet greens with other foods that are in high protein generally, you're likely also getting glutamate synergy. (The article maudlin linked to describes this briefly here.) The taste of glutamate is enhanced when it's combined with the nucleotides guanylate and inosinate, even though you can't taste either of these on their own. Tomato sauce is frequently combined with other high-protein foods to get this effect. (The Wikipedia article on umami mentions some some other ingredient combinations that have this effect.) You seem to have done something similar.

(I'm not a chemist, so the chemical bit might be a bit off.)
posted by nangar at 8:56 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

fresh young beets taste a lot like corn to me

That's not unusual. Beets contain geosmin, which alot of people (including me) think tastes like dirt, but is sometimes also described as "corn-like."
posted by cabingirl at 9:21 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

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