Stories without a sweet ending

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Is every sweet a dessert? What is the role of sugar? Is dessert necessarily the end of a menu?

Sweetness and sugar have been our obsession since we started The Candy Project, which made us think a lot about this flavor. This year we have aimed to involve our guests in our reflections to share with them our questions about the myths around sweetness and the function of desserts.

History lends us the context to rethink

Cane sugar was first introduced to the Mediterranean culture by the Persians, who brought it from India. The Arabs spread it around the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages, and it was cultivated in the lands which they had conquered particularly in Sicily and Spain.

Christians, who had tasted this exotic product of the orient during the crusades, started to use it in the West. However, it was still a rare and expensive product which was only sparingly added to dishes or which doctors prescribed in order to treat various maladies. Sugar, which was then regarded as a spice, wasn’t exclusively preserved of the final dishes of a meal; it was omnipresent and could be found in soups, meat and fish dishes.

Dessert as we understand it today, is an idea which emerged over the course of the XVII century, when sugar began to appear in the last courses of the menu. Although it was an ever present on the menu it was mainly featured towards the  end. As a result, the dessert became an innovation for the era which caused skepticism among people. This can be true of all changes.

Black fermented rice cake with koshu.

Our aim is not to banish dessert, but to rethink it

During the past few years in Mugaritz we have been reflecting on sweetness, its role in a gastronomic experience and the way it impacts on our perception. In Brainy Tongue (2016) Irene Miguel de Aliaga, a researcher from the Imperial College of London, showed us how our digestive receptors react to the different flavors and how these stimulate our bodies.

At this congress, we learned that if in a meal we do not stimulate sweetness, we will consequently feel the need for that flavor. That is why at the end of a meal we will always expect something sweet. So, what would happen if we balance all flavors from start to end throughout the experience?

The decision of dropping the desserts in 2017 represents the last step of a long process which started in 2001. The first stage of this process was to remove the differentiation between aperitifs, meats and fish and also to eliminate these titles from the menu. This ‘slight’ change totally changed our philosophy to create a menu. With no classifications and limitations, we were free to create.

Dessert was one of last chains tying us to this tradition in Mugaritz, and now we have thrown it off.