For all the years I've been going to the Spice House in Old Town, I've never needed the address. It's just a few blocks south of North Avenue, and about a half-block in either direction the shop's Bronzeville "Galena Street" Rib Rub, hot curry and cinnamon all beckon. Indoors it's even stronger. But this morning, all of that disappared when store manager Steven Tobiason opened the glass bottle of black truffle salt first and, then, popped open the top to the white truffle salt.
Ammonia-like in their first punch, I felt as though I was alternately swmming in and eating from the best bowl of chicken noodle soup in the universe. A cloud of the earthy, savry salts hung in the air.
A pinch-taste was like nothing I'd every tasted.
This was it. The fifth taste. Umami.
A Japanese word, we English speakers have roughly translated it to mean savory, and foodies along with scientists are fans of calling it the fifth taste. The other four flavors of course are sweet, salty, bitter and sour. In a 2004 Sun-Times story, umami was defined as the taste of naturally occurring compounds called glutamates and nucleotides. It is found in a range of foods and even drink, from mushrooms to wines to cheese.
They salts are great in eggs, atop sliced tomatoes, on salads and the list goes on.
As Tobiason explained to me how the salt -- mineral rich gray salt, to be exact -- in this mix was serving as a preservative for the truffle flakes, I realized that this is probably as close as I'm going to come to the rare-so-they're-pricey gourmet fungi. In November white truffles were going for $3,000 a pound.
The salt with flakes of black truffle, more commonly found in France, is being sold by the 2.5-ounce bottle for $16.99 at Spice House. Meantime, the salt with the flakes of white truffle, commonly found in Italy, is being sold by the 2-ounce bottle for $13.99.
For a whiff and a taste, head on over to The Spice House, 1512 N. Wells St. or read more about it at