What is Flavor?michael williams
What is Flavor anyway?
Basically, it is whatever affects taste. Let’s expand and explore how we use flavor. Even your toothpaste has some level of flavor, from basic salt on baking soda to advanced dental chemistry including micro bursting crystals of refreshing essential mint oils. However, with foods, we want not only appropriate taste, but simple usable ideas which are called “profiles”. Using various profiles, The Kitchen Flavors products are created to achieve great tastes and make your cooking easier.
Flavor is what chefs use and think about constantly. We are in the flavor business. A restaurant is successful if the food tastes great. The menu’s prices, the variety of menu items, the place’s cleanliness, and its location are all very important, but if the food doesn’t taste great would you drive across town, pay a huge price for a 3-item menu with sticky chairs? You probably feel the same way about your food. Why spend all that money, all that time, and all that effort for ingredients that don’t satisfy you when eaten?
Let’s cover the basics of how flavor works. Your flavor buds detect certain elements of “taste”; salt, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami (over all savoriness). Also, certain ingredients have certain characteristics such as being water soluble or fat soluble. Meaning salt or sugar dissolves in water but is gritty (non-soluble) in fat (think solid butter), Whereas ingredients such as peppers or garlic spread their personality easily in fats or oils – consider a seasoned grilled steak rendering that fat as it cooks to allow salt and pepper to be absorbed or the ability of garlic to be absorbed in the egg yolk and oil in aïoli. Whereas, basil, an herb, easily brings its personality within the water-based tomato sauce or how sugar dissolves in a cup of tea. Another thing to consider is the affinity of certain foods with certain ingredients. Fatty foods like vinegars (ketchup with fries or mustard and pickles on a burger), starchy foods like salt (salted water for cooking pasta or salt in seasoned mashed potatoes), sweet foods like mild aromatics (cinnamon-vanilla ice cream or lemon-almond pastry). Other affinities include naturals like the marriage of onion and garlic. That’s why cooking with shallots is automatically providing such an affinity or adding some tarragon gives the combination of mint and licorice to carrots. Another interesting element of taste is where your mouth tastes. Your tongue is the landing strip for this. Sweet is on the tip (how we explore before chewing), Salt is nearly everywhere (we want and need it), Sour is along the sides (don’t want too much and it develops a bit slower), Bitter is in the back (protects us by gaging out poisons) and umami combines everything (works to satisfy our flavor fullness).
Using proper proportions of spices and herbs can make a food explode with taste or neglecting to season and the food winds up being bland. Satiety, your expectations of being well fed. full, and no longer hungry is a value which all chefs and cooks strive to achieve, portion sizes notwithstanding.
Regional foods have established flavors. Why does Mexican dishes often taste different than dishes from New England? Szechuan is not like Hunan. Northern Italy uses ingredients not commonly used in Sicily. Keeping a cultural sense of cuisine keeps the flavor appropriate to the dish. No fusion confusion!
Let’s look at the pepper. It is unique and varied. Some chilé peppers are very mild while others may bring tears to your eyes literally. Chilé peppers also affect where you are tasting that heat (capsicum). For example, in Creole and Cajun foods your tasting that fierce heat up front in the mouth, whereas a plate of carne adovada from Chimayo, New Mexico the heat (spiciness) will show you up further back in the mouth. Knowing the main ingredient (heat source), either cayenne or NM red chilé, will allow the cook to understand the flavor better. Did you know that Scoville Units (something great thing to Google), are a measurement used in purchasing cayenne? Cayenne is bought by HUs the more Heat Units the fiery the cayenne is.
Tomato and corn, can you imagine an Italian dinner not having a red sauce or a creamy polenta? But neither tomatoes or maize are indigenous to Italy or anywhere in Europe. Flavors have been so loved and cherished over the centuries, that they have traveled and been adapted both far and wide across the globe. The famous ‘silk road’, an ancient trade route created the land connection from China to India to Europe (remember Marco Polo) that exposed millions to the delights of a variety of items, including jade, silk, paper, and “new flavors”.
As humans travelled out of Africa, so did their taste buds. Since forever, we have found new flavors and shared those new taste bud experiences with each other. Agriculture grew and trade expanded, culinary techniques were literally born out of the fires of antiquity and into the kitchens of today using great flavors as a universal language so to speak. Let’s eat!