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I am busy taking/ failing exams so I am going to share a video with you:
Story of my life!
Outfit of the day:
Food Science Part II:
Guest Post from my foodie friend Ryan!
Hello again! I’m back to talk more about how tastes work. Last time I talked about the water-soluble component of taste, the one that your taste buds perceive as sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. But those tastes on their own are pretty boring, and the much broader category of flavors comes from oil-soluble compounds. To illustrate this, the popular trick you may have tried when you were little is to close your eyes, pinch your nose, and try to tell the difference between an apple or a pear, or between an onion or a potato.
Other than the five basic tastes mentioned above, every flavor depends on smell for detection, which means that it has to be volatile. This doesn’t mean that they are going to explode, just that the forces holding the molecules close to one another are weak enough for molecules to occasionally fly off into the atmosphere, or your nose. This happens most often with nonpolar compounds, and for the flavors we find in food, most of these are either terpenes or phenolics.
In organic chemistry, a guiding principle is that “like dissolves like”, which is to say that for a solvent to absorb a compound, it helps if it looks or acts something like it. Water is a very polar solvent, and consequently, it does a really poor job of dissolving the volatile compounds that make up aromas. Oils are much less polar, and absorb aromas very well, which is why most flavors are stored in “essential oils” in the leaves and seeds of plants (herbs and spices, respectively). Flavor-infused oils are convenient for cooks because they are easy to make, and they allow a flavor to be captured, stored, and distributed on a meal just before serving.
Alcohol (the drinking kind at least) has the dual benefit of being nonpolar enough to absorb these flavor compounds, and just polar enough to mix with water. So, in addition to the recreational value that alcohol has from its effect on the cell membranes in your nervous system, alcohol is a convenient delivery system for flavors that just won’t stay in a water-based drink. Gin is a particularly impressive example, with juniper, coriander, citrus, and a variety of other herbal flavors making up the usual flavors in London Dry Gins. Bourbon is known for having a pronounced vanilla flavor, since the alcohol extracts vanillin from the charred oak barrels that it is aged in. In fact, vanilla extract generally has about the same alcohol content as most hard liquor (~40%), and legally can’t have less than 35%, although I wouldn’t recommend drinking it.
So, if you’re trying to capture a flavor, making an infusion with oil or with alcohol is worth a shot! Let me know if any of this is too technical or doesn’t have enough explanation, I’m happy to answer any questions. Have a good week!
Did you learn something new? Have you ever locked yourself in the bathroom?