Flavor scientist Arielle Johnson discusses the creative side of culinary chemistry
By Arielle JohnsonPosted 06.13.2012 at 12:01 pm 1 Comment
Think you know the fresh, lemony taste of lemongrass, or the lush herbal taste of basil? Most of what we experience as "taste" actually comes from our sense of smell, not from our tastebuds. Volatile compounds -- molecules light enough to produce a vapor or gas -- play a key role in how we experience food and drink (as well as fragrances and scents). But the complex ways in which we perceive these molecules as flavor is not nearly as straightforward as pure chemistry, making understanding flavor partly, but not completely, a chemical question.
The idea that Canadian sommellier François Chartier presents in his book Taste Buds and Molecules: The Art and Science of Food, Wine, and Flavor is a very intriguing one. Look at the aroma molecules that give foods and wines their characters, he says, and use that as a basis for pairing foods with wines and with each other. Instead of years of tastings and trial and error, a few simple principles and charts can guarantee exquisite pairings every time.
Intriguing idea, yes; but the author sets it out in a hodgepodge of details with a diaphanous veneer of science, direly lacking the clear explanations of cause and effect that would make it truly useful.