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Many cooks know that searing and browning (the Maillard reactions) create the flavors we love in cooked beef. But are you aware of fat's importance? According to meat scientist Jerrad Legako, prime cuts with more marbling are richer in oleic acid, "the one fatty acid that frequently correlates with positive eating experience." Legako points out that grain-fed beef is higher in oleic acid than grass-fed. This article features an extensive chart of beef aromas and their related chemical compounds.
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Making blueberry pancakes or pie? You can boost the blueberry flavor by adding a pinch of ground coriander. It sounds counterintuitive, but coriander seeds and blueberries contain the same aroma compound, a terpene called linalool. In fact, when laboratories manufacture artificial blueberry flavor, linalool is the key terpene in the mix. Coriander seeds contain up to 85% linalool, which gives both ground coriander and blueberries their floral, citrusy aromas. For your next batch of blueberry muffins or pancakes, try bumping up the blueberry flavor by adding a half teaspoon or so of ground coriander. It works.
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Producers of mezcal (artisanal tequila) traditionally determine its alcohol content by pouring a stream of liquor into a small bowl to make bubbles. They know the spirit is ready when the bubbles last for 30 seconds. If the bubbles burst immediately, the mezcal needs more distillation to reach a higher alcohol content. During five years of research, Brown University fluid physicist Roberto Zenit discovered the science behind this ancient empirical method. Zenit used high-speed video cameras to reveal how bubble surfactants and viscosity, key markers of bubble duration, both determine the spirit's alcohol by volume (ABV). Low viscosity and a surplus of surfactants reduce the surface tension on the bubbles, causing them to burst. But as the alcohol increases through distillation so does the viscosity, while the surfactants decrease, causing the bubbles to last longer. Zenit found that a bubble lifetime of 25 to 30 seconds corresponded to the ideal 40 to 55% ABV sought after by mezcal artisans.
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Umami is now recognized as the fifth basic taste, along with sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Could kokumi be next? Described as a mouth-coating fullness, kokumi can be tasted in foods like Gouda cheese and soy sauce. Japanese scientists traced kokumi to the amino acid glutathione and have identified the taste receptor triggered by glutathione. More research is needed, but kokumi could help explain why foods like chicken soup have such a satisfying taste and near universal appeal.
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A big red wine always pairs so well with a cheese and charcuterie board. But why? According to a new study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the fats in the food tame the tannins in the wine. Tannins are astringent and develop from grape skins and stems, and from aging in oak barrels. They're what constrict your tongue when you sip a complex aged wine like Cabernet Sauvignon. It turns out that meat and cheese (or any fatty foods) ease the constriction. A team of French scientists analyzed the interactions of tannins and fats using optical microscopy, electron microscopy, and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, as well as measuring fat droplet size with static light scattering. They also asked study participants to taste tannic solutions alone and with a spoonful of rapeseed, grapeseed, or olive oil. The results showed that oils make tannins less likely to bind with proteins in saliva, reducing their astringent effect. Fats and tannins go together like...well, peanut butter and jelly.