Bringing back the flavour

Store brought tomatoes can be bland. Recently scientists have discovered that it is because domesticated tomatoes are missing over 5,000 genomes compared to their wilder cousins, including the one that gives them their distinctive taste. Thanks to this research, store bought tomatoes may soon regain their flavour. This is not limited to tomatoes; many different products have lost unique properties over the years are now beginning to bring them back.

Tomatoes are an integral part of many recipes from pasta sauce, to shakshuka to the humble BLT. Giving them back their flavor will increase consumer satisfaction in products containing them, but how did we get to this place to begin with?

Over humanity’s 12,000 years as an agricultural society, farmers have selected certain strains of fruits and vegetables that demonstrated particular qualities — specifically fruit size, shelf-life and growth speed. This selective production has meant that certain qualities were encouraged while others were suppressed.

Due to the primitive nature of the science at the time it was also hard to fully understand the effects this would have. In the case of tomatoes, it made them bigger, last longer and grow faster but in return they lost the iconic flavor that made them so popular. Though we may imagine this happened recently it was during the earlier years of our modern era circa 1800, well before the advent of modern GMO’s, that tomatoes started to lose their flavor.

With modern techniques researchers were able to find the gene central to providing flavour to the fruit. Thanks to this development producers are now looking to re-introduce this forgotten flavour gene back into mainstream tomatoes. It is important to note that it was through a modern approach that this was achieved.

Many may believe that a rejection of modern applications means we can return to a more flavourful sustainable time, but this is far from the truth. Not only would rejecting modern methods be a step backwards in production, it would generate more waste and reduce sustainability. Control methods in modern applications and developments are a much more secure path for creating sustainable production methods.

Modern technology also allows food manufacturers to have more of an impact on the flavour of their foods. From keeping produce fresher for longer to making sure that precise amounts of ingredients are mixed while making a product these technologies allow for precise production of quality goods.

For example, smoking houses imbue smoky flavours into cured meats. However, good control is necessary to ensure that the meat receives an even cover of smoke during the process, or the product may end up with an uneven flavour. These steps may have been previously irregularly carried out due to the unbalance smoke distribution or lack of precision in the required timing to impart smoke flavour.

Technology such as manufacturing operations management (MOM) software allows for detailed control over a large production system. In the case of a smoking house it is able to balance fan motors to give the meat an even balance of smoke while also optimising power usage and timings.

With one in place a plant can achieve the production rate necessary to keep up with current demand while providing high levels of control that reduces waste. This is because the system will also be able to track the health of the plant and allow operation managers to take better predictive or preventative measures to lower waste.

MOM software also helps manufacturers become more agile, meaning that production lines can integrate steps that may have been in the traditional recipe but were removed, at the beginning of industrial production, due to being hard to integrate into an automated process.

These modern tools mean that we can actively bring back forgotten flavours without discarding the benefits of modern production methods and while remaining sustainable, allowing us to enjoy the best of both worlds.

Playing with the senses can change how food tastes

It was Apicius, the Roman gourmand, who came up with the line that “the first taste is with the eyes”. The latest research from the emerging field of gastrophysics shows that he was absolutely right. Our brains evolved to help us find food – and making food look more visually appealing can prime expectations and therefore enhance the taste. The Conversation

It isn’t just the sight of the food, though – you should see, hear, smell and touch food as well if you are going to make enough of a meal of a dining experience. Here are a few ways in which our senses can conspire to make food more of an experience.

Heston Blumenthal’s Sounds of the Sea seafood dish.
Sergio Coimbra, CC BY

Think about the plate

Research shows that we rate food as tasting different depending on the colour of the crockery on which it is served. We conducted an experiment at Ferran Adria’s Alicia Foundation just outside Barcelona a few years ago in which we demonstrated that people would rate a pinkish strawberry mousse as tasting 7% sweeter, 13% more flavourful and 9% more enjoyable when it was served it on a white plate rather than a black plate. Meanwhile, others have demonstrated that we will eat less junk food if it is served from a red plate than from a plate of any other colour.

But it isn’t just the colour of the plate that affects our food behaviour and flavour perception; it is also the shape. Several studies have shown that people rate food as tasting sweeter if it’s served off a round plate than a more angular plate. So, for anyone with a sweet tooth, the recommendation from the gastrophysics lab is that you should save the angular black slate for the cheese.

Think about the cutlery

In order to get the food from the plate to our mouths, most of us use cutlery. But just how much thought have any of us given to the cold smooth hard metal that we put in our mouths several times every day? The latest gastrophysics research shows that food tastes better – and we are willing to pay more for it – if we eat with heavier cutlery. Adding texture to the handle or spoon of the cutlery can also make for a more enjoyable, more stimulating, and definitely a more memorable tasting experience.

It’s results such as these, collected from both the science lab and also from the comments of real diners in restaurants, that help explain the why Heston Blumenthal gave diners a heavy furry-handled spoon to eat the last course of “Counting Sheep” at his Fat Duck restaurant in Bray.

It is amazing to see all the new cutlery designs that are being developed. But some chefs in top restaurants – such as the two Michelin-starred Mugaritz in San Sebastian, Spain, and at the Chef’s Table by Kitchen Theory in London – are going even further and putting out dishes that are specifically designed to be eaten with the hands.

Think about the music

Sound really is the forgotten flavour sense. Enhance the sound of the crunch and people think that crisps taste crisper and fresher. This is the groundbreaking research that got us the IG Nobel Prize for Nutrition back in 2008. However, beyond the sound of the food itself, have you ever wondered why crisps so often come in noisy packets? It turns out that that too is part of “the experience”. Noisier crisp packets also make foods appear crisper – as we showed in research with Heston that was reported in 2011.

However, one of the most intriguing ways in which what we hear affects what we taste relates to the emerging field of sonic seasoning. For it turns out that playing tinkling high-pitched music brings out the sweetness in food and drink, while low-pitched brassy music accentuates bitterness instead. We have now identified the kinds of music that will bring out sourness, spiciness, and even accentuate the creaminess of a chocolate.

It may seem crazy, but the business world really is starting to sit up and listen. For instance, British Airways launched a “sound bite” menu, long-haul meals with matching musical accompaniment back in 2014. Meanwhile, a café in Vietnam just opened playing lots of sweet music to help people reduce their sugar intake.

Think about the lighting

You should also think about the lighting when you eat. Research from the US shows that people who like “strong coffee” drink more of the stuff under bright lighting, while increasing the brightness of the lighting can also nudge people toward ordering spicier chicken wings. In our own research, testing more than 3,000 people, we showed that we could enhance the fruitiness of a red wine (served in a black tasting glass) by around 15% simply by putting on some red lights, rather than regular white, or green lighting instead. Adding some of that sweet music in the background made the effects even more pronounced.

Put all the research together – and you can read about this in my recent book – and what some have been tempted to call “off-the-plate” dining can, I firmly believe, help us all to create more enjoyable, tastier, healthier, and more memorable meals.

Charles Spence, Professor of Experimental Psychology and University Lecturer, University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Top Image: Shutterstock


Suntory Whisky To Release Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016

Suntory Whisky, the pioneer of Japanese Whisky, will launch the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 into the Australian market in February 2016. 

The Yamazaki Sherry Cask has been created for lovers of complex, refined, yet subtle tastes. Only 246 bottles will be available for sale in specialist whisky retailers and bars. 

In 2015, Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible awarded the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 “World Whisky of the Year”. The new 2016 blend incorporates the same whiskies that created the 2013’s base with an additional two years maturation as well as adding various rare sherry cask single malt whiskies, some of which are over 25 years old.  

Created by Chief Blender and Great Grandson of founder Shinjiro Torii, Shinji Fukuyo, the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 is a deliberate design, choosing from over a hundred malt whiskies.

While sherry casks are both revered and feared for their strong character, Shinji Fukuyo selects only casks that hold a delicate balance of chemistry between the Yamazaki malt, and sherry cask, thereby enhancing Yamazaki’s characteristically rich and multifaceted flavour.

“Shinji Fukuyo has designed a journey in this whisky. The Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 is undeniably where Spain meets Japan in the form of a whisky. To fully enjoy this journey, Fukuyo recommends the whisky first be served neat to showcase its nose.

On its own, there is a clear and fresh top note. A raisin-like, deep sweetness that is both elegant and rich,” Narelle McDonald, Beam Suntory Marketing Manager for Premium Brands, said.

“You immediately taste the complexity of this liquid, and the fine balance of maturity and delicateness. Served on the rocks, the flavour opens as you begin to taste the Delaware grape-like sweetness and its slightly bitter acidity. When cut with water, there is a soft sweetness that blossoms like the first apples of the harvest,” said McDonald.

Sherry cask whisky has been a constant staple of the Suntory Whisky portfolio since 1924; a year after the distillery began construction. Shinjiro Torii started making Suntory Whisky in sherry casks imported from southern Spain, which he had originally used to blend his famous Akadama Sweet Wine.

Today, Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo visits the Northern region of Spain himself to ensure that it is his selection of Spanish oak to be sent to the “bodegas” sherry wineries to be made into sherry casks used to store their Oloroso Sherry.

Fukuyo carefully oversees this entire process, from the selection and making of the casks, to the charring, and the aging of their sherry. After three years of aging, the sherry casks are sent back to Suntory Whisky, ready to receive what becomes the distinguished Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky.

The Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 will be available in selected specialist whisky retailers and bars from February 2016.