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Creating Culinary Flavors that Match Chefs’ Gold Standards
Ongoing improvements in chefs’ cooking techniques are providing cleaner, brighter, and fresher flavors. This trend and demand for healthier food and more authentic flavor profiles have raised the bar for culinary flavor development. The challenge for flavorists is to recreate these fresh, authentic flavors using techniques and ingredients that can be mass-produced.
The chef will apply “home-style” cooking techniques to produce a “gold standard” product. These techniques, such as boiling, braising, frying, roasting, searing, and grilling, produce different character-specific flavor profiles. Additional ingredients popular in ethnic cuisines will create even greater differences. What this means for flavor creation is that in addition to species-specific flavors, such as different vegetables, the character-specific flavor profile must be included.
Flavorists, who often think in terms of flavor ingredients, must clearly understand the chef ’s kitchen-based language, so they can better recreate the flavor of gold standards. They use consumer focus groups to understand preference drivers, while remaining true to the inspiration behind the chef ’s concept.
After defining the flavor of the “target,” they use a variety of ingredients to provide the missing link between the gold standard and the industrial formulation. The first challenge is choice of an industrial ingredient, where volume, efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and year-round availability are key factors. Using sensory profiling and other tools, flavorists must recreate species-specific flavor profiles to account for the difference between peak-season and year-round quality of vegetable-based materials, for example.
The next hurdle is to recreate the chef ’s “home-style” profile, without using artisanal processes. With culinary flavors, flavorists can put “cooking technique” back into the manufacturing recipe at the appropriate place, be it in a soup, a sauce, or even a protein. By separating species- and character-specific profiles, flavorists can provide a culinary flavor’s complete essence.
To provide authentic, fresh flavors which satisfy the senses, a culinary flavor must deliver all aspects of a gold standard. These include specific top notes, process flavors, taste, and mouthfeel.
Species- and character-specific top notes are the “aroma” compounds, the volatile blends that provide consumers with instant recognition and awaken the senses, like lifting the lid of a simmering pot in the kitchen. These flavors contain high-impact flavor ingredients, the true fingerprints of food profiles.
Process, or reaction, flavors, such as those formed from nonvolatile flavor precursors during thermal processing, are key to creating character-specific home-style or gourmet-style profiles.
Taste and mouthfeel, of course, are very important. Cooking also develops body, sometimes incorrectly referred to as mouthfeel. While many think body implies monosodium glutamate, ribotides, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, or yeast extracts, these ingredients do not give the effect of organic acids as occurs in the cooking process. The flavorist uses these acids to provide the character and distinguish among the various meats.
Flavorists must also control the length of time the flavor lingers on the palate. Yeast technologies and taste-enhancement molecules can control this factor to ensure that the food delivers a well-balanced, full, rich, and long-lasting taste. Understanding the interaction of volatile, low-volatile, and non-volatile flavor ingredients is crucial.
Labeling and other regulatory requirements and specific applications may require specific ingredients, like spray-dried dairy products, vegetable powders, spices, or herbs, each of which also contributes to the flavor and mouthfeel. On the other hand, carriers, or fillers, provide the flavors at specific concentrations to meet production purposes or application needs without affecting flavor perception.
Flavorists must also consider matrix interactions that occur when the flavor is applied in soups, sauces, dressings, or meats. For example, high processing temperatures may cause chemical reactions. Dynamic flavor systems based on precursor or intermediate-reaction flavors can control flavor development during heat treatment.
Interactions with other ingredients, such as fats, starches, and acids, can also dramatically affect taste thresholds, flavor, and aroma. Changes in food products during storage affect flavor as well, so flavor stability must match the food’s shelf life. Flavor-delivery systems can overcome the changes created by flavor-compound oxidation.
Finally, flavors are released and perceived differently based on the temperature at which the food is consumed. Flavorists need to balance particularly volatile flavor ingredients, especially in hot food applications.
State-of-the-art flavor creation is crucially important to develop the chef ’s collection of flavor profiles, which will allow the product developer to create unique and authentic food concepts.
by MICHAEL PETERS
Hoffman Estates, Ill.