THE VARIED WORLD OF THE CAPSICUMS
Chili peppers are a member of nightshade family (solanaceae) in the capsicum genus. There are various types of capsicum that all have their own distinctive qualities and varied heat level. Generally speaking there are two separate types of pepper – sweet and hot.
HOW DOES CHILI DEVELOP ITS PIQUANCE
Capsaicin is a lipophilic chemical that creates a strong burning sensation when in contact with mucous membranes. The chili pepper family are the only plants capable of producing this irritable chemical.
The acid is produced in a ball of tissue that grows under the stem inside each chili pepper. The seeds and veins are attached. The hottest parts are found around the tissue especially in the top inch of each chili pepper so to reduce the strength it is advisable to remove all the inner tissue, seeds and veins.
It’s hot or spicy intensity comes from capsaicin and several related chemicals called capsaicinoids. They bind with pain receptors in the mouth and throat. As a result the body responds by raising heart rate, increased sweating and releasing endorphins.
WHAT CHILI PEPPERS AND CHOCOLATE SHARE
It is well known that capsaicin causes an endorphin reaction. Besides the chili pepper the only other ingredient that can do the same is chocolate.
When released in the body by vertebrates, endorphins serve various purposes other than giving a natural high. They are said to be painkillers, assist memory and reduce ageing. Chilis also encourage the appetite producing a craving to eat.
WHAT IS SCOVILLE SCALE?
Capsaicin is an oil-born acid that is quantifiable. The scoville scale is widely regarded as the definitive standard of Chili Peppers comparing. Basically it measures the pungency of chili peppers in SHU (scoville units) by taking an alcohol extract with capsaicin oil which has a mixture of sugar and water added to it. When there is no detectable chili this is the value given to each test. A main criticism of the scale is that it is totally subjective however it is still a good benchmark for how chili peppers compare.
As the world’s national diets continue to converge with local foods disappearing Cuisitive will be featuring foods that are under threat and report on initiatives whose objective is to ensure that they are not lost forever. The three most important food crops in the world are rice, wheat and maize (corn) providing around 60% of the world’s plant derived food energy.
Maize, alone, meets a third of the calorie needs of Latin America, the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa. There has been, over many decades, a major decline in the number of varieties of these crops. For example, Mexico, where maize was first domesticated, has lost 80% of its varieties since the 1930s and in the USA 43% of maize is now derived from six inbred hybrids. Similarly, six varieties of wheat (Common wheat, Spelt, Durum, Emmer, Khorasan and Einkorn) account for the major part of world production. In contrast, the Germplasm Resources Centre in Norwich UK holds in its gene bank 1787 named varieties and 3685 landraces of bread wheat. Rice has undergone a similar process. In West Bengal, for example, there were once 5,000 varieties of rice; now only 150 varieties can be found in growers’ fields.
It is recognised by many international organisations and their sponsors that it is necessary to ensure the continued genetic diversity of these major crops to avoid vulnerability to diseases that could affect worldwide production.
Furthermore, for the individual consumer the diversity of taste on offer has and continues to be diminished.
Fortunately, there are, however, important initiatives that are addressing this issue.
At a national and global level seed banks have been established to store and make seeds available across the world. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Norway holds the seeds of 825,000 crops plants. Their mission is
‘…to rescue crop diversity in danger of disappearing forever. We pursue conservation and use of the wild cousins of our food crops. And we help develop a new generation of information technologies to make the world’s crop diversity searchable and accessible wherever it is needed.’
There are also a number of other seed banks and research institutes around the world, some of which hold important grain seed collections, for example:-
International Crops Research Centre, Patancheru, India
International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre, Texcoco, Mexico
and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) based in Aleppo, Syria.
ICARDA is the site of a gene bank holding seed accessions from over 110 countries including traditional varieties, improved germplasms, and a unique set of wild crop relatives that include wheat, barley, oats, and other cereals. It includes more than 135,000 varieties of wheat, fava bean, lentil and chickpea crops, as well as the world’s most valuable barley collection. These seeds were collected over decades and most cannot be found growing in the fields anymore.
The International Rice Research Institute in Los Banos, Philippines holds 127, 000 rice accessions and wild relatives from all over the world and has released more than 1,000 improved rice varieties in 78 countries since its establishment in 1960.
At the other end of the spectrum individuals around the world are pursuing initiatives to grow and utilise once common but now threatened varieties of grain seeds. In Sicily, Italy, Filippo Drago has rediscovered ancient wheat varieties such as Tumminia, Russello, Biancolilla, Perciasacchi, Bidì and Maiorca and now produces flour using his own mills.
The Oikawa Farm in Mikasa-shi, Hokkaido, is one of the few farms on the island of Hokkaido, Japan that grows eight-rowed maize and probably the only farm that cultivates Sapporo hachigyo maize, once a staple, as a commercial crop. Debal Deb based in the state of Orissa, India grows on an exchange and non- commercial basis 940 varieties of indigenous rice seeds including rare varieties such as Jugal and Sateen, which he has collected from small farmers during the last 17 years.
Cuisitive celebrates and promotes the world’s food ingredients. However, food diversity significantly diminished during the last century and continues to be subject to ongoing threats and challenges.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN, as far back as 1999, advised that since the start of the C20th century some 75 percent of plant genetic diversity had been lost as farmers worldwide had left their multiple local varieties and landraces for genetically uniform, high-yielding varieties.
The Slow Food Foundation (SFF) reported in 2014 that of the 30,000* species of edible plants remaining in the world no more no more than 150 were widely cultivated.
* some sources state that the number could be as high as 80,000 or even 250,000.
The SFF advised that 50 crops provided 90% of the world’s calories (around 50 years ago several thousand plants would have done so). Furthermore, it was estimated that 9 crops accounted for 75% of the plant kingdom’s contribution to human dietary energy and that 3 species, rice, maize and wheat provided more than 60% of the world’s food.
Across the world the nation’s diets continue to converge with local foods disappearing; for example, varieties of sorghum, millet, rye, cassava and yam are in decline and are being replaced by wheat, corn, soybean and sunflower.
Some 30,000 varieties of rice were once grown in India; now less than 10 varieties account for more than 75% of production. Commercial factors limit the availability of diversity. While there are more than 1,000 banana varieties in the world one variety – the Cavendish – accounts for 95 per cent of the global banana export market.Similarly four commercial varieties of apples – Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, Gala and Granny Smith – currently make up 90 per cent of the world market and of the 2,500 types of pears that were grown in the past, just two account for 96% of the market.
Similarly in animal husbandry a small number of high-performance breeds have spread throughout the world since the C20th often replacing local breeds. These include Rhode Island Red and Leghorn chickens, Large White, Duroc and Landrace pigs, Saanen goats and Holstein Friesian and Jersey cattle.
In 2016 the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems reported that globally between 2001 and 2007 one breed of livestock had indeed become extinct each month and that 20% of breeds remained at risk of extinction. A series of articles will be posted over forthcoming weeks featuring ‘lost’ ingredients and those that are under threat of disappearing.
Jerky is a method of meat preservation in which fresh meat is dried to prevent the growth of bacteria.
The origin of this process dates from the C16th when the Quechua tribe in South America boned and removed the fat from alpaca and llama meat. It was then cut into slices, pounded and rubbed with salt before being sun-dried or smoked.
The Quechua word ch’arki means to burn (meat). After the Spanish conquistadors arrived Ch’arki became Charqui.
In North America native tribes employed a similar process drying the meat of deer, elk and buffalo and after the arrival of the Spanish the term ‘Charqui’ was embraced but became modified to Jerky.
Jerky was originally a staple foodstuff to be eaten when other food was scarce. Since then with the addition of various spices and other flavours jerky has become a desirable tasty snack rather than eaten out of necessity.
Modern manufactured jerky is normally marinated in a seasoned spice rub or liquid, and dried, dehydrated or smoked with low heat. A wide range of meats are used including alligator, beef, deer, kangaroo, ostrich, wild boar and yak as well as various kinds of fish; salmon, trout and tuna. Many ingredients including brown sugar, soy, garlic, chilli, lime are now used to enhance flavour.
Jerky should not be confused with other dried meat products such as pemmican, kilishi, biltong, bakkwa and pastirma.
Pemmican, another Native American product consists of dried meat that is pounded into small pieces and then mixed with melted fat and ground berries such as cranberries and Saskatoon.
Kilishi is a Nigerian product involving sun drying cow, sheep or goat meat which is then coated in a peanut based paste with spices and sometimes honey before further drying and roasting.
Biltong originating from South Africa is meat that is traditionally dried using vinegar and coriander to inhibit the growth of bacteria.
Bakkwa (Rougan) is a traditional Chinese preparation now produced in many Asian countries using beef, pork and mutton marinated with spices, soy, sugar and salt before being dried on racks.
Pastirma is of Armenian origin and involves salting beef, then removing the blood and salt before covering with a cumin, fenugreek, paprika and garlic paste and air drying.
Verjuice* or Vert Jus (Green Juice) in French refers not to its colour but to its main ingredient, unripe (sour) fruit.
In medieval times, across much of the Mediterranean and Middle East regions and in England, when sour was perhaps a more widely appreciated taste than now, the term, verjuice, could refer to the unfermented juice of a variety of unripe fruits, from grapes to crab apples, sorrel, gooseberries to plums.
Verjuice was used to give depth to flavours and add a delicate tartness to all kinds of sauces, condiments, mustards, stews and meats.
However, following the introduction into Europe of the tomato (C16th) and lemon (C19th) the popularity of verjuice gradually declined.
In its modern incarnation, verjuice refers only to the bottled juice of unripe grapes, normally picked during the thinning process about halfway toward maturity in late July or August when the grapes are high in acid and low in sugar.
Green grapes are most often used, but sometimes red are added, creating a slightly more full-blooded product.
Like lemon juice, verjuice adds a fresh tartness to a wide range of dishes but it is more gentle and subtle with a slight but definite undercurrent of vegetal sweetness. Indeed verjuice has the tartness of lemon juice and the acidity of vinegar but without the bitterness of either. Consequently it complements rather than masks other flavours. This is because its tartness is derived from tartaric acid (the same acid found in wine) as opposed to the citric acid of lemons or the acetic acid of vinegar.
Today, verjuice remains popular in the Middle East where it is used as a marinade for fish and in both vegetable and meat stews but it has attracted increasing interest elsewhere and is being used in new ways to enhance flavours.
It is used, for example, to deglaze pan juices, as a substitute for citrus juices in desserts and as a dressing for salads. It is also served as an aperitif and mixologists incorporate it into syrups and cocktails.
Verjuice is now commercially available with producers in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA.
*known as Agresta (Italian), Agraz (Spanish), Ab-Ghooreh (Persian), Husroum (Arabic), Hosrum (Lebanese Arabic)
Tiger’s milk, leche de tigre or leche de pantera, whilst considered by some as an aphrodisiac or hangover remedy, is more notably the essential liquor component to ceviche; the Peruvian dish.
Traditionally, this citrus based marinade consists of lime juice, aji limo (chile), onion, salt & pepper. Other ingredients used include cilantro/coriander, apple, garlic, celery, bell pepper and ginger. The objective is to produce a powerful, tasty and chille liquor to cure the seafood, the main ingredient in a ceviche.
The liquor is served not only with the ceviche dish but also separately in a small glass or indeed transferred from the plate after eating to drink as a post prandial climax.
When we think of tamarind it is usually only applied to the brown sticky pods that are ubiquitous throughout Asia and the Americas. In fact the terms is also used for other species which do not belong to the same family of Tamarind (Fabaceae) which is actually a legume.
The Native Tamarind (Diploglottis australis) is actually a Sapindaceae that is only found in the rainforests of Eastern Australia. It is considered as an Australian native food and is used in gastronomy. It is notoriously difficult to harvest because they grow high up with trees reaching 15metres. Usually they are collected when the fruits fall to the ground. This factor makes this interesting fruit complicated to commercialise.
The aril of the fruit surrounding the seed may be eaten raw or added to jams and chutneys. Because of its very intense and sour flavour profile, it should be paired with more delicate ingredients like poultry, fish and seafood. It also is used as the basis for a tangy cool drink. If you ever get the chance to try this ‘bushfood’ while visiting Eastern Australia take it as you might not come across again.
Bubble tea has taken western markets by storm lately but not a lot of people know what it is and how it is made.
Boba milk tea, boba juice and pearl milk tea are just some of the names given to this Taiwanese creation. Back in the 1980s in Taichung, Taiwan this tea-based drink was invented. To this day they refer to it as pearl milk tea but the term bubble has grown in acceptance outside Taiwan.
The essentials are tea with fruit or milk and chewy tapioca balls. Once all this is shaken together a foam is formed giving its name Bubble tea. There are some variations that exist these days but the traditional one of milk tea and tapioca as well as milk green tea and tapioca remain the most popular. Many Asians are lactose intolerant so it is not always added with alternatives like soy milk and other milk substitutes often used.
In general terms two distinct types can be defined – Fruit Flavoured and Milk Tea. Black tea (usually oolong or Earl Grey) are preferred as well as green tea (Jasmine) or even coffee.
The range of fruits used in bubble tea are only limited by your imagination. Here is a list of many of them: plum, strawberry, green apple, passion fruit, mango, lemon, watermelon, grape, lychee, peach, pineapple, melon, lychee, mango, banana, avocado, coconut, kiwifruit and jackfruit.
Other ingredients may be added including taro, chocolate, coffee, barley, sesame, almond, ginger, caramel, lavender and rose. To give some sweetness honey, agave or stevia can also be added along with of course sugar. One of the amazing things about Bubble tea is the different texture sensations. Not only are tapioca pearls added but also coconut jelly, konjac, grass, azuki bean, mung bean paste, sago and aloe.
Bubble tea is served cold in most circumstances with plenty of ice. It is important to note that with sour fruits, milk is normally not added as it can curdle the milk.
PRICE VS FLAVOUR
When you go to the market looking for bell peppers you are usually influenced by two factors. Whether you want a sweeter pepper or save some money. There is a reason why the green peppers are cheaper and not as sweet. They are the immature or unripe versions of the bell pepper which are in the same family as the usually hotter chili peppers. Like the red bell peppers the orange and yellow ones are also more ripe than green.
Green bell peppers are often slightly more bitter than the red, orange or yellow ones as the lack of time to mature does not allow the fruit to become sweeter. Because they are harvested earlier and thus require less growing time, the green ones can be sold for less.
Other than the better flavour, nutritionally a riper bell pepper contains a higher amount of beta carotene. This is especially true for the red bell peppers while yellow ones have a higher vitamin C content than green ones.
For us the green bell peppers still do have a place in the kitchen. The difference between all types is often minimal especially when combined in a stew or salad. They are cheaper and not all possess the bitterness of very unripe bell peppers.
APPARENTLY NOT. IT’S ORIGIN GOES BACK TO ANCIENT TIMES
The word croissant instantly makes us think of France. That is indisputable. The buttery, flaky pastry in a crescent form is quintessentially French. Think again. The reality is that the croissant has a distant ancestor, the Austrian Kipferl which dates back to at least the 13th century.
Around 1838/1839 an Austrian artillery officer founded a Viennese bakery that served many specialities including the kipferl. This inspired many French imitators that eventually developed the crescent shaped (croissant) that has spread around the world. By the late 19th century the croissant was well established as a breakfast staple.
The modern day croissant is made of a layered yeast-leavened dough. Basically the dough is layered with butter then rolled and folded many times into a sheet (called laminating). Similar to a good puff pastry, the result is a flaky layered texture. To make an excellent croissant you need sugar, salt, flour, milk, eggs and butter.
VARIATIONS AROUND THE WORLD
In France and Spain croissants are normally sold without filling and no butter but sometimes almond is added while Nutella or persipan are put inside German croissants.
In the US sweet fillings are sometimes added as well as filled with a multitude of ingredients including feta cheese, ham and spinach.
If you ask for a croissant in Argentina you might be met with a blank face. They are known as medialunas (half moons) and are typically coated with butter which can be sweet or salty. In other Spanish-speaking countries, a croissant is often called a cuerno (horn). Makes sense.
Whether you want to see croissants as French or Austrian is a matter of preference and interpretation. The reality is French culture has made them the world famous breakfast pastry we love.
Malaysian cuisine draws up three major influences – Malays, Chinese and Indians. If one ingredient can symbolise Malay food it is the chili pepper. They cannot get enough of it. Add to this a good amount of Belacan (shrimp paste) and some coconut and you are well on the way to mastering the basics of this fantastic culture and cuisine.
Norman Musa’s book Amazing Malaysian: Recipes for vibrant Home-Cooking has over 100 recipes to try and will be released this month.
FOOD TRENDS 2016
Said to become really popular in the US this year, the Pokē is largely unheard of outside its native Hawaii and the West coast of the US.
Pokē is a raw fish salad served as an appetizer in Hawaiian cuisine. Pokē actually means to slice or cut in Hawaiian. Traditionally oily fish are used in particular the yellowfin tuna but it may also feature raw salmon or other seafood along with the essentials mentioned here. It is an interesting mix of cooked and raw. It’s both a comfort food and a healthy meal.
Prep Time: 0 hours, 10 minutes
- 1 pound raw Ahi Tuna loin cut into chunks
- 1/4 cup minced sweet maui onion
- 3 Scallions (green onions) thinly sliced
- 4 tablespoons Soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon toasted Sesame oil
- 2 chili peppers cut into small pieces
- A handful of seaweed (fresh or dried)
1. Mix together all ingredients in a bowl except the tuna. 2. Pour mixture over the raw tuna. 3. Serve over a bed of rice or lettuce.
Like a good piece of nigiri sushi rice complements raw tuna extremely well. To start some good white rice seasoned with rice vinegar and mixed with some seaweed if you like. It can be the regular white rice or some short grain sushi rice.
Ahi tuna (yellow fin tuna) is the most common choice used on the islands of Hawaii. Other tuna, salmon and different seafood can be used depending on the taste of the chef. What is crucial though is the fattiness of the fish. Fat gives more flavour and holds up really well to the other dominant ingredients in a good pokē. Traditionally the fish used was often the discarded parts chopped up into small pieces.
3. POKĒ SAUCE
The original recipes include a few ingredients and in general keep it clean and simple. Much the same as Ramen, the options for modifying this dish are endless. We feature some of the traditional essentials in our infographic but really experimentation can lead to really interesting results. A good soy sauce is fundamental to the pokē but everything else is up to debate. If you think it will work add it to your pokē.
Pokē has grown in popularity because it is healthy and a great way to start a dinner. It is fresh, varied and exciting. Presentation is extremely important. The fresh red/pink colour of raw tuna should contrast with the other ingredients. The soy sauce and sesame oil creates a glossy luxury look to a very simple salad.
THE WEIRD AND WONDERFUL WORLD OF FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
Cuisitive has over 350 fruits and over 250 vegetables in its flavour profile collection . Among these are some truly extraordinary examples of the variety that exists. What might be exotic, bizarre or strange for someone is to another person a common and normal ingredient. We have selected 20 from dozens of amazing fruits and vegetables. Add your suggestions for others at the bottom to add to our next edition.
1. CASHEW FRUIT
It is high in Vitamin C, refreshing, very juicy, but a bit acidic. Oh and did you know thats actually a cashew nut attached to it.
2. ACHIOTE OR ANNATTO
An orange-red condiment and food colouring is this fruits gift to gastronomy. It is used in many cultures but especially in Latin America.
A mysterious and beautiful fruit native to the north of Japan. Have you ever seen anything like it? Unfortunately the flavour does not match its appearance so much.
Also called the snake fruit which seems extremely appropriate. Actually a type of palm fruit that is enjoyed in parts of Latin America especially.
5. BUDDHA’S HAND
Probably the oddest fruit in the collection. Not much good in the kitchen other than using its rind and for making jams or marmalades.
6. BLACK SAPOTE
The chocolate pudding fruit that amazes everyone that tries it. Its flavour profile and texture is even said to be reminiscent of chocolate. Not exactly but about as close as you are going to get from a fruit.
7. THATCH SCREWPINE
It looks like an impenetrable flourescent spaceship but it does actually have some use. Its flesh interior is edible but involves some work to get to it.
8. KIWANO OR HORNED MELON
This fruit can truly be called exotic. At least for its amazing and shocking appearance. Flavour is not quite as interesting but definitely a point of conversation.
Like fish eyes caught in a venus fly trap. Bizarre looking and seemingly without use. In fact ackee is half of Jamaica’s national dish (the other being saltfish). Creamy and egg like in flavour.
10. DRAGON FRUIT
About the most well known exotic fruit and the worst kept secret. Everyone loves it for its fancy look. Yellow, white, pink and green. It really does come in all colours.
A ‘grape’ native to Brazil that grows on trees. Yes that is nearly right. The jabuticaba actually has its fruit stuck to the trunk. One of the most beautiful fruits you can find.
Part of the huge custard apple family, the chirimoya is not only attractive but delicious when ripe. Its flavour profile is something like custard, ice cream, pear and apple mixed together. Try it and you will see.
Honeycomb texture, elongated to the extreme. The monstera is actually edible with a flavour of banana mixed with pineapple.
A root vegetable from the andes that look like giant caterpillar dipped in red dye. Crunchy, starchy and very much like potatoes. Really worth it to buy on your next trip to Peru.
Black or white. Salsify comes in a variety of shades. Exploded on the culinary food scene in recent years. Has a mild flavour similar to Artichoke.
Yes they are the leaves of a cactus and people do actually eat them. Just remove the spines and you have a delicious vegetable to add to your meal.
A sea vegetable that grows on coasts. Intertwined like millions of snakes they are actually abundant when you know what you are looking for. Vegetables that have the taste of the salty sea.
Nutty and sweet (also called the Jerusalem artichoke). Quite ugly in appearance but really good to cook with.
19. YARDLONG BEAN
Self explanatory from the name. These beans are extremely long. Similar to the regular podded beans you are used to but much much longer.
A type of fern that intertwine themselves to form fancy balls. Used as a vegetable and a favourite amongst foragers.
If you have other fruits and vegetables you think we should talk about that are equal to these 20 let us know in the comments and we will do another series.
Flavour generation is maximised only when a piece of meat reaches over 140°c and Maillard Reactions occur. As temperatures reach 160°c the meat begins to caramelise and subsequently at 200°c it starts to burn.
Skill is involved to manage to fully develop the potential flavours of the meat without reaching pyrolysis. Some charring is desired and popular but can easily lead to a burnt unappetising steak.
A chemical process between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives browned food its desirable flavour.
1. The carbonyl group on a sugar reacts with a protein or amino acid’s group – produces glycosylamine.
2. The glycosylamine isomeries to give a ketosamine.
3. The ketosamine reacts to produce a range of different products.
In simplistic terms: Heat + Sugars + Proteins = Best flavour
To achieve the development of complex flavours that we all find delicious, the steak should be able to reach the optimal temperature during cooking. In the case of steaks they need to be cooked on a very high heat for a short time in order to allow the surface to go above 140°c and start to brown. Without this the end result can be bland and largely tasteless.
Knowing what a superfood actually means is subject to much debate. It can leave most people searching for healthy foods confused and skeptical. Despite this, superfoods did get their name for something. They are generally very beneficial and important additions to your diet. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) named the following 25 ingredients as superfoods.
THE IMPORTANCE OF FORMING NATURAL CARAMELIZATION
Caramelisation is defined as the process of heating and cooking sugars until its browns and forms new flavour compounds’. A complex mix of flavour compounds develops when sugar oxidizes. The flavour profile that results is one of rich nuttiness, caramel sweetness and an intense brown colour.
Essentially the reaction relies on the removal of water through steam and the breakdown of the sugar. Caramelization is a non-enzymatic browning reaction. Caramelization occurs during dry heating and sustained temperatures to ensure the breakdown of sugars and the formation of new flavour compounds.
ALL ABOUT SUGARS
There are several types of sugar found naturally in ingredients. They include fructose, galatose, glucose, maltose and sucrose. Often when learning to cook, people are led to believe that caramelization depends on the addition of table sugar (sucrose) to an ingredient in order to encourage or instigate the process of caramelization. Luckily this is not the case as a huge range of ingredients contain some form of natural sugar that has the potential to caramelize.
- Sucrose | 160° C, 320° F – Caramelization temperature
Sucrose is the most important sugar in plants. The most common way to extract it is from sugar cane or sugar beet. The final product goes through a process of purification and then crystallization.
Initially when sucrose starts to heat it will reach a stage of foaming or boiling. It begins to decompose into fructose and glucose resulting in water loss of individual sugar components. This sets off a series of new reactions that produce hundreds of new aromatic compounds that ultimately create the desired complex flavour profile known as caramelization.
- Fructose | 110° C, 230° F
Found naturally in honey, berries, melons, sugar beet, sweet potato, parsnip and onion normally in combination with sucrose and glucose. Fructose is the sweetest sugar in nature (around twice as much as sucrose).
- Glucose | 160° C, 320° F
A simple sugar found in plants. Along with fructose and galactose, it is among the 3 dietary monosaccharides absorbed directly into the bloodstream through digestion.
- Galactose | 160° C, 320° F
Less sweet than fructose and glucose, Galactose is found in dairy products, sugar beet, gums and plant mucilage.
- Maltose | 180° C, 356° F
It is the least common sugar found in nature. Maltose is usually found in germinating seeds.
FOODS THAT CARAMELIZE
Despite other ingredients like carrots and beets containing the highest concentration of natural sugars, the onion is the most common ingredient to be caramelized. The reason for this being the speed at which it can be heated, browned and plated. Within 5-10mins you can produce perfectly caramelized onions.
Ingredients that are high in sugar content but also high in water are usually not the best for caramelization as it is a dry heating process that benefits from a greater ratio of sugar over water content.
- Carrots (sugar 5% | water 87%) and Beets (sugar 7% | water 55-65%)
Among vegetables these two ingredients contain the highest amount of natural sugar. They are excellent to use for caramelization as well as creating flavour compounds through the Maillard reaction.
- Potatoes (sugar 1% | water 79%)
The golden brown colouration seen when potatoes are roasted is caused by caramelization.
- The Alliums (Onion family) – Onions (sugar 5% | water 86%) and shallots (sugar 8% | water 80%)
As they are heated the strong pungent sulphur compounds dissolve allowing new sweeter flavour compounds develop and replace the bitterness.
- The Brassicas (Cabbage family) – Brussel sprouts (sugar 2% | water 87%) and cauliflower (sugar 2% | water 92%)
Very popular caramelized. The sprouts benefit as they develop a greater sweetness that overwrites the often disliked bitter taste when boiled.
In addition apples (sugar 10% | water 84%), bananas (sugar 12% | water 83%), pears (sugar 10% | water 84%) and Plantain (sugar 15% | water 65%) are all very good when caramelized.
THE FLAVOUR CARAMEL
Several compounds have been identified that give the distinctive caramel aroma and flavour.
Diacetyl ( 2,3-butanedione) – Buttery or butterscotch flavour.
Esters and lactones – Alcoholic rum like flavour.
Furans – Nutty flavour.
Maltol – Toasty flavour.
Although these are some of the most important, over 100 flavour compounds have been identified that produce the characteristic caramel profile.
DANGERS OF TOO MUCH HEAT
If sugars continue beyond their caramelization point it can lead to an eventual destruction and a burnt and bitter horrible result.
CARAMELIZATION OR MAILLARD REACTION?
A lot of cooks confuse the two chemical processes. Simply put the Maillard reaction occurs when sugar breakdown and reacts with amino acids (proteins) such as the process of baking bread, cakes etc as well as cooking meat, whereas caramelization involves purely sugar. More often than not both reactions work in tandum and it becomes difficult to really establish the distinction when cooking many ingredients.
Creating ice cream or gelato involves the fine balance of fat content, the amount of air and temperature. The vast majority of ice cream is actually water which form ice crystals as the temperature of the mixture drops. We have all tried low quality ice cream where the ice crystals have not been minimised leaving an unpleasant crunchy cold surprise. What sets the best ice cream from the mediocre is a rich blend of fat and ice crystals that are as small as possible.
Essentially ice cream is the mix of emulsifying fats that surround and stick to water molecules preventing the formation of large ice crystals. Combined with this the addition of sugar also hinders crystallisation.
A water/sugar solution forms a syrup that has a lower freezing point than water on its own.
This base forms the initial part of the process. The incorporation of air during the churning process creates a final product that is well aerated, light and creamy.
Ice cream stored at a lower temperature will be more solid. Ever opened an ice cream tub to find it a soft unappetising mess? Just take of the lid and leave it in the freezer to harden up.
The fundamental difference between ice cream and gelato is that the former has a higher fat content and more aeration during the freezing process.
Gelato is actually the italian word for ice cream. This does lead to some confusion how to separate it from what we consider ice cream. Gelato often has milk rather than cream added as well as a lesser amount of egg yolks. To get the familiar and much loved ‘lightness’ of ice cream the churning process is pretty fast compared to that of making gelato. In contrast, Gelato is churned slowly creating a denser result than ice cream. Rather than being served a brick of gelato, temperature control allows for an elastic soft texture. Gelato is stored at a warmer temperature than ice cream. Usually around -12c while ice cream is stored as low as -20c.
So Ice cream or gelato?
The reality is that both can give as much pleasure as the other. Sugar content varies in both, some ice creams are richer than gelato, while others are the total opposite. Gelato has the reputation to be fresher, greater attention to its ingredients and usually more artesanal but excellent ice cream is readily available just as much as gelato.