Taste: Flavor First

Jamie Vincent Bordonaro

The quintessential sensory characteristic of a plate of food is unquestionably taste. Investigation of general flavor components and more specific definitive qualities of taste will serve to demonstrate the formidable role of flavor and taste in food. Flavor and aroma are directly intertwined and cover a plethora of sensations and experiences. The principle of balance derives from the specific categories of taste: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami.

Flavor may have a scientifically designated link to smell and aroma, but in general terms and understanding, we acknowledge the taste of a dish with regard to the sensation of flavor. The detection of various sensations in a dish sets the stage for the ingredients to define their roles. Hot peppers add spice, butter and cream create decadence and richness, and cardamom and coriander elicit a warming sensation. On a more specific level, fresh tarragon in a salad brings about an herbal note that can elevate the dish as a whole. Caramelized hazelnuts would help to accent a savory root vegetable soup and add depth. Shaved black truffle can bring a mushroom dish to new heights of sophistication. The distinguishing factor that determines whether a dish has the potential to reach flavor nirvana is the quality of the ingredients. The fresher and more properly cultivated the ingredient, the more pronounced the flavor will become. Locally sourced carrots, picked at peak quality will undoubtedly exude bright carrot notes and enhance the flavor of any dish in which they are utilized. The quality of ingredients along with their precise technical treatment determine the final taste of a dish.

Scientifically defined, taste includes the categories of salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami. The fundamental role of these designations is in the creation of balance in cuisine. Utilizing sweet ingredients—or emphasizing the sweetness through technical treatment—is essential in balancing a naturally salty dish with bacon as the centerpiece. Counteracting a decadent foie gras dish with a sour (acidic) component can help to cut the richness of the plate. Balance in a dish prevents monotony and creates intrigue for the diner.

In Defense of Molecular Gastronomy

Modern innovation and application to ingredients in a dish amplify the overall aesthetic appeal of different preparations, but more importantly can enhance taste tremendously. The rotary evaporator extracts the most intensive and concentrated flavors from ingredients and can be utilized in the creation of incredibly flavorful plates. The most expressive sensation of a parsnip can be accessed with this level of technology. Presenting the purest of flavors allows the chef to put ingredients on display with as little garnish or distraction as possible.

Our sense of taste is crucial in the enjoyment of food and appreciation of cuisine. The categories of salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami are not limitations, but opportunities to achieve an appropriate balance in cooking. The multitude of flavors extracted from different ingredients create a vast network from which delicious dishes develop.