The Aroma Of Food
The other day my cousin invited me for a meal in the suburbs and gave me the pleasure of choosing the menu for the dinner(something I love :)). I decided on the Chicken and Black Mushroom Soup as I always like to try something unusual on the menu.I knew right away that it was a good choice cos of the smoky aroma that enveloped us before it was placed in front of us.The clear soup was heavenly to say the least...with slices of mushroom,chicken and spinach dancing beneath the hazy hot fumes of steam.
The Pot Rice I ordered here was also aromatic, thanks to its content of star anise and fresh vegetables with which it was cooked in a closed clay pot.Hmmmnnn!
These days,I notice that the food in restaurants is very well plated but lacks aroma! While it is true that hot food has more of an aroma than cold,cold food can also smell great!In restaurants, so many times I have had to bury my nose close to the hot dish to get any essence of what am eating.
Another Chinese restaurant in town also excels in keeping the olfactory senses in mind.Fish is steamed in a closed container with spring onion and ginger...when the dish is opened,the flavors waft into the air to amaze you!
At a recent Asparagus Festival,we were served Mushroom Cappucino....a soup with shavings of Truffle,the much valued mushroom gathered from forests by dogs or pigs.The soup had a lovely earthy smell thanks to the Truffle.
As far as coffee,chocolate and vanilla go,their beans per se have no smell but when they are fermented and roasted,then we get their peculiar aroma.How many times I have enjoyed driving by the coffee shops of Matunga for that very reason.It is the chemical substance furfurylthiol in coffee which gives us that roasted smell.Makes me wonder how many people enjoy the aroma of coffee and how many the taste.
In Vanilla it's Vanillin that gives us that heady feeling.The reason why vanilla beans are so expensive is because their processing is cumbersome and time consuming.Yet what a relief to replace the stinky sulphuric smell of eggs (due to hydrogen sulphide) with the pleasant scent of vanilla.Dramatically changes the flavour of caramel custard and many a cake!
One of my favourite aromas is that when the cover over slowly cooked Biryani is removed...best one ofcourse is when my mother makes it and removes the atta coating sealing the degchi when it's done.Things that make you go hmmmn! Blessed are those whose neighbors are good cooks! I talk from experience.Everytime my neighbor cooks,we sigh in delight and try to guess what she's made!
What will amaze you is that even Molecular Gastronomy involves gadgets to incorporate aroma...Grant Achatz,the Chef behind Alinea in Chicago (truly inspiring as he is a cancer survivor and has reached dizzying heights in food excellence) has created the Volcano Vaporiser to incorporate aromas by regulating heat.
Aroma has health implications.The Diogenes Project is a large scale study in 15 European countries assessing the all important role of diet in weight regain.A part of this study is the NIZO group's study done in the Netherlands that showed food aroma affects bite size... a better aroma leads to satiety with smaller bites...so portion control in this interesting way shows promise in managing obesity! We ought to remember this while cooking and I hope restaurants too keep this aspect in mind.
In the elderly,the olfactory and taste senses are reduced and therefore they may not perceive the dishes like we do.While serving them,we must remember this rather than think that age is making them fussy!
Aroma is an important part of food....it's about freshness and spices......look for it at your every meal!