She is regularly invited to speak at chef's seminars and conventions. Her
most recent one was before 150 chef's from all over. She has now
graciously agreed to furnish us with some of her in sites into smells and
flavors of spices from all over the world.
Savor some of her recent columns . . . . .
In this column, Ann gets right to the flavor of the topic, so . . . . . take notes!
With no further adieu, we turn the mike to Ann. You're on Ann . . . . .
WHAT THE BIG BOYS KNOW . . .
Large companies such as Kraft or Campbell Soup have many advantages of
course, and I would like to address two of them, one in this article, and
the other next month's issue. First, they employ talented, trained
tasters, and secondly, they have access to many ingredients that are not
available to home cooks and, therefore, are largely unknown.
When I was doing contract work for Kraft several years ago, I was amazed
at the quality of their tasters. On one occasion, everyone on the panel
immediately detected a change in the type of paprika used in a batch from
one used in a prior batch, even thought there were at least 15 ingredients
and the paprika was only a small port of the whole. On another occasion I
switched wine vinegars from regular wine vinegar to aged wine vinegar. One
young woman pronounced "I taste oak".
All of us are talented or we wouldn't be interested in outdoor cooking.
What we lack is not talent, but training. There are classes in tasting in
some large universities. If you are not close to such a school, as most of
us are not, we can train ourselves.
Most of us know a great deal intuitively. We all have been interested in
flavor and playing with flavors for years. To become confident about
flavors, start by carefully tasting one flavor and asking questions. Where
in the mouth o I taste? Is it in the front of the mouth, the side of the
tongue, the back of the tongue, in the throat? What are the
characteristics -- sweet, sour, pungent, hot, bitter, astringent? Does the
flavor linger? When you understand that flavor, add another one, and then
Notice the aroma. Our sense of smell heightens our sense of taste.
Because barbecue is always so aromatic, we may have a tendency to forget
this important area.
Do they marry, i.e. do they come together and form a brand new flavor,
something superior or something entirely new? Chili powder is an example
of a flavor marriage. The secondary flavors marry with the primary ones
and create a new flavor much greater than the sum of its parts. When
ginger and molasses marry, they create a flavor superior to either alone.
In another kind of marriage, one ingredient acts as a catalyst. Its
functions is not only to marry with another ingredient, but also to change
it. Salt is the most common catalyst. It marries with other flavors and
makes them brighter.
Acids are superior catalysts. Vinegar, lemon and lime, as well as wine,
keep primary flavors from disappearing. White wine vinegar punches up the
flavors of herbs and is often used in sauces for fish, while red wine keeps
the flavors of beef stew intact. Vinegar lifts certain flavors out of the
background and makes them more prominent.
Are the flavors opposite? Do they balance? Do they cancel each outer
out? Do they emphasize the flavors? Sweet/sour, sweet/salty, sweet/hot
are all opposites which emphasize the flavors. No cuisine is more
dependent on opposites than barbecue. Sweet and sour is our name. Getting
the right balance is the trick. Equal amounts of sugar and salt will
actually cancel each other out. Keep in mind sour flavors balance salty
ones, sugar cancels bitterness, i.e. in cocoa, sugar cancels the bitterness
and makes the chocolate wonderful. Spicy flavors are balanced by fruity
ones, which is why pepper is good on strawberries and great in a sweet wine
A second advantage is the knowledge of unusual ingredients not
available through grocery or specialty stores. These ingredients are
available to anyone through spice companies and flavor houses. In some
cases, the minimum order may be high, but many ingredients may be bought in
First, almost anything that is available wet is available dry. For
example, dry Worcestershire sauce comes in several varieties. Most spice
companies have one or more types. It's great in rubs, adding depth and
complexity, and rounding out flavors.
There are several dry acids which add the sour to balance the sweet in rubs
and seasoning mixes. Dry vinegar not only creates balance, but also adds
interest and sparkle. Try vinegar in combination with citric acid for a
more complex flavor. Citric acid is very close to lemon and may be
substituted for lemon in most recipes. Malic acid is milder, with very
little flavor and is used successfully in raising the acid level in bottle
sauces without changing the flavor.
Soy sauces is the primary ingredient for barbecue in other countries. We
are missing a beat by ignoring this oldest known cooking ingredient. Not
only does it add a salty note, but it also adds rich, deep notes, a
wonderful chocolate color, and in the background, an incredible flavor
which is not quite burnt and not quite caramelized - - very hard to
describe - - but delicious.
All varieties of smoke flavors are sold; not only oak and mesquite, but
apple, cherry, and many others. Old wine barrels soaked with wine and
turned into chips are coming on the market. These all are great with stove
top smokers or grills. Whether they would add significantly to real
barbecue remains a question.
Molasses is sold dry in several varieties from very sweet to slightly
bitter. There are a number of varieties in honey as well as clove, sage,
and orange blossom, to name a few.
corn syrup is another sweetener available in granular form. All are useful
in rubs either by itself, or in any combination with other sweeteners.
Each sweetener has its own special flavor profile.
Caramel, or burnt sugar, is available in light, medium and dark brown. Do
not expect caramel to sweeten the product, it is for color only. Sulfites
are sweeteners added as a preservative. Use sparingly, a little goes a
Sweeteners are so complicated that we will need to discuss them in further
detail at a later date.
Yeast is one of the major secrets of manufacturing companies an is used
primarily to enhance flavors Most often yeast is added to increase the
perception of salt and spices without adding salt. There are specific
yeasts for specific jobs. Want a grill note? Try a yeast - - it rounds
out a flavor! Some produce a creamy mount feel, or a fatty feel without
adding either cream or fat. These are terrific for low fat barbecue
sauces. Any flavor house can help you with your particular problems.
The use of gums is least well known to the general public and may be the
most important ingredient to the barbecue industry. Popular gums are
Xanthin, Guar and Locus Bean. All are natural products derived from
vegetables or seaweed. Gums aid in emulsion, keep oil and other
ingredients from separating, produce a rich mouth feel and add bulk to thin
products. All are used in amounts less than 1%, and do not affect the
I have chosen only a few ingredients of particular interest to our
industry. Knowing how to combine many flavors and aromas for a pleasing result and knowing when not to combine, or what not to combine, is the difference between merely good and superior food.
All this may sound too intellectual when good eating is anything but
intellectual. Hopefully, thinking about flavors and aromas will add
confidence to your choices.
Copyright © 1998, by:
Ann D. Wilder, President
VANN Spices, Ltd.