Soon autumn will be upon us and none too soon for dear Rose. Here, in the Upper Midwest, it was a beastly hot summer and so terribly dry that I was fully expecting my grape vines on the garden fence to completely give up on the expected offering of fresh grapes and produce raisins instead. They pulled through it in the end, although pale and exhausted, but I do appreciate their valiant effort in the face of such hardship. Some of the vegetables were not so fortunate. Fall, and all of its beauty, whispers words of coming hope to us through the late evening chill of the air; it assures us that summer’s stubbornness must soon give way and we will be able to enjoy the outdoors again.
How have you been, Dear Heart? All is well, I do hope. It is time for us to talk about food once again and to continue with our chat about the building blocks of cooking food. This time our topic is “aroma”. A food’s aroma is the second sense that is engaged when you are served a dish (the first is the setting, or visual appearance…a topic we will save for the next food chat). Like the other aspects of food, if it is unpleasant, no matter how wonderful the dish tastes, the memory of its off-putting aroma will persist.
Aroma is born from the ingredients, especially those with aromatic or essential oils. Aromatic or essential oils are volatile chemical compounds that are slowly (in mild dishes) or rapidly (in intensely aromatic dishes) released from the food. These volatiles leave the food as a vapor and are encountered by the nose, rather than the tongue. Temperature can sometimes affect the amount of aromatic compounds that are released, with some food being much more aromatic when warmed.
Aroma and taste can be closely aligned; but, in some foods they seem to have nothing to do with each other. How closely they complement each other is the difference between a complex and wonderful food experience, and that which is undesirable. If you enjoy wine, you know what I mean by this…it is analogous to the difference between the wine’s bouquet and its taste. They need not be similar to be complementary.
Aromas need to pleasant and, if at all possible, intriguing. The perception of aroma is influenced by other aromatic foods when consumed together. For example, tasting wine while eating strong cheeses alters the taste experience of each. The art of wine pairing with food cannot be understated! Strong wines should be paired with food that is heavier, robust and flavorful. Delicate wines should be served with light foods so that they can each be enjoyed with neither overpowering the other. These principles extend to aromatic food to aromatic food pairings as well. The aromas of your foods served together should be complimentary with none overpowering the other. There is oneexception to this rule, however! You can serve a powerfully aromatic food with lightweight counterparts, but only when very small portions of the stronger food is offered. This is why relishes and dips are usually highly seasoned and flavored, and used sparingly on bland vehicles (such as Melba toast or wafers). It is all about correct proportions!
Some familiar aromatic vegetables and spices include onions, garlic, vinegar and cloves. Contrast these with salt and ginger, which pack powerful flavors but no aroma. It is important to know not only the taste, but aromatic properties of your spices and ingredients so that you can use them wisely.
Goodbye for now, My Dear! My thoughts are always with you and until next time, Kisses to you!