Intensifying flavor and aroma

One advantage of food processing is that it enables you to enjoy things never seen in nature, such as the ever-popular — and ever criticized — cheese spread. A more mundane benefit of food processing is that it intensifies aroma and flavor, almost always for the better. Here's how:

  • Drying concentrates flavor. A prune has a different, darker, more intensely sweet flavor than a fresh plum. On the other hand, dried food can be hard and tough to chew (think beef jerky).
  • Heating heightens aroma by quickening the movement of aroma molecules. In fact, your first tantalizing hint of dinner usually is the scent of cooking food. Chilling has the opposite effect: It slows the movement of the molecules. To sense the difference, sniff a plate of cold roast beef versus hot roast beef straight from the oven. Or sniff two glasses of vodka, one warm, one icy from the freezer. One comes up scent-free; the other has the olfactory allure of pure gasoline. Guess which is which. Or you can pass up the guessing and try for yourself. Nothing like firsthand experience!
  • Warming foods intensifies flavors. This development is sometimes beneficial (warm roast beef is somehow more savory than cold roast beef), sometimes not (warm milk is definitely not as popular as the icy-cold version).
  • Changing the temperature also changes texture. Heating softens some foods (butternut squash is a good example) and solidifies others (think eggs). Chilling keeps the fats in pâté firm so the stuff doesn't melt down into a puddle on the plate. Ditto for the gelatin that keeps dessert molds and dinner aspics standing upright.
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