Flavor is the sum-total of the neurological impact established when we eat any meals. It contains the fragrance, the flavor and even the structure, and thus contains all our feelings.
It is the most critical facet of meals which chooses our choice. While a particular color or texture may induce us to sample a food, it is the flavor that decides whether we will have any more of it. The flavor of any food is as important a factor in quality as its nutritional composition.
Food flavor is intimately related to cooking practices. We like the flavor of foods made in our homes and in our community because they are familiar to us. Thus, the acceptance index of a particular flavor is intimately related to our dietary patterns. If our exposure to certain food flavors has been limited, it is not easy for us to adapt those flavors. Thus, there is a variety of flavors that we may not enjoy.
A variety of materials is used in preparation and processing of food to enhance, blend and alter the natural flavors. An appropriate use can make even an insipid dish into a highly delicious product and there is ample scope of creativity while using various flavoring substances in food preparation.
Salt: Salt is one of the most widely used condiments and is one of the few pure chemicals used in food preparation. It is used to season all kinds of food preparations except sweets and has the unique property of enhancing the flavor of herbs and spices in food preparations.
Acids: Lemon juice, tamarind, vinegar, mango powder, etc., are the acid substances very commonly used to enhance the natural flavors of food and to impart an acidic taste to foods in a natural way.
Herbs and spices: Herbs and spices impart a subtle flavor to foods and their presence is evident by their irresistible aroma, which whets our appetite and also adds zest to otherwise insipid foods. Hence, these are the most important group of flavoring materials in all the cuisines. Spices and herbs come from various parts of plants like fruits, seeds, berries, roots, leaves, etc., and the flavor is due to small amounts of essential oils and organic acids present in a specific part of the plant. Each one of these has a characteristic component which is responsible for its individual flavor.
Flavoring extracts: Flavoring extracts are obtained from spices by extraction with alcohol, steam distillation or by pressing. As these are concentrated solutions of the flavoring agent, a very minute amount is needed to be added to impart the desired flavor and some of the flavoring extracts available are ginger, cardamom, saffron, vanilla, orange, cinnamon, etc.
How to use
Such flavoring agents are added to the food normally towards the end of the preparation. There is no set proportion which is acceptable to all as individual variation is a key factor. Spices may be used in their whole or powdered form. Herbs are normally cut and simmered in hot fat or oil to extract the characteristic flavor before being added to the preparation.
As prolonged cooking will cause loss of volatile components, it is advisable to add flavoring material towards the end of any preparation. These materials are very light and a very small amount is needed to impact the flavor and their contribution to improving the palatability of the product is really remarkable.
By Monica Seth