What Is Flavor?
We sense flavor foods in several different ways. Unfortunately, in many foods like chicken, beef, and baked goods, fats provide much of the flavor. Fats are a good flavor carrier. Many organic molecules that provide flavor do not dissolve in water but do dissolve in fat. When the molecules are carried in fat, the flavor can be spread easily throughout the food.
It's better to have a small amount of real fat in your food, rather than relying on artificial substitutes. Scientists may find problems with these substitutes in the future; these products use lots of artificial and manufactured ingredients, and they just don't taste the same.
Much of the flavor in foods is actually produced by the aroma, not your taste buds. That's why foods don't taste as flavorful when you are suffering from a cold or allergies. Receptors in your nose react with aromatic compounds given off by food. These receptors send signals to your brain that are registered as smell.
Nerve endings in the eyes and in the mucous membranes of the nose, mouth, and throat identify aromatic compounds like mint, spicy foods, and ammonia. The sense of smell can be affected by illness, injury, or disease. This sense also lessens as we age. This can be a problem when counseling older people about healthy eating habits. Food just doesn't taste as good as it used to because their sense of smell has diminished.
Artificial flavors actually get their start in the real thing. The smell flavorants, or chemicals which create the aroma, are extracted from the natural source. Scientists then purify and analyze them. Different combinations of thousands of chemicals are tried and tested to see if they resemble the original odor.
Believe it or not, color is a flavor cue. Scientific tests have determined that if people cannot see the color of a food or drink when they eat it, they make mistakes about the flavor. Scientists have found that the color green increased sweet taste sensitivity, while red decreased bitter taste sensitivity. One study discovered that subjects were more attuned to the color of orange juice when sensing sweetness than they were to the actual sugar level.
When foods are cold, their spice and flavor level diminishes. So when you're making low-fat salad dressings, make them spicier than you would ordinarily. As with texture, we have expectations of the temperature of many foods. Eating a cold hamburger just doesn't taste as good as eating one that is hot and juicy.
Is low fat the same as low calorie?
Low fat doesn't mean low calorie. It's perfectly possible to eat a diet very high in calories while eating a low-fat diet. The total number of calories consumed during the day is the final determinant as to whether you gain or lose weight. Eating a ton of low-fat food is just as bad as eating more moderate amounts of high-fat food.
Temperature also helps determine texture of foods. If you use a small amount of butter to brush on the top of a loaf of bread, for instance, it will taste different when it's hot compared to when the loaf has cooled.
The temperature a food is cooked to also affects its flavor. In many foods, compounds need to reach a certain temperature in order to combine or break down to form flavor compounds. Think of eating a French fry that is barely cooked and not browned, compared to one that is well browned. Or take a bite of a raw onion compared to one that is cooked. The difference is in the temperature.
There are several different types of taste buds in your mouth. Basically, flavor is divided into five major categories: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami. All of these taste buds are scattered throughout and underneath the surface of your tongue.
Taste buds have a life span of about ten days. They regenerate quickly because they played an important part in our evolutionary survival. Many poisonous plants have a bitter taste, so it used to be important that we be able to sense bitterness to avoid those plants. That's also why, when you burn your tongue on something hot, you get the taste sensation back quickly.
You also have other nerve endings, called the trigeminal sense, to detect spiciness or heat. Those nerves are slightly recessed in your tongue, which is why it can take a few seconds for your brain to register when a food is very spicy hot.
Umami, which registers as a meaty taste, is also accessed only through taste buds. Compounds that react with umami taste buds include glutamates and glycine salts found in soy sauce and monosodium glutamate (MSG).
We're born with the taste buds we'll have all throughout life. The number of these taste buds is genetically determined. Taste buds are measured per square centimeter of tongue. Some people have thousands of taste buds per centimeter, while others have only hundreds. That is why it is so difficult to accurately describe taste, and it's also why so many recipes end with the instruction “season to taste.”
Don't make the mistake of oversalting your food when you cook low fat. Too much salt can mute and overwhelm the other flavors in food, and too much sodium in your diet can increase the risk of heart disease. Most of the sodium in our diets comes from processed foods and hidden sources, so adding a lot more in cooking throws off the balance between sodium and other minerals.
Texture is a component of flavor mainly because of our expectations and learned responses. For instance, when you bite into a potato chip, it should be crisp and break apart easily. A soggy potato chip doesn't taste the same as a crisp one. Your jaw and teeth are very sensitive to thickness, texture, and pressure. Crispness is perceived by the amount of vibration a food emits when you bite into it.
The most common texture descriptors include