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  Corkscrew Issue 26, January 2005   
Sensorial Analysis of FoodSensorial Analysis of Food  Contents 
Issue 25, December 2004 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 27, February 2005

Sensorial Analysis of Food

Enogastronomical matching is the happy marriage between wine and food, an art which is usually considered difficult but in reality it requires just a little of good taste, curiosity and initiative

 It is said that the most binding test for a wine it is the matching with a food, of course not all foods, but certainly the ones that - at least in theory - are complementary to it according to an organoleptic point of view. The choice of a wine to be matched to a food is usually considered hard by most of the lovers of the beverage of Bacchus as well as by the ones of good cooking, it is often believed the enogastronomical matching is a sort of alchemy that only few elected can put into practice. It is good to remember, whenever you talk about enogastronomical matching, these two fundamental presuppositions. First of all, the matching defined according technical principles has the goal of formulating a pairing objectively agreeable and, secondly, the subjectivity of a matching cannot be replaced by a technical solution anyway. This does mean that in case a person likes matching a very acid wine to a salad seasoned with lots of vinegar - a condition which is always discouraged according to technical principles - no rule or imposition is neither licit nor opportune.

 For this reason when you talk about enogastronomical matching - an art whose goal is the gratification of the senses of an individual by means of the complementarity or contrast of wine and food - it is always opportune to remember it is a suggestion and never an absolute rule: in other words, conditional is always a must. Moreover it is good to remember the enogastronomical matching can be done according to principles having no technical basis, such as traditional, cultural, seasonal, romantic, poetic and - in particular - personal factors. This is why the famous saying “fish always goes with white wine” - a very common saying about enogastronomy - besides being denied by obvious technical principles, it could also be little agreed by many if not at all. The secret of success in enogastronomical matching is essentially represented by curiosity and initiative in discovering new sensations and new tastes. In case only the strict rules of matching would be considered, no one would have the idea - and the curiosity - of matching a sweet wine to a salty and proteinic food such as meat or cheese.

 The traditions of some places in which are being produced renowned and historical sweet wines, teaches that even these wines can be well matched to roasted meat, even very elaborated. An example for all is Sagrantino di Montefalco Passito - sweet and pretty tannic - traditionally matched to hard pecorino cheese and, during the Eastern lunch, with the “robust” roasted lamb prepared according the Umbrian tradition. Moreover are renowned - as well as tasty and gratifying - the many matching of sweet wines with hard and piquant cheese. However tradition - even though in this specific case would be better to talk about “common belief” - does not always suggest pleasing or well made matchings, at least according a technical point of view. If we talk, for example, about oysters or caviar and we ask about the name of a wine to be matched, the most probable answer would be Champagne or however a sparkling wine. Indeed - according to a technical point of view - this is not a right matching. The reasons of the celebrity of this matching - just like many others - is connected to the gratification derived by joining two luxury and expensive products; a principle which does not satisfy any organoleptic sensation and greatly enhances the psychological conditioning.

 

Understanding What You Eat

 It is undeniable that food evokes in men such different emotions and that each person has a relationship to it in an absolutely personal way. For humans food is not only an element for survival, of course not in poor conditions when even a small chunk of bread represents the border between life and death and it is cause of violent competitions. It is enough to observe the gastronomical traditions of every culture and society in order to understand food goes beyond the “simple” act of eating. Cooking certainly is one of the many human expressions in which it is possible to appreciate the inventive on man - in this case in positive terms - where intuition, fantasy and intelligence are joined together in order to create something which goes beyond the need of feeding and to ensure survival. Colors, aromas, flavors, tastes, contrasts and harmonies are just some of the elements found in food and that play a fundamental role in pleasure - strong and deep - going beyond the need of “eating”. These elements - that is the capacity of recognizing and appreciating these “ingredients” - make the difference between eating, tasting, contemplating, appreciating and gorging oneself with food.


Knowing food and wine is essential in
order to formulate a good pairing
Knowing food and wine is essential in order to formulate a good pairing

 Watching a person eating is an useful exercise in order to understand his or her relationship with food. There are persons who simply take the food to their mouth without considering or evaluating other aspects. Others watch, smell and sample it and then eat it, while trying to understand every aspect of its composition, from ingredients to the cooking technique, from the way it was presented to the sensation it can give. It is undeniable our modern life style - frantic, not very natural and of which all of us are responsible - has contributed to a progressive distraction towards certain sensations and emotions, not only the ones connected to food, by making us pretty frivolous and superficial beings, most of the times attracted by the illusion of appearance. Our ancestors who lived some centuries ago, were probably more attentive to the quality of food and they probably watched, smelt and sampled it before eating, in other words they made sure that - first of all - it was not noxious. This is a habit we “modern men” have lost probably because of the relative certainty offered by the food industry, accustomed to the idea that we could hardly find a spoilt or noxious food.

 Whoever loves nice food does not consider eating a mere act of greed: it is undeniable that being greed for food gives satisfaction, however it is true that the real gourmet is the one who can appreciate every quality of food, very different from the one who eats compulsively or absent-mindedly. If we would try to be more critic and attentive to what we eat, many foods of disputable quality - but well supported by specific economic interests - would not probably meet the interest of people who would be more caring to what they eat instead. To tell the truth, it is good to remember that the use of certain ingredients as well as the use of specific cooking techniques contribute to hide some faults and defects of certain foods and they can even make them disappear. The more one it is attentive and critic towards he or she eats, the more it will be easy to discover certain tricks and to appreciate food better. This capacity is not reserved to few persons only: it is enough to pay more attention to the food you find in your dish while trying to understand it before eating. After all everyone has sensorial capacities allowing the analysis of food - of course as well as of wine, being food itself - the important thing is to remember to have them and to make a good use of them.

 Formulating an enogastronomical matching means - first of all - to have the capacity and will to know every organoleptic aspect of food and of wine: only after having understood these factors it will possible to define a matching in an objectively agreeable way. The most dangerous enemies in this regard certainly are distraction and superficiality; the best allies are experience, knowledge of cooking, of ingredients and cooking techniques. After all, how can you express an opinion or a judgment about what you do not know - or even worse - of what you do not want to know? Organoleptic evaluation of food - as well as of wine - requires concentration and commitment: attitudes which are not always easy to put in practice, in particular for the ones who are accustomed for a long time to not pay attention and concentration on their senses involved in eating or drinking. It is not a hard or impossible job: every person - saved the case of specific pathologies - has senses which continuously send information to the brain: it is enough to pay more attention and to try to listen even to the most weak signals that our sensorial system is capable of detecting.

 

Evaluation of Food

 In most of the cases, the evaluation of a food simply means tasting it with the mouth, perceiving its taste and swallowing, nothing else. This operation, in its essentiality, however requires the involvement of three sensorial qualities: taste, smell and touch. The involvement of taste - in the sense or the recognition of fundamental flavors - is probably obvious to many, maybe it is less obvious the involvement of smell - but it is good to remember that without smell there would not be taste - whereas touch allows the recognition of consistence and physical qualities of a food. In other words, if the combination taste-smell allows us to recognize an apple from a cucumber, it is touch which allows us the recognition of a liquid from a solid, a cold food from a hot food. Evaluating a food means analyzing it with attention, not only with the above mentioned sensorial qualities, but also by using the senses of sight and hearing. Sight allows the comprehension of the appearance - a fundamental factor for the psychological gratification associated to food - whereas hearing provides other information about the freshness and quality of ingredients. An example could be the “sound” produced by biting a fresh or faded carrot, as well as the noise produced by snapping a bar of good chocolate.


 

 The appearance of a food and the way it is presented, represent the first approach for the taster. Appearance - besides positively or negatively preparing the taster - offers important information about its preparation and about the ingredients used. It is undeniable that a food having a pretty bad aspect, negatively influences its pleasingness and this factor is well known by cooks, restaurateurs and food industries which, of course, try their very best in order to take advantage of the presentation of foods. The aesthetical aspect of a food is however important: it is a sign of hygiene and good cooking, however it is good to remember that most of the times the appearance is deceiving and what it is nice for the eyes could not be good for taste. Evaluate the aspect and the good presentability of food, but never stop to the superficial evaluation of this aspect only. The primary information that can be understood by appearance are the quality and the quantity of ingredients as well as the cooking technique and the preparation method. Also remember the way a food was prepared strongly influences its taste. For example it is enough to watch vegetables in order to understand whether the cooking was excessive with a subsequent loss or alteration of organoleptic qualities and nutrients.

 An aspect to which few persons pay attention during the tasting of a food is its smell. The aromas of a food - just like for wine - is a factor of fundamental importance in order to understand the quality and the quantity of ingredients, the agreeability and the cooking method, such as the use of aromatic herbs or spices. Moreover, thanks to smell it is possible to recognize some cooking faults, such as smells of burnt. The first smell evaluation will be done about the overall aromas of the food. Take the dish in which the food was served and raise it to your nose - or vice versa - and smell the aromas altogether by doing circular movements in order to perceive the aromas of the entire food. Smelling what you taste is of fundamental importance and it is good to remember that taste is a sensorial quality which is also expressed by means of aromas. In order to understand the importance of smell in the evaluation of taste, try to taste some types of foods blindfolded and with your nose closed: in most of the cases it will be impossible to recognize even the most simple and common foods.

 The next phase consists in evaluating a small part of food that will be introduced in the mouth. Take a small quantity of food with a fork and raise it to the level of the nose, therefore doing another olfactory evaluation: the aromatic qualities of food will have probably changed in regard to its overall impact. Put the food in your mouth and chew it, evaluate all the flavors as well as the overall impression of taste - that is the combination of primary flavors and smell - while trying to analyze, just like you would do for wine, the correspondence of taste analysis with aromas analysis. According to the most common theories about taste, the primary flavors are four - sweet, salty, sour and bitter - however it is good to remember that this theory, formulated more than one hundred years ago, was denied, or better completed, by some researches done in Japan in the beginning of 1900's and that only recently have been accepted in the western world. To the four fundamental tastes is to be added a fifth one - the so called umami - found in many foods and playing a fundamental role on their agreeability. Often and mistakenly associated to sodium glutamate, in reality umami is a more complex taste sensation, sometimes described as the taste of a sapid and tasty food similar to meat broth.

 Umami would deserve a more comprehensive discussion - which would go beyond the purpose of this preliminary introduction - however it is undeniable its presence is perceptible in the complexity of many foods, and many traditional sauces used in the western cooking - as well as pizza and Parmigiano Reggiano, as to give some examples - are particularly rich. The last analysis done on food is about harmony and balance. Just like for wine, even foods are considered according to the harmony of ingredients, where one exalts and completes the other without excessively prevailing. The quality of balance in foods is a characteristic found in aromas and in taste, last but not the least, in the aspect. For example, in case in a spicy food it is not possible to appreciate the aroma and the taste of the main ingredient, its harmony and its balance will be scarce, whereas in a food in which the presence of spices completes and allow the perception of the organoleptic qualities of the main ingredient, the harmony and balance will be high. At the end of this brief introduction, we would like to suggest you to pay more attention on food: we are certain you will enjoy better the experience of eating. Finally it is good to remember that eating is not tasting and that food is also a source of pleasure, not only of survival. In case it would be like that, every edible thing would suffice to this purpose.

 




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  Corkscrew Issue 26, January 2005   
Sensorial Analysis of FoodSensorial Analysis of Food  Contents 
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