Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Food scientists, especially those specialized in flavor technology, have many options when it comes to flavor attenuators in various formulated products. By far the most dramatic flavor booster in the history of food industry has been MSG used practically in every food consumed to day. Then there are spices and condiments used in many foods to create or boost the flavor and taste at varying concentrations to generate desired notes. Salt, acids, sugar and many natural ingredients in our every day foods play their own role to enhance the acceptability. Flavor in coffee and tea comes out during the manufacturing process through chemical inter actions and pyrolysis. There are many isolated and synthetic chemicals from foods used to "top up" the flavor of some foods and beverages. But the role of water in enhancing the flavor of food is a new concept as it is generally understood that water, being a diluent, can only reduce the intensity of flavor and taste. Obviously water does seem to have some role in perceiving flavor in beverages.

Water is a simple molecule with no inherent color or taste. All beverages, alcoholic as well as others, are made of water with low concentration of other ingredients. Its biological role is to provide a medium for carrying out metabolic reactions in the body and other vital functions. Food industry relies heavily on water for its various manufacturing processes including maintaining hygiene and sanitation. The quality of water used makes significant difference in the ultimate quality of the products made. Hard water containing many inorganic salts has negative impact on the flavor and other parameters used to measure organoleptic quality of finished products. Process water and potable water always have distinct chemical characteristics while alcoholic beverage industry is extra careful in treating the water used in formulating various drinks as presence of even trace chemicals can taint the final product. The homeopathic medicinal system uses water for getting infinitely diluted drug preparations for which neutral water is a prerequisite.

A chance observation that weak cocktails can be more aromatic than stronger drinks provoked a closer look at the effect of water on the quality of the end product of liquors made ready for drinking. If not properly diluted the alcohol present in the drink can come in the way of fully enjoying it and when the level exceeds 10-12%, many connoisseurs report experiencing a pungent note which can be irritating. Generally experienced drinkers "nose" the prepared beverage or "sniff" at it to inhale the aroma which is released on adding water. Diluting spirits with optimum amount of water is the best way to bring out the aroma in many high end liquors. Probably the fact that both alcohol and typical aroma substances in products like whiskey, brandy, wines etc are volatile and since volatiles are soluble more in alcohol than in water, dilution releases the volatiles along with alcohol for the drinkers to feel the full body of the flavor.

The above principle may be playing a role in bettering the drinking quality of brewed coffee also when lesser quantity of coffee powder is used for preparing the beverage. It is known that coffee with cream invariably gives a product with less coffee aroma and many consumers prefer black coffee to fully enjoy its delicate aroma. Same is true with tea also. Full cream coffee containing milk has fat which tends to "lock in" a significant amount of aromatic substances and strong milky flavor further masks the already diminished coffee aroma. Of course drinking quality of beverage made from coffee powder can vary substantially depending on the variety of beans used, roasting conditions and brewing process. According to some experts brewed coffee strength varies between 1.25% and 2% solids depending on the country consuming this beverage and a median level of 1.5% solids can give consistently good cup quality. A ratio of 12 gm of powder to 180 ml of water is recommended by some connoisseurs of coffee for getting the typical aroma. Indian consumer, especially from the southern region, may not agree with this suggestion because most of them drink "strong" coffee with much higher solids content in the "decoction" and the final made-up beverage may contain much higher solids than the ideal 1.5%.

Flavor boosting property of water is influenced by the quality of water used for brewing and there are many scientific studies bringing out the negative influence of water of indifferent quality on the the aroma of prepared beverage. Coffee aroma is a cocktail of more than 800 organic chemicals and unless a balance is established brewed coffee is unlikely to be acceptable. Some of the inorganic chemicals that may be present in water including Chlorine can react with some of the aromatic substances responsible for typical coffee flavor and affect the cup quality adversely. More over the level of solids in the coffee will depend on the extraction procedure with manually prepared filter coffee brew containing about 20% soluble solids while commercial extractors are known to get more than 50% solubles under pressure extraction. How far the results of cup quality assessed by western standards can compare with that of filter coffee of southern India needs investigation for which a body like Coffee Board should take the lead.


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