Posts Tagged ‘astringency’

Accelerated aging of wine

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

vinkorker
Can the natural process of aging wine in corked bottles be accelerated?

I recently found an interesting article on how an electric field can be used for maturation of wine (New Scientist news coverage of the article). Applying a AC field of 600 V/cm for 3 minutes resulted in an accelerated aging of wine and according to the authors of the paper, it made “harsh and pungent raw wine become harmonious and dainty”. They observed changes in concentrations of higher alcohols, aldehydes, esters and free amino acids. But I was quite surprised that they don’t say anthing about astringency and polyphenols (tannins). I’d expect some changes there as well, but alas it’s so much more difficult to measure the polyphenols than the low molecular compounds. A sensory panel identified both positive and negative effects of the electric treatment which helped identify an optimum treatment. Apparently several Chinese wine manufacturers are testing the technology on a pilot scale now. Many people have a romantic impression of how wine is made, but the extensive catalogues of “corrective chemicals” available to the modern wine maker should perhaps make you reconsider the romatic idea of wine making. Even professor Hervé Alexandre at the University of Burgundy has given the technology a thumbs up: “Using an electric field to accelerate ageing is a feasible way to shorten maturation times and improve the quality of young wine”. Who knows – maybe you’ll soon be drinking a wine that has been zapped?
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Wonders of extraction: Ethanol

Sunday, June 8th, 2008


Extraction of cherries with ~45% ethanol in water

Ethanol is a molecule with both a polar and a non-polar end, so it’s properties are somewhat in between those of water and oil (which will be the topic of the next post in this series about extraction). This is easily illustrated by the fact that both water and oil are soluble in pure ethanol (albeit not at the same time – adding water to ethanol reduces the solubility of oil). Many taste molecules are polar whereas most aroma molecules are non-polar, and the good thing is that ethanol can be used to extract both groups of compounds.

I belive the most widespread use of ethanol for extractions in the kitchen is for sweet liqueurs where fruits or berries are extracted with ethanol and the extract is sweetened with sugar. The word liqueur comes from the Latin word liquifacere which means “to dissolve”, and this is essentially what happens – the ethanol and water extract and dissolve flavor and color from the fruit.

Some also make their own spirits by infusing spices and herbs. One example is aquavit which is based on carraway combined with a number of other spices for complexity such as dill, coriander, anis, fennel, liquorice, cardamom and lemon. Commercial aquavits are distilled, but at home it’s suffices to filter of the spices and herbs. As a result home made aquavits are always amber colored (such as the one pictured in a previous post).

For extractions like these, one always uses diluted ethanol, typically 30-60% ethanol in water would be used, and most often somewhere around 40-50%. One reason for this is that higher concentrations of ethanol would extract to many bitter and astringent compounds. Another reason is that in some (most?) countries it is illegal to posess, buy and/or sell ethanol at higher concentrations for consumption (pure ethanol for technical use is denatured if sold in normal stores and requires special permissions if used in laboratories).

Apart from the steping herbs and spices in ethanol to make liqueurs, the only other example of relevance for the kitchen I can think of is for extraction of vanilla beans to make pure vanilla extract. This is quite surprising actually, and although I really don’t know if ethanol is used for extraction in professional kitchens, it is my impression that ethanol extractions are underutilized in the kitchen.

There are several benefits with ethanolic spice and herb extracts:

  • fast – no need to wait for the spices to be extracted since they have been “pre extracted”, you can taste the dish immediately and add more spice extract if necessary
  • no residues – seeds, leaves or bark are filtered off before use
  • convenient – spice extracts are an excellent way of adding clean, concentrated aromas
  • stable – spice extracts keep very well (although the storage may also change the flavor profile somewhat and “mature” the flavor)
  • new flavors – some spices and in particular herbs will change upon extraction and storage and this can open up new possibilities (this needs quite some experimentation though – some herb flavors change to the worse…)

What are your experiences with ethanol extractions in the kitchen?