Posts Tagged ‘coffee’

Maximizing Food Flavor by Speeding Up the Maillard Reaction

Monday, June 4th, 2012


Is there a way to speed up the browning of onions? (Photo: Frying onion from Bigstock)

An idea that struck me once was to add baking soda to browning onions. I chopped an onion, melted butter in a frying pan, and added the onions together with a pinch of baking soda. And voilà (as Louis-Camille Maillard himself would have said): the color of the onions changed faster than without the baking soda. The taste of the browned onions was remarkably sweet and caramel-like, and compared with conventionally browned onions, they were softer—almost a little mushy. By the addition of baking soda, I had changed the outcome of an otherwise trivial and everyday chemical reaction, and the result seemed interesting from a gastronomic perspective!

The idea of the baking soda addition was not taken out of the blue but based on (more…)

Norwegian egg coffee

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010


Egg coffee – a mild and refreshing drink that can be served warm as well as cold

I recently stumbled over “Norwegian egg coffee”. At first I thought it was a joke, but it turned out that this is indeed an “egg coffee” – coffee prepared with an egg! I have never heard about it here in Norway, but the fact that it’s popular among Americans of Scandinavian origin in the Midwest suggests that it could be something immigrants brought with them from Norway (feel free to fill me out on the historic origins of this!). I mentioned egg coffee to my mom, and although she had never heard of it before, she did mention that skin or swim bladders from fish were used when boiling coffee to help clearify it. In fact the Norwegian name for this – klareskinn – literally means “clearing skin”. The English name is isinglass (thank’s Rob!). Could it be that the fish skin originally used was replaced by eggs, perhaps due to a limited availability of fish in the Midwest? After all, both are good protein sources.
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Interesting books to appear in 2010

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

In addition to Modernist Cuisine and Keys to Good Cooking there are so many new books appearing this fall, so to save you from too many blog posts I’ve collected them here in a single posting. These are all books that I find interesting from my popular food science perspective combined with a strong interest for the actual cooking! The books are, in order of appearance: (more…)

Eating fruit with salt

Sunday, July 18th, 2010


Salt helps to bring out the flavor of watermelon

In Asia it is not uncommon to eat fruit with salt or even soy sauce. From my own experience, and via friends, I known that fruits such as mango, guava, honey dew melon, watermelon, nashi pears and papaya are eaten with salt. Interestingly salt is used both for ripe and unripe fruit – the latter is especially the case for mango and guava. With unripe fruit I can imagine that the primary motivation is reduction of bitterness. I’ve previously blogged about salt and coffee and how salt in tonic water reduces bitterness – the mechanisms are the same. In addition to the bitterness suppression low concentrations of salt will enhance sweet taste. [1] This would certainly be an advantage in unripe fruit. In ripe fruit there is hardly any bitterness left (or at least I presume that is the case), so here the salt may serve a different funtion. Could it be to balance the sweet taste and give a more savory and complex flavor? Perhaps it could also be explained as increased sensing by contrast amplification?
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Coffee for lazy summer days

Monday, July 5th, 2010


A perfect cup of coffee for a perfect morning!

I have spent lazy summer days in a “Sommerhus” (e.g. “summer house”) in Denmark with my family and one thing I will share with you is the coffee I enjoyed every morning. My wife doesn’t drink black coffee, so to keep things as simple and easy as possible I brought my Aeropress and a glass of preground coffee (for obvious reasons I decided not to bring my coffee grinder, but I did use a nice coffee from Tim Wendelboe though). At home I have enough equipment to prepare coffee in a dozen ways, but none are as simple and fast as the Aeropress (well – maybe except for Nescafe, but does that count?). I would even dare to say that no other method of preparing coffee offers a better quality-price-convenience ratio! (more…)

Testing salt in coffee with Tim Wendelboe

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

One of the good things about living in Oslo are the coffee bars. Norwegians drink a lot of coffe (a healthy dose of 9.9 kg anually per capita, only second to the Finnish) and perhaps that is one reason why there are so many coffee bars around. One of the best (if not the best) is Tim Wendelboe at Grünerløkka. Tim Wendelboe is a previous WBC champion (2004) who now owns a coffee bar and a micro roastery bearing his name. If you visit Oslo and the Grünerløkka area you should definitely walk the additional 200 m from the crowded “Kaffebrenneriet” at Olaf Ryes plass to his shop. And if you live outside Oslo you can buy freshly roasted coffee directly from his website and read more about his coffee adventures in his blog. If you read Norwegian you might also be interested in his recent book “Kaffe”. I’ve enjoyed a lot of coffee from Tim Wendelboe, both in his shop and as beans at home on my Rancilio, and having finished my post “A pinch of salt for your coffee, sir?” I decided to send Tim an email and ask him about his experiences with salt and coffee. I got a very kind reply were he invited me to come and do some tests in his shop. Now that’s an offer I couldn’t refuse!
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A pinch of salt for your coffee, Sir?

Sunday, March 21st, 2010


A small sprinkle of salt will suppress bitterness – and in some cases it can benefit the overall coffee flavor. I’ve tried it with an espresso and somehow it works, but it’s difficult to describe the flavor.

I prefer my coffee black, and politely decline when offered milk and sugar. However, if offered salt I would probably smile and say “Yes, please!” Salt???! It turns out that adding salt to coffee is not as weird as it may sound at first. There is a tradition for adding a pinch of salt to coffee in Northern Scandinavia, Sibir, Turkey and Hungary. And when available, such as in coastal areas where fresh water from rivers mixes with the salt sea, one would simply use brackish water when preparing coffee. This water typically has a salt content of 0.5-3%, which is lower than the average 3.5% in seawater. This results in a more intense taste and more foaming. And if living far from the sea, the Swedish food blogger Lisa Förare Winbladh let me know that in Northern Sweden one would deliberately add salt if using melt water from glaciers for making coffee. But tradition aside, is there a scientific explanation of this widespread tradition of preparing coffee with addition of salt?
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The Flemish Primitives: Chocolate surprise (part 2)

Monday, January 12th, 2009


Chocolatier by profession, Shock-o-Latier by reputation! I bought this box the next day at Dominique’s shop “The Chocolate Line” to bring back home.

As I mentioned in part 1 of the travel report from Brugge, the highlight (for me at least) of The Flemish Primitives seminar was the surprise box presented to us by Dominique Persoone (owner of The Chocolate Line) and his team which included James Petrie (pastry chef at The Fat Duck), Tony Conigliaro (mixologist, bartender at Roka, blogger) and Bruce Bryan (medical doctor and inventor). As the box was distributed in the auditorium (more than 1000 present, mostly chefs) the instructions were kept very simple: DO NOT OPEN THE BOX! Makes you wonder of course what is inside.
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Wonders of extraction: Espresso (part I)

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

I have recently come to know Miss Silvia. She’s from Italy, weighs a good 14 kg and even my wife welcomed her in our kitchen! As home brew espresso afficionados will know by know, I’ve become the proud owner of an espresso machine from Rancilio! She’s been around for a number of years, and is one of the most popular among prosumer espresso machines available before you take the step up to double boiler machines that allow simultaneous brewing and steaming. Every place that is (proud of) serving espresso uses these machines, but their price is well beyond most coffee lovers budget. The good news however is that even single boiler machines can produce excellent espresso!

The first time I offered the science of espresso any thought was when reading Jeffry Steingarten’s accounts of his espresso adventure (in “It must’ve been something I ate”) which brought him all the way to Italy and Illy and then back again to Manhatten where he set up 14 home espresso machines in his kitchen. This is also where I first was made aware of the fact that 7 g of coffee should be used for a single espresso (which is considerably more than the 5-6 grams found in the Nespresso capsules).

Since I decided to buy an espresso machine I have been devouring sites written by and for coffee enthusiasts: CoffeeGeek, Home Barista and Espresso! My Espresso! to mention a few. You’ll be surprised how much one can possibly write about espresso!
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Wonders of extraction: Water

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008


Extraction of peppermint leaves with hot water

Water is a polar molecule, meaning that one end has a small negative charge and the other a small positive charge. Because of this water is a very good solvent for other polar molecules and ions. For instance water is the solvent of choice for substances that provide taste, be it salt, sour, sweet or bitter as these are normally quite polar molecules.

A general rule is that the solubility of molecules and ions increases with the temperature of the water. Extractions are therefore faster if the water is boiling. This is the reason why we use hot water to extract tea leaves or ground coffee beans, even if we want to prepare ice tea or ice coffee. But by lowering the temperature and extending the extraction time we can change the relative proportion of what we extract. It therefore makes perfectly sense that different temperatures are recommended for different types of tea. Using different temperatures for the same kind of tea will of course also influence the flavor profile.

Polar molecules are more easily extracted than non-polar molecules. This is evident if we leave a tea bag for a long time in hot water. The bitter taste is due to the slow extraction of large polyphenol molecules which are less soluble in water. If tea is brewed at a lower temperature, less of the bitter tasting substances will be extracted.

Although water is polar, less polar and even non-polar substances can be extracted with water, especially if the water is boiling hot. You do this every day when prepare coffee. If you take a close look at cup of freshly brewed coffee you can notice small pools of oily substances floating on top of the coffee. The more severe conditions used when extracting coffee to make an espresso ensure that even more oily substances are extracted. Other examples of extraction using water in the kitchen include preparation of stock, soups and gravies.

The principle of extraction is simple, but a number of questions remain largely unexplored with regard to flavor: How do ions affect extraction? What role does pH play? How does temperature influence flavor? There is surprisingly little research on this that includes a sensory evalution.