When one tastes flavourful food, what immediately comes to mind is how the food is seasoned.
But what is not commonly known is THIS:
The cut of the vegetables can affect the overall flavour of a dish!
Professional Chefs and food experts know that it takes more than seasoning to enhance flavours. They understand that the process of cooking is essentially an applied science. Therefore, they pay particular attention to the kind of cut, shape and size of the vegetable to influence the texture and flavour of the food. This is one of the food prep basics that Chefs learn from culinary school and apply to their cooking.
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Food chemistry is complicated and a myriad of factors can affect how one perceives taste. One of them involves texture. There are reasons why a recipe calls for ingredients to be either diced, chopped or plain sliced.
Let’s break it down:
If a vegetable is cut smaller, it is able to react better to the rest of the ingredients such as butter or sauces. Think garlic. Inside the tiny cells that make up each clove is an odourless sulfur compound called Alliin. And in the minuscule spaces between the cells there’s another substance, an enzyme called Alliinase. The reaction between Alliin and Alliinase make up that distinct flavourful odour of the garlic. The finer the garlic is chopped, the more chemical reactions happen between the two and the more potent the garlic becomes. Which is why it is considered more flavourful if the garlic is chopped fine or squashed rather than when it is thrown whole as a clove in the pan. Unless using the garlic whole without cutting is specifically what you prefer such as roasting garlic.
- Surface Area
The more surface area there is, the more you can deliver flavour in each piece. Say, your recipe calls for carrots to be sliced into long and flat pieces. When these slices are charred, the flavour is more detectable than when carrots are cut into little cubes.
- How you want it to respond to the cooking time
Smaller cut vegetables will cook faster and will get mushier faster. Having said that, they will also be able to infuse their flavour to the dish quickly than when they are cut in bigger sizes.
- Vegetable reaction
Vegetables have a varying reaction to a particular cut. Broccoli releases sulfur compounds when it’s chopped and a tomato releases certain enzymes when sliced.
Now that you know how cutting affects the flavour, here are some tips that you can review or practice in your kitchens:
- Use Sharp Knives
Here’s another point (pardon the pun) where science comes in. The cutting or tearing action on a vegetable produce damage on the plant cell walls. Within these cell walls are beneficial health substances (electrolytes and minerals) or chemicals that are released as a result of the cutting action. A sharp knife has a very thin blade, and the force you exert when you press down is concentrated on that very thin edge. This creates less damage to the vegetable and will preserve as much of those beneficial substances until they are ready to be released during the cooking process. A blunt knife on the other hand, not only will create more damage to the vegetable (even making it unappealing) it can also result to losing those nutrients which end on your chopping board instead of on your pan.
- Be mindful of how you use the vegetables in the recipe
When the vegetable pieces are cut smaller, there is more risk of flavour and nutrient loss, discolouration, oxidation and dehydration. This is why when you see shredded vegetables, their shelf life is usually shorter. Therefore, it should be eaten as soon as possible. But just to throw this is in since I’ve mentioned shredding, check out this article about the benefits of shredding veggies.
- Limit the use of machine processors or avoid them altogether
Some microorganisms can cause food to rapidly spoil and therefore affect the taste of food. While not all of these microorganisms can cause illness (even when they affect how the food looks, smells, feels and taste), there are some that can. And there have been times when the culprit of disease-causing microbes are due to use of food processors.
There have been several studies that there is less risk of bacterial contamination when food is processed by hand, such as hand tearing or cutting by a knife, as opposed to using a machine food processor. Check out this study that says, once Salmonella bacteria get into a food processing facility and have an opportunity to form a biofilm on surfaces, it is likely to be extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, to kill it.
It is interesting that in cooking, artistry and science play a role together, as evidenced by the cut of a vegetable affecting the overall taste and look of the dish. Chefs are creators of recipes and having this knowledge gives them an advantage when coming up with new dishes. This is another reason why having professional chefs in your kitchens are advantageous for your foodservice business because they know how to cut it (pun intended this time).
That’s it for this week.
As always, Professional Chefs on Call at Anytime!
Ciao for now,