In this article I will talk about what I think it’s the most important aspect in making new cocktails or perfecting classics.
The bartender’s work is rapidly evolving, more and more distilled and liqueurs are available, modern processing techniques allow us to mix unusual ingredients, customers are more attentive to quality and willing to taste new cocktails. For this reason, it is important to have a trained and careful palate, essential to find the right combination of ingredients.
However, creating new drinks is not that simple.
What allowed me to make a remarkable leap of quality, was to study the perception of taste and flavour. I wrote an article on BarTales, you can find it by clicking here, on page 56 (italian language).
Let’s start by trying to understand the difference between taste and flavour. These two terms are not synonymous.
Taste is one of the five senses along with sight, smell, touch and hearing. Taste is perceived by receptors, the taste receptor cells, found in the taste buds of the tongue, in the soft palate, in the cheeks and in the epiglottis.
Many people think that the tongue is divided into areas of perceptions, with sweet on front tip, acidic and salty at the sides and bitter at the back. This is not real: all taste buds (exept filiform papillaes) are able to perceive the 5 basic taste: sweet, bitter, acidic, salty and umami. [The receptors and cells for mammalian taste (Chandrashekar, Hoon, Ryba, Zuker – 16 novembre 2006)]
Now that we know what taste is, let’s try to define the flavour.
We can define the taste as the sensation generated by taste, aroma and trigeminal nerve stimulation.
We have already defined the taste, let’s now define the aroma.
The aroma is the set of those stimulation due to the sense of smell. When we chew, aromatic components of a food reaches the olfactory receptors.
Each food has its own aroma, which can be simple if is due to few of the aromatic components of the total of the present, or complex, if it is determined by the synergy, in certain proportions, of many of the aromatic components present. In a few cases the aroma can be determined by a single aromatic component: just think of vanillin (vanilla aroma) or benzaldehyde (bitter almond aroma).
At this point we only have to analyze the trigeminal sensations.
These sensations are perceived by the trigeminal nerve (fifth cranial nerve). The trigeminal sensations are: tactile sensations, painful sensations (nociceptive) and temperature (hot – cold). The trigeminal does not carry the taste sensations that are carried by the chorda tympani nerve.
In short, the trigeminal nerve allows us to perceive the texture of food, its temperature, and some painful stimuli such as spicy or effervescence.
We all identify the effervescence as a tactile sensation due to bubbles, in fact, several studies have shown that it is mainly due to stimulation of this nerve, which interprets it as pain. Try to take two identical bottles of carbonated water, one at room temperature, the other very cold. Tasting them will make you realize that the cold one is more sparkling but it has less bubbles.
Now that you know the three flavour components, how this can help you to make good drinks?
When making a drink we must always balance the taste, find a match of aromas and study the texture, the temperature and other sensations like spiciness or effervescence.
Balance the taste is the simplest thing: sweet mitigates acid and bitter, acidity gives it freshness and makes less annoying a sugary drink, bitter also gives persistence.
The combination of aromas is the most complicated part. It is to understand not only which aromas “are good together” but also the right proportions. An example: passion fruit and vanilla are an incredible combination, but only if you do not exaggerate with vanilla.
The texture is due to the presence of fruit pulp (eg tomato juice), cream (eg Brandy alexander) or in the presence of a foam such as airs or egg yolk and aquafaba in Sour drinks. As I always say, a Bellini without his typical foam is not really good!
Temperature is also a parameter to consider: not all drinks must be frozen. Think of hot punch like Tom & Jerry or think about the Alaska, which is fantastic if served really cold. Another example is the Bloody Mary that is great if not too cold and diluted.
Finally, always consider the possibility of making your drink effervescent or slightly spicy.
To conclude, I hope that knowing the mechanisms of perception of flavour can help you as it helped me.
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