Culinary Sense

Adventures with Food and Life

Sensory Analysis: Spicy Day

Hey Folks,

The adventures in my new class, Sensory Analysis, continue! Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, we have a lab class, which means we get to cook food and then taste/eat it to evaluate its tastes, aromas, and textures.

While we have so far been concentrating on the five tastes (bitter sour salt sweet umami), we now venture further into the culinary world of spice. Spice is not a taste, but rather a response in your mouth to a chemical in food. This response is called the TRIGEMINAL RESPONSE. The tergeminal nerve carries the message of temperature and pressure to your brain, which then gives you the feeling that your mouth is hot (for example). When you eat something spicy, the temperature in your mouth doesn’t change, but it appears hot.

Other kinds of trigeminal responses can include heat (chili, ginger, wasabi, etc), cold (mint, anise), the burn from alcohol, the tingling of carbon dioxide, and the astringency of red wine.

So as cooks, we are interested in what this does to the overall flavor of a food or dish. What happens when you add mint to a salad or chilies to a sauce? How does that interact with the five basic flavors we have been learning about?

So here’s the set up for the table:

I even looked up a new way of folding napkins, and was thrilled to use the black ones. It seemed appropriate for spicy day.

All the food looked really great, and it smelled great, too.

A feast!

We started with spicy garlic shrimp (Italian style) and crostini. The shrimp were just hot enough for my taste, and of course I love garlic.

Next up: hot wings with blue cheese dipping sauce.

A lot of my classmates really loved the spicy wings, but they were a bit too spicy for my taste, which made them harsh and unappealing.

Then we had spicy Thai spring rolls with fresh herb salad inside. These are the ones I made with a classmate, with the green jalapeno sauce on the left. The sauce on the right is a spicy peanut sauce.

For me, the spring roll with the peanut sauce was the most delicious part of our spicy day menu.

Mussels in green curry broth. This would have been my favorite if it had been a tad less spicy. Also, rather then hitting you on your lips like the wings, this time the spice went straight to the back of the mouth/throat because of the broth.

Finally, burritos.

The burritos were filled with spicy ground pork with pepitas, pico de gallo, lettuce, cheese, and sour cream. By this time, I was so full I could barely eat any of it. So I took it home and ate it the next day, and it was delicious.

These are the beverages we tried with each of our spicy foods. From left to right, it’s black coffee, red wine, ice water, and juice (a blend of juices). When you have black coffee (bitter) with spice, it instantly makes it much more intense (i.e. worse). The red wine, too, heightens the spice element of the food.

As for the ice water, it temporarily creates a cooling feeling in your mouth, but then the spice comes right back. The juice was the best – the sweetness cleanses the palate and brings down the spicy effect.

So, if you have eaten something that is too spicy to handle, drink some juice! Also, creamy dipping sauces and milk help as well.

Here’s to spicy day! What a great experience!

~ Carolynn



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