How do we taste?
This might sound like an obvious question but the answer that you are most likely to come up with is wrong! We do not taste food with our mouths and tongues, but rather we sense the food as the vapours go up our nostrils and into our noses! Once you understand this you'll understand why the olfactory vapour pillow is such a great and novel addition to your cooking repertoire!
Eat With Your Nose
Our tongues have the ability to sense four different types of flavour elements - and can quite simply tell you if something is sour, sweet, bitter or salt. There are not very many permutations of these four building blocks that we can attribute to the immense number of ways that discern the subtle qualities of food!
What actually happens when we taste food is that the tiny molecules of the food we put into our mouths make their way up into our nostrils from the back/top of our mouths. Once inside our nostrils then then the sensors can identify as many as 11,000 different aromatic molecules. The subtle variations in flavour that we can identify as we eat are a c combination of all the permutations of these thousands of molecules.
If you have ever been to a wine tasting, you’ll know from the vivid descriptions given to the “nose” of the wine that scent is a complex thing. When someone states that they detect “fresh grass” or “chocolate” in the wine, what they are really saying is that the vapours of the wine have molecules in common with those substances.
The Science of the Smell!
Vapour from Cooking
When you warm up food then you encourage more of the molecules to become airborne – so increase the strength of the food’s odour. This is because the food is literally making moe vapour, more of the molecules are becoming airborne which in turn means that more of these molecules are likely to enter your nostrils.
The fact that the smell of the food can tease and tantalize us is no secret – just think about fresh baked bread in a supermarket, or a barbecue on a hot summer day! I bet your mouth is watering just thinking about those smells! We are far more influenced by the smell of the food than we probably realize and this is something that marketing experts are only too aware of – why else do you think that supermarkets pump the smell of the bread into (rather than out of) the store? Why do restaurants put the barbecue at the front (rather than back) of the restaurant? It’s all because we are governed by the smell more than any other culinary aspect.
Evolution of Smell
It is not an accident that humans are so governed by smell, it is in fact key to our development and survival as a species. Evolving a better sense of smell allowed early mammals to hunt at night giving them an advantage and leading to larger brains to accommodate the ability to discern the characteristic of vapours so clearly.
The first sense you use when assessing food (or potential food) is most likely to be your sense of smell – something that is rancid or off is going to have a really powerful and off-putting odour. Likewise something that is good to eat is going to have vapours that our brains have hard-wired to find attractive.
Filling the Pillow
The latest idea from the world of molecular gastronomy is to completely separate out the smell for the food – this is done by using a kitchen gadget known as a vaporizer (source) which can release the volatile “smell” elements from a food – these can then be filled into a bag.
The bag of vapours or Vapour Pillow is served along with the food – or even with the bowl of food resting on the pillow – these pillows will hold the smell until it is served at the table, when the waiter can dramatically pierce it with a pin and allow the vapours to escape.
Ideas of the type of vapour to use include mint vapour to serve with strawberries or vinegar to go with fish, the clever use of sweater can result in the real seaside dining experience with a fish main course even in the middle of a city!
These Vapour Pillows are only used in select few restaurants (source) but if you own volcano vaporizer you could recreate the idea at home!
Would You Ever Consider Making a Vapour Pillow
What No Vaporizer?
Most people are not in possession of a volcano vaporizer, but might still want to be able to make a vapour pillow – so is it possible? The answer is yes, but it is not easy!
Vaporizer bags can be bought separately from the vaporizer itself, then all you need to do is to be able to do is to fill them with the aroma. This needn’t be too complicated; it really is a matter of choosing substances that contain concentrated aromas – such as spices, then gently warming them under the bag – then seal off the bag as soon as it fills up.
Another easy cheat is to use essential oils and the drop them onto a warm bowl at the table – BE WARNED – it is very much a subtle background thing – don’t make everyone’s eyes water by adding love oil by the spoonful! One drop of oil is usually enough. Try something like vanilla oil to go with a chocolate cake – nothing too complicated there!!!