The first thing that came to mind when I saw Nik Sharma’s book ‘The flavor equation’ is Beauty!! It is such a visually stunning book with beautiful photographs, creative recipes and even food science explained with visually cool graphics.
The book is divided into 2 parts. First Nik describes the components of the flavor equation in each of the following section:
He then expands on the Taste part of the flavor in 7 main categories:
- Brightness (Acid)
5 fun takeaways!!
Here are 5 fun takeaways from Nik Sharma’s book
1. Sound – Chef Achatz’s way to use sounds to allure food
Nik has this lovely example from Chef Grant Achatz’s restaurant where they give out cards to everyone asking them to be quiet before serving frozen pearls of English Pea soup. Apparently the sounds of the pearls being crunched against a backdrop of pin drop silence heightens the drama of the experience.
I have often enjoyed hearing certain sounds in certain restaurants – take the clatter of stainless steel plates and cups in an authentic south Indian restaurant or the jovial Spanish music played in a Mexican restaurant – but never quite thought of the impact of sound of food itself in a fine dining restaurant.
2. Sight – Shapes and food connection
The idea that the shape of the food could affect our perception of it was completely new to me. Nik says that with majority of food, we prefer round shapes to sharp edges (could be due to perception of danger/threat in the amygdala). Which is why we prefer round cake pans to a square pans.
However, when it came to chocolate, the company Cadbury’s once tried to introduce a bar with circular edge instead of the traditional rectangular one. People were mad at Cadbury’s for making it too sweet, despite the company assuring everyone that they did not change the formula…Strange, huh??!!
3. Taste – What qualifies as a taste?
We already know that the tongue can detect 5 types of taste (salty, sweet, bitter, sour and umami). But did you know that compared to our ability to taste sugar at 25 micro mol/l, we can taste bitter compounds 400x more at 10,000 micro mol/l?
Another new information I came across that Nik says was that scientists are looking at fat as a possible 6th primary taste called oleogustus. Did you also know fieriness is not considered one of the 5 canonical taste? It is a sensation, through a phenomenon called chemesthesis and we learn to love it as we get exposed to hotter and hotter foods.
4. Brightness – Pomegranate molasses has a pH of 1.71!!
In his chapter on ‘Brightness’, Nik writes about the different types of acids present in foods (buttermilk, tamarind, amchur, etc). When he mentioned that pomegranate molasses was highly acidic at pH 1.71, compared to tamarind (pH 2.46), or tomatoes (pH 4.42), it finally made a lot of sense to me. I mean, being more acidic than tamarind is no small feat, wow!!
I once used pomegranate molasses with reckless abandon and could not save that dish one bit. Because of this, I kind of shied away from using it and would just sprinkle it very lightly and very fearfully. Now that I know how acidic it is, I plan on using it in combination with other acids rather than individually in a recipe. I liked Nik’s idea of adding pomegranate molasses to tomato sauce recipes to bump up brightness as well as sweetness.
5. Sweetness – Role of sugar in the kitchen
Nik has listed 20+ ways to use sugar in the kitchen. He talks about the role of sugar in baking apart from sweetening – as a source of energy for microbes during fermentation of breads, as a source of caramelization when baked, as a humectant that binds moisture preventing the bread from getting stale, etc.
In terms of flavor, Nik talks about using sugar to make acid more palatable (eg lemonade) and to mask bitterness (eg coffee). He also mentions that sugar can suppress the bitter taste of brassica vegetables like cabbage. Now, I know why my mother-in-law always sprinkles 1 tsp of sugar in her cabbage poriyal.
I loved the little nuggets of food science sprinkled throughout the book like this one:
Why do we thicken sauces? Nik says that the thickened liquid will linger longer on the palate thus increasing the time to experience its full flavor potential. Very cool!!
The one con with the book, which may actually be a pro for food science nerds, is that there is too much information. You may wonder why is that a con? I think that people look for patterns in a book. They like information within a certain area that helps them map out that information. In Nik’s case, he has packed in so much info – recipes, food science and little tit bits everywhere throughout the book that it may be a tad distracting trying to take it all in instead of just the central theme.
But, overall it is a very interesting book. And I would highly recommend that you pick it up if you get an opportunity to do so. Affiliate link for the book attached below.