Flavor development


Gary Bramley

Hey Jamie,

When the discussion of flavor developement comes up, “balance” is the word often used. I know when I like something, and that something is probably balanced, but that is very ambiguous to me.

This may relfect my ingnorance, but what is being balanced? Are there basic guidelines for flavor development that you use?

Q'n, Golf'n & Grill'n.... too many choices!

It’s a brilliant question that doesn’t reflect ignorance at all. It gets to one of the most subjective, elusive topics in cooking. Nevertheless it is central to what we are all striving to accomplish. I find it helpful to compare balance to harmonies or melodies in music. If you listen to someone playing a single instrument, let’s say, a drum … the sound might be terrific in the hands of real virtuoso but it could also be a little dull. It depends a great deal on much you like drums. Now, if you bring an electric guitar into the mix, suddenly there is a potential for some more variety of sound. That could be good or bad. But let’s say we have some talented musicians who can keep their sounds separate but also in sync. What if you bring in some piano or some vocals? Ideally you are able to add layers to melody. The whole effect is deeper and richer, we hope.

What I am trying to say is that adding more layers (to music or food) could be good, or not. Certainly with food there comes a point where anther layer is pointless and unproductive because it just dilutes other layers. For me, I try to develop a nice mix of layers and then I play with “volume.” I increase or decrease the amount of each layer depending on my desired effect. Good examples of layers are the flavors that we pick up on our tongues: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami. In some recipes, I want all those flavors to harmonize equally. In other recipes, I want to raise the volume on one or two flavors. This is where we get into a purely subjective situation. One guy likes his barbecue sauce sweet. Another one likes it sour. In my mind, the sauce has to be at least a little of both because I like “balance.” I like a full ensemble of flavors.

I think I’m rambling now. Better stop. But thanks for the question.