The Science Behind Chopping Vegetables
Flavorful Food Begins with Properly cut Produce
Have you ever wondered how important knowing how to chop vegetables the correct way matters? Bet you didn’t know that dicing, chopping or slicing make a big difference on the way vegetables taste. This article from NPR interviews experts and it turns out that size, texture and shape all influence the way your taste buds perceive food.
So learning how to properly cut foods from experts will help your culinary game.
Cutting is important because surface area will affect the flavor of vegetables. Slice a zucchini lengthwise to grill it. You will get a beautiful charred mellow flavor where the long surface meets the grill. A much different flavor than when you finely cut a zucchini to add to a pasta salad.
The size of the cut will also affect the cooking time. When making a soup, if you are going to add a finely chopped carrot to a soup, it’s best to add it toward the end of the cooking process. It keeps its shape and texture. The smaller the vegetable, the more the cooking method will sink in. For example, a small diced onion will react stronger with oil when cooking, than one that has been cut into larger chunks.
This brings me to mention that the cut will also affect the texture and some experts believe that affects our perception of flavor. A more rounded cut vegetable will have a more succulent feel in the mouth than a square cut one. A square cut vegetable will have a more toothsome or ragged feel.
So your mind will think a smoother, rounder cut will be more flavorful. When ordering a fruit platter versus a cut fruit salad, keep in mind the way the fruit is cut will matter not only for presentation but for flavor as well.
Aroma and Flavor
Aroma contributes to flavor. Different cuts can make certain fruits and vegetables smell differently. So think of when you slice a tomato and spread it out on a plate, you get a lot more tomato smell than if you quartered it and put it in a bowl. The science behind this is that vegetables and fruits release different enzymes that produce aromas when cut different ways. Every type of produce is different in terms of chemistry and how it responds to cutting or crushing says food scientist Charles Forney.
As you cut a tomato, you break open cells that release an enzyme. This enzyme triggers a chemical reaction that produces much of the aroma we associate with freshly cut tomatoes. Forney refers to this aroma as the tomato’s “green notes”. He says that a similar reaction occurs in freshly cut grass. The more thinly you slice a tomato, the more enzymes you release. Therefore, you get more of these green notes.
Think of when you cut broccoli, cauliflower or cabbage. When you slice or chop these veggies, a sulfur compound is released. The more finely you cut, the more compounds are produced.
He goes on to explain that if you cut an onion or garlic, you release an enzyme allied alliinase which produces that typical pungency or garlic and onion aroma, which really isn’t there when it is still intact. The enzymatic reaction forms the flavor so the more finely it’s cut, the more flavor will be released. And if you have ever wanted to cut an onion the correct way here is a good example
Follow the Recipe and Precisely cut your Produce
So you really do need to follow a recipe’s directions to precisely cut produce because the cut really does affect not only the cooking process but the flavor, texture and aroma. But there is also something less tangible that goes beyond what your taste buds pick up. When we talk about cuts, we also think about ultimately what will give the dish appeal and that is something the right cuts will do. They add that unspoken enjoyable quality to the flavor or texture of the food we enjoy.