Monday, April 16, 2012

Sorbet Science: Esters smell

No, it's not a bunch of ladies named "Esther" who have been liberal with their perfume!

Esters are a class of naturally occurring chemical compounds widely distributed in nature that contribute to the odor or scent of a fruit or plant. Simple esters have a pleasant odor, but they can increase in odor intensity when combined with other chemicals (either natural or added). Here is what the chemical looks like:

Many food manufacturers use artificial flavor esters to create a flavor without the actual ingredient that is being imitated. For instance, a commercial egg nog might not have ever seen a drop of rum in it's recipe but the added ester flavors make you think that it's there.

Flavor is a combination of taste, sensation and odor transmitted by your olfactory receptors in your taste buds and nose.  There are four different tastes (sweet, sour, salty, and bitter).  The perception of flavor, however, is not so simple.  The human actually possesses 9000 taste buds and odor plays a big role in the perception of taste.  Hence, big food manufacturers study up on their esters to know how to create the best smelling and tasting product they can.

We think about esters a lot when develop our gelato and sorbet recipes. Since we don't use artificial flavors, we have to wait for nature to provide it for us. This is the case with our banana gelato we create as a custom blend for Ember restaurant. (They serve it with their banana panini dessert featured in last week's blog post). In order to get that essential banana flavor, we have to wait through the stages of ripening to achieve the rich, sweet banana taste in our gelato. 

I bet you have a preferred ripened stage of a banana because you are partial to a strength in banana ester. My wife likes a little green on the banana shoulders, while my kids prefer a few brown flecks on the skin. The most banana flavor comes from a fully ripened, mostly brown skin banana (like the one shown in stage 7 in the image above). This is a process that we allow Mother Nature to take her own sweet time in. So to ensure that our banana gelato has the most authentic flavor, we have to keep a rotation of bananas ripening at our manufacturing facility. It's another part of the daily production management, but we think it's worth it!

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