For The Love of Smoked Meat
A simple flame can turn an unassuming piece of meat into a gastronomic experience for the senses.
Simply stated, smoked meat makes us happy. But why?
Chef/Journalist Anthony Bourdain once said, “Barbecue may not be the road to world peace, but it’s a start.” International Fusion Chef Edward Lee wrote, “The appeal for smoke spans the continents.” It’s both universal, and elemental.
But, humans do not have a responder in our taste buds for smoke. So exactly how do we “taste” it?
The answer is a little complicated, and it first requires us to distinguish between flavor and taste. Taste is the perception, or experience, of flavor and is detected by the taste buds on our tongue. Think sweet, salty, sour, and spicy. Flavor, however, is the combined experience of three elements: taste, texture, and aroma.
“Most of the flavor of smoke is smell,” says Marcia Pelchat, a sensory scientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center. “Smoke is made up of gases, water vapor and small particles resulting from combustion. It contains chemicals from cellulose and lignin, the primary constituents of wood, which break down into other compounds that we detect as aromas.”
Smell is arguably the most powerful of all senses when it comes to stirring memories and emotions. Whether it is the aroma of a backyard barbeque, grandma’s perfume, ocean air, or freshly laundered clothes. Aroma can trigger strong personal recollections and primal feelings.
Because humans have used fire to cook food since the dawn of man, isn’t it reasonable to assume that part of our love of smoked meats was born in our ancestral culinary past?
While the equipment has changed over time, the purpose for the ancient technique remains the same. The practice of smoking is more than unique flavors and taste: it’s an art form. Amateurs and experts alike will agree, smoking requires both patience and skill to master the perfect smoke.
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