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The Irish Times Magazine - - FOOD- FILE -

The tran­si­tion be­tween au­tumn and win­ter is a joy­ful sea­son for cooks – there’s hardly a more suit­able time of year for fill­ing a cast- iron pot with a com­fort­ing stew of meat or veg­eta­bles des­tined for a spell of sim­mer­ing, brais­ing or slow- cook­ing. Adding to the de­light of this whole­some process is the fact that th­ese one- pot won­ders are the gifts that keep on giv­ing – have you ever no­ticed that a stew tastes even bet­ter the next day?

Whether it’s a pot of po­tato and leek soup, a pa­prika- spiced goulash or a turmeric and mus­tard seed curry, there is a cer­tain sta­ble of leftovers that im­prove with age. What is it about a soup, stew or curry that al­lows flavours to de­velop whereas other food, like chips or salad, have a short shelf life?

The food writer Guy Crosby, who was sci­ence ed­i­tor at Cooks Il­lus­trated for more than a decade, puts this pleas­ant phe­nom­e­non down to chem­i­cal re­ac­tion. Ac­cord­ing to Crosby, “even af­ter cook­ing ceases, many chem­i­cal re­ac­tions con­tinue to take place in foods. In the case of a soup or stew con­tain­ing milk or cream, the lac­tose breaks down into sweeter- tast­ing glu­cose. Sim­i­larly, the car­bo­hy­drates in onions de­velop into sug­ars such as fruc­tose and glu­cose. Pro­teins in meat turn into in­di­vid­ual amino acids that act as flavour en­hancers. Fi­nally, starches in po­ta­toes and flour break down into flavour­ful com­pounds.”

The In­sti­tute of Food Tech­nol­o­gists agrees that it’s down to con­tin­u­ous chem­i­cal ac­tiv­ity that pro­duce more or even new flavour mol­e­cules. “Some flavour en­hance­ment may in­volve the break­down of pro­teins to re­lease amino acids such as glu­ta­mate and small nu­cleo­tides that in­ter­act to en­hance savoury, meaty umami taste or re­ac­tion of amino acids with sug­ars to pro­duce new flavour mol­e­cules by the Mail­lard re­ac­tion ( brown­ing), which can oc­cur when the leftovers are re­heated.”

In 2000 Dr Mau­reen Cooper of Stir­ling Uni­ver­sity con­ducted re­search on why pizza tasted so good cold. In a BBC News in­ter­view, she name- checked the tomato purée as a cru­cial fac­tor of pizza’s long- term ap­peal, as well as the fi­bres of a tra­di­tional pizza base be­ing able to trap wa­ter. Ac­cord­ing to her re­search, both com­po­nents ap­peared to prevent the fat from the cheesy top­pings seep­ing through and mak­ing the base soggy. “Oil and wa­ter do not mix,” says Dr Cooper. “Be­cause the fat does not go through to the base, the pizza it­self tastes so much bet­ter. That is not the same for chips, which are not rec­om­mended for eat­ing cold.”

Aoife McEl­wain

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