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Flavor is the Superhero and Remains Top Reason Why Consumers Purchase Food

Editorial consulting by the Culinary Institute of America

Wow! Pop! Snap! Pow! Ka-Boom! Sounds like the conversation bubble from a superhero comic book, right? Yet, I am referring to the excitement generated by even the smallest addition of certain ingredients that can awaken the senses and make a mundane dish spectacular. Think: salty smoky bacon bits, savory umami rich miso, or candied walnuts. Sometimes these tiny additions of big flavor can be the superhero of any dish.

Long, long ago, the only choices consumers had to add pizazz to a dish was to sprinkle on a few Bac-os, feta cheese crumbles, or crushed red pepper flakes. Fortunately, these days, exotic ingredients are no longer light years away. We can buy Japanese Togarashi rice seasoning or Himalayan pink sea salt at Whole Foods, order Mediterranean Za’atar or Ras el Hanout spice from Amazon, and get Wild Blueberries or lobster from Maine delivered to our doorstep within in 24 hours. It is worth noting: with all the world’s flavors at our fingertips, if you can add big flavor, does it always mean you should? From a chef’s standpoint, if it makes sense and attracts guests, why not? Even better if it adds nutritional value.

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When I think about composing a new dish for the menu at the Illy Café at the Greystone Campus at The Culinary Institute of America, I am always thinking about ways to excite the customer’s palate. Recently we added a house smoked trout salad. While smoke in and of itself is a powerful flavor, what truly makes the dish is the pickled mustard seeds that garnish the trout. The seeds are sweet, tart, salty, spicy and pop in your mouth when chewed. The dish would not be the same without that one teaspoon worth of garnish.

To add even more nutrition to your food, consider fermented products, which are high in B vitamins, help aid in digestion and add essential amino acids. Salty, savory and delicious miso paste is a good example. It can act as a glaze for fish, a thickener for soups, and as an unanticipated pairing when swirled with butterscotch as part of a crème brulee.

Wild foods such as berries are a terrific option for added nutrition as they have been proven to have more vitamins and antioxidants than their conventionally grown counterparts. And they are a sustainably raised food. Take fraises des bois, those tiny French wild strawberries that grow year round. They are intensely flavored, acidic, sweet, no bigger than the tip of your finger, and have an enticing aroma. The hour or so that it takes to pick a basket’s worth is never a waste of time, even though time – even a day or two – is kryptonite to these delicacies, as they must be eaten right away.

For a longer lasting option, how about Wild Blueberries, which are mainly frozen or dried? Anthocyanin pigments give Wild Blueberries their intense blue-purple color. Wild blueberries have at least five different anthocyanins and the darker the berry, the better it is for you in neutralizing damage and regenerating skin and body cell tissue. Wild blueberries have a complex, more intense blueberry flavor and make the best pies and smoothies. Why is the flavor of Wild Blueberries so special? It’s because Wild Blueberries are genetically diverse with thousands of naturally occurring varieties in each field. It’s the mix of all these different berries that gives Wild Blueberries their intense, sweet-tart taste that is extraordinary and can’t be duplicated through cultivation of a single variety. Their tiny size also means more anthocyanins are available cup for cup when compared to their conventional counterpart. Toss them into a wild rice salad or into a sauce served with game and with just a small amount, you not only add texture and intrigue to a dish, you add enough B vitamins, fiber and antioxidants to keep any superhero fighting crime.

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Here are two delicious appetizer recipes that pair unusual flavors and are sure to dazzle your family, dinner guests or visitor to your restaurant.

About the Author 

Chef Rebecca Peizer, C.H.E. C.E.C.

Chef Rebecca Peizer

Associate Professor of Culinary Arts
Culinary Institute of America at Greystone

Rebecca’s passion for food set her on a path to the Culinary Institute of America where she graduated in 2000. From there, she set off to New York City where she became a private chef. She took her next big step in the culinary world when she moved to California and opened Roux, a restaurant in St. Helena in the heart of the Napa Valley. Roux quickly took off and theSan Francisco Chronicle named it Top 10 Restaurants in the Bay Area 2001. On the heels of that honor, Food & Wine named her Top 10 Sous Chefs in America 2002. Over the course of her career, Rebecca has had the opportunity to work with many great chefs including Jacques Pepin, Martin Yan, Bradly Ogden, Cindy Pawlcyn, and Julia Childs. She has catered events for presidential candidates, Napa Valley winemakers, and prominent artists, and now shares her passion for food and wine with students at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa Valley.

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