Study: Flambe doesn't seem to enhance flavor

Jun 25, 2012 By Andrea Elmore

The cooking technique in which a dish with alcohol is set alight at the table may be dramatic, but does it enhance the flavor? It doesn't seem so, according to an undergraduate research project at Cornell.

Viticulture and enology student Christine Hansen '12, who starts graduate school in the area of at Cornell this fall, set out to discover what actually happens to food when a spirit is added and ignited, as part of a two-year research project she started in her sophomore year.

Inspired by a lecture about measuring in wine and spirits by Gavin Sacks, assistant professor of food science, Hansen first prepared a caramel sauce, similar to that used in Foster, using flambé. As a control, she also prepared a sauce that was heated but not ignited, and a third sauce that was neither heated nor ignited. The sauces were then subjected to chemical and sensory analysis.

"Surprisingly, the ethanol content of samples that were ignited -- as in flambé -- were nearly identical to those that have just been heated," said Hansen. "While there are small differences in the final ethanol concentration, almost all of the ethanol and water loss can be explained by evaporation and not the actual ignition."

Hansen also investigated the claim of some cookbooks that browning reactions -- important to the flavor of grilled meat and roasted coffee -- may occur during flambé. Using temperature probes, she determined that although the temperature of the flame in flambé can reach more than 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature of the food surface never exceeds the boiling point of water, which is too cool for browning reactions to occur. She found no chemical evidence of browning.

Finally, she shared some samples with a sensory panel, which could generally not distinguish between those that were ignited and those that were heated.

"Christine's research suggests that the major contribution of flambé is to look spectacular," said Sacks. "The other changes that occur, like the removal of ethanol, can be assigned to heating alone.

"If the show is unnecessary, for example if flambé is being performed in the kitchen rather than tableside, there may be safer ways to remove ethanol from the spirit during cooking," he added.

Explore further: Oat breakfast cereals may contain a common mold-related toxin

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Hot booze turns material into a superconductor

Jan 11, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- A Japanese scientist who "likes alcohol very much" has discovered that soaking samples of material in hot party drinks for 24 hours turns them into superconductors at ambient temperature.

Turning Fuel Ethanol Into Beverage Alcohol

Aug 28, 2006

Fuel ethanol could be cheaply and quickly converted into the purer, cleaner alcohol that goes into alcoholic drinks, cough medicines, mouth washes and other products requiring food-grade alcohol, say Iowa State University ...

Roasting Does More than Enhance Flavor in Peanuts

Dec 09, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists have shown that increasing roast color intensity steadily ramps up the antioxidant capacities of peanuts, peanut flour and peanut skins.

Ethanol production said increasing erosion

Jul 06, 2005

Large-scale farming of sugar cane and corn for ethanol fuel is increasing erosion and reducing biodiversity, Washington State University researchers say.

Recommended for you

Researchers bring clean energy a step closer

Feb 27, 2015

For nearly half a century, scientists have been trying to replace precious metal catalysts in fuel cells. Now, for the first time, researchers at Case Western Reserve University have shown that an inexpensive metal-free catalyst ...

The construction of ordered nanostructures from benzene

Feb 27, 2015

A way to link benzene rings together in a highly ordered three-dimensional helical structure using a straightforward polymerization procedure has been discovered by researchers from RIKEN Center for Sustainable ...

Superatomic nickel core and unusual molecular reactivity

Feb 27, 2015

A superatom is a combination of two or more atoms that form a stable structural fragment and possess unique physical and chemical properties. Systems, that contain superatoms, open a number of amazing possibilities ...

Oat breakfast cereals may contain a common mold-related toxin

Feb 25, 2015

Oats are often touted for boosting heart health, but scientists warn that the grain and its products might need closer monitoring for potential mold contamination. They report in ACS' Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that s ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.