Fenaroli’s Handbook of Flavor Ingredients

If you enjoy this site, check out the Houghton Street Foundry, my fine arts workshop and follow @b_apothecary

[I have the latest version of Fenaroli’s Handbook of Flavor Ingredients and I think all the information on Amaros was taken out many editions ago. If anyone wants to pursue it, I bet you need one of the first few editions where I think Fenaroli himself was editor.]

Fenaroli’s Handbook of Flavor Ingredients is a reference in Amerine’s Annotated Bibliography of Vermouth. The abstract did not make it seem useful so I didn’t bother to track it down for a while, but wow!

I came across Fenaroli’s work by exploring the search term flavor contrast. The book, over all, is a sprawling mess of artificial flavors and chemistry that is beyond me, but then it breaks into a chapter on bitter flavors. The tone shows that Fenaroli had a soft spot for well composed bitterness. I won’t plageurize too much because the book (volume II) is available for preview on google books and the chapter on bitter flavors starts on page 600 and goes to about 616.

What makes the work so remarkable is that Fenaroli makes an attempt (it is not great, but an attempt none the less) to tackle arrangement and the interaction of bitter flavors with others. The chapter notes that creating bitter beverages is difficult because we are bound by tradition. It is noted that Britain and America have really only seemed to accept quinine bitters while other styles that are really important to western Europe didn’t gain much main stream traction.

Fenaroli points out that bitters is a hardly useful term because it is such a broad range of flavors and some seemingly similar face different acceptance by cultures.

The chapter eventually gets down to the nitty gritty and breaks down specific botanicals. Some botanicals are pointed out to be aromatic-bitter and some are plain bitter. Similar to the works of Harold Mcgee, complementary flavors are broken down into aromatic, pungent, and sweet. Commonly used ingredients are described in tables similar to Amerine’s, but Fenaroli also points out that a few botanicals may also have a terpeneless option (bitter orange, sweet orange, mint). I’ve seen terpene removal described in many sources but no one ever describes the sensory differences. Is Cointreau terpeneless and what about Clement’s Creole Shrubb? [1/6/16 Cointreau is terpeneless and see my later posts because I’ve done a ton on the topic] Is it for shelf stability so nothing separates due to storage temperature fluxes? I’ve seen terpenes separate from gin concentrates I’ve made. [It is for stability and because sometimes the aromas degrade after many years. It is also because they cast olfactory shadows and increase the threshold of perception of the underlying essential oil.]

One of the first details of arrangements claims that vanilla, licorice, star anise, and anise can be used as sweeteners to create contrasting effect in slightly pungent or sharp flavors such as thyme, peppermint, ceylon cinnamon, nutmeg, grains of paradise, clove buds, cardamom, juniper, mace, and ginger. [some of these ideas have recently appeared in Old Tom gins that are hitting the market without sugar.]

Fenaroli talks of exclusively bitter flavors but doesn’t really explain what to do with them. Tonic action is also mentioned as a property of some botanicals buts it is not clear what is meant. Tonic could mean any short term medicinal value or maybe tone-ic for an ability to change a shade of flavor. Sour orange peel often augments the fruit of a wine base but is also a known appetite suppressant.

The chapter goes on to talk about the structural decisions of making bitter beverages and breaks products down to styles that mainly deal with the level of extract and intensity of bitter. The classifications are fairly simple: white dry vermouths, white, highly aromatic vermouths, white lightly aromatic vermouths, red vermouths, red bitter vermouths, and cinchona-flavored red vermouths. A chart adapted to the classifications shows where many botanicals fit, but ultimately does not seem too useful.

A really unique tidbit from the chapter claims that its “possible to employ flavor distillates in all bitter formulations to create special effects“. This may mean that you can distill a bitter botanical like wormwood to increase the aroma but lose the bitter principle. [This is the million dollar idea.]

Fenaroli goes on to randomly point out a few botanical series that supposedly show great affinity. Unfortunately they do not reveal too much logic in their construction.

“angelica with: balm, cardamom, coriander, hyssop, marjoram, mint, thyme, vanilla.”

“calamus with: cardamom, cinnamon, mace or nutmeg, zedoary; or: calumba, camomile, cascarilla, cinchona, larch agaric, and rhubarb.”

“chamomile with: artichoke, bitter orange, cinchona, genepi, gentian, gentian (stemless), mint, summer savory.”

“cascarilla with: bitter and sweet orange, calamus, chinotti, cinnamon, grains of paradise, lemon, nutmeg, thyme.”

“centuary with: calamus, cinchona, condurango, gentian, gentian (stemless); or: bitter and sweet orange, cardamom, clove, lemon, locorice, mace.”

“condurango with: bitter orange, cardamom, chicory, cinchona, dandelion, lemon, rhubarb.”

Some of the ingredients I’ve either never heard of (condurango, larch agaric) or I have no experience with (summer savory, centuary) but overall from my limited experience, the series try to create a terraced dynamic among the contrasts.

The chapter goes on to repeat some the counter intuitive advice Amerine gives that tinctures should be between 21-30% in alcohol. Fenaroli adds to the advice by claiming alcohol content should be considered in the final formulation because it may enhance certain notes. So the everclear comes in after you’ve made your extraction to increase the proof. Sugar content should also be considered because it “contrasts the bitter bouquet”.

Another variable, rarely applicable today, is that flavors obtained vary with carbonation. Carbonation has a two fold effect. According to Fenaroli, “desensitization of the taste buds following an initial temporary stimulative effect, carbon dioxide also reacts chemically with the constituents of the flavor complex”. In the cocktail context there isn’t much room to age bitter sodas, but I wonder what happens when you compare flat normal Campari to a sample that was whipped with a whisk. This would impact the perception of shaken or stirred drinks.

The chapter moves more into formulations and arrangement with Fenaroli making some interesting analysis, “therefore, formulations in most cases are hinged on the combination either of bitter flavors with citrus notes or of aromatic notes with bitter flavors”. I think this simply means you need contrast. Amer Picon or Cynar is an example of a bitter paired with citrus and Fernet is an example of bitter with aromatic. Fenaroli interestingly goes into more detail on Fernet and Aperol.

“Fernet formulation, the flavor contrast lies between mint and saffron and related variations, such as anise and saffron. In Aperol, select, and other similar products, the basic flavor ingredients consists of a blend of soluble essential oils of sweet and bitter orange together with added amounts of vanilla or vanillin; the bitter principle consists of a complex bitter flavor formulated by using some of the herbs listed in table 5.”

Nothing monumental, but the specific examples support how one bitter focuses on aromatic accompaniments and there other citrus and “sweeteners”.

“In Fernet, which is flavored with the characteristic aromatic note based on saffron and mint combinations, neither citrus nor other essential oils are used (except for mint essential oil). The bitter flavor usually is obtained with a few herbs used in suitable ratios, such as angelica (roots), calamus, calumba, camomile, centaury, cinchona, gentian, imperatoria, larch agaric, rhubarb, st. johnswort, and zedoary to which aloe and myrrh resinoid are added. A large mint-to-bitter-complex ratio yields mint-flavored Fernet types. The flavor of products with a definite basic note (anise, artichoke, cinchona, gentian, rhubarb, etc) is rounded and upgraded using notes strictly dependent on the background note. This leaves very little room for variations and, therefore, permits only the addition of notes to refine and characterize the finished product.”

Wow, the last passage is a mouthful but really explains how arrangements can change, creating new products like adapting Fernet Branca to Branca Menta. The bitter principles are also built from many botanicals to make a sensation broader and more crescendoed. I’m not sure how a botanical could be strictly dependent on a background note limiting the potential of the blend but its interesting to see a logic emerging however unclear it is.

Fenaroli definitely leaves something to be desired, but its interesting to see a new and very analytical take on the subject.

Follow @b_apothecary

4 thoughts on “Fenaroli’s Handbook of Flavor Ingredients

  1. Thanks for the useful info. It’s so interesting

  2. Stephen,

    Just wanted to leave a quick note that I’m quite enjoying your blog. I love the science behind the booze. Cheers!

  3. Ahoy, sir.

    It has been a while since I’ve read this section, but this time around Fenaroli is making a lot of sense — more than ever before, at least. I’ve spent a long time in the botanical deep end in the last year, so the characteristics and interplay of the ingredients discussed is more ready-to-hand.

    I wonder, do you still hold to the criticisms you made of Fenaroli at the time of this writing? To my eye, the passages that you describe as being unclear bear the markings of persecution: i.e., it is tuned to the ear of the general public (or dim-witted magistrate, as I whimsically propose in this case) but it contains a hidden message geared toward a limited audience.

    Your thoughts?

  4. well I just reread it. no one else I’ve ever come across things about flavors as analytically as Fenaroli and finding his text was a big influence. he was definitely not writing for the general public and his work was pretty much only found by other flavorists. you may really enjoy this post which looks at the language of food product designers:


    Fenaroli motivated me to put a very big focus on language and non-linguistic thought and its something you see on this blog but pretty much no where else in the culinary arts.

    I’m a big proponent now of making amaros by creating a series of sketches and also employing some really basic category theory to refine parts of it.

    I need to do a lot more with my sketches, but the ideas start to appear here: http://bostonapothecary.com/distillers-workbook-exercise-16-of-15-special-effects/

    cheers! -Stephen

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from Boston Apothecary

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading

search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close