Maraschino Cherry 101 (literally, there is a one credit course at U. Oregon)

Maraschino Cherry: A Laboratory-Lecture Unit (an un-locked paper from the Wiley online library.

Apparently since 1994 Oregon State University has offered a 1-credit class about the making of maraschino cherries. The cherry is used to illustrate food chemistry, the fragmentation of processing unit operations, microbiology, food safety, food law, sensory analysis, and product development. The course seems like it would benefit culinary professionals working on next generation, modernist recipes.

Consider as you read the little bits I’ve extracted, just how different are Luxardo cherries? They are also gloppy pectin filled horrors but maybe just with better aroma added back after the leaching?

The course covers a lot of nitty gritty chemistry stuff: sulphur, calcium chloride, acidulants like citric acid & hydrochloric acid, sodium chloride, all for the cherry “brine” formulations.

How do they bleach the cherries?

*Cherries get a sulfite based primary bleaching brine in which they sit for three weeks

*Cherries follow up with a chlorite based secondary bleaching brine but only after the primary brine is carefully leached out with boiled water to reduce the sulphur content. “bleaching of brown discolorants will take from 5 to 10 days”

*The secondary brine gets leached out and they can return to the primary brine until they are ready for processing

cherry flow chart

“Calcium plays a very important role in the brine formulation by giving the cherry a firmer texture. If the pH is greater than 4, calcium will precipitate from solution as CaSO3 and not be available. The divalent cation forms salt linkages between the galacturonic units of 2 adjacent pectin molecules.” …hardcore chemistry blah blah blah… “This cross-linking of cell-wall polysaccharides results in a firmer fruit texture that is not only more acceptable from a sensory standpoint but also facilitates mechanical pitting.” [#Pectin<3Calcium #Luxardo!]

“The brined cherries are yellow in color since the yellow carotenoids are not affected by bisulfite. It should be emphasized that the primary function of bisulfite is to prevent microbial growth, and that bleaching of the cherry is a secondary role.”

“With the advent of mechanical harvesting of cherries in the 1960’s, the number of cherries with defects from bruising increased substantially. Cellular damage permits the enzyme polyphenoloxidase to come in contact with fruit phenolics-forming quinones, which subsequently polymerize to form brown pigments. A secondary bleach process utilizing sodium chloride was developed by Oregon State Univ. researchers that bleaches the brown discoloration along with the carotenoids to produce a snowy white cherry.”

The brining process here is probably what I need to complete my project of embedding cocktails in fruit structures to illustrate how texture and haptic heft change thresholds of perception. I had previously been trying to wash the color out of golden raspberries by soaking them in vodka/sugar brines that I changed periodically. Brining plus reflux de-aeration will make this possible.

The cherries get sorted and supposedly only by size. When I make my alcoholic version, I sort cherries by density, but I guess when you can firm the texture with a calcium brine brix can more easily be augmented without swelling or shrinking so they can sort and just be concerned with size. They explain more of the leaching process and how it is an environmental problem because of BOD (biological oxygen demand).

“The optimum Brix of cherries for brining is from 12 to 15 degrees compared to 18 to 22 for fresh market or canning…”.

“Maraschino cherries commonly have a Brix of 40. The drained, brined cherries cannot be immediately introduced to the 40 Brix syrup or shriveling will occur as water rapidly diffuses from the fruit to the syrup. Therefore, the drained cherries are introduced to dilute sugar syrup, for example, 15 Brix and sufficient time, for example 12 h, is allowed for equilibrium. The sugar content is increased in 3 to 4 Brix increments to gradually introduce sugar without tissue damage.” [#bigtradesecret]

“Since SO2 levels have been markedly reduced, preservatives such as potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate are included in the syrup to prevent microbial growth.” [#sadbuttrue]

[…]”The pH during processing and final bottling is targeted for approximately 3.6 to 3.8. Citric acid has several functions

*It provides flavor, the Brix:acid ratio giving a good numerical index for the sweetness to sourness taste quality […]

*The effectiveness of sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate as antimicrobial agents is dependent on pH. Un-dissociated benzoic acid is the form with antimicrobial activity, optimium activity occurring in the pH range of 2.5 to 4. Sodium benzoate is most active against yeast and bacteria and least effective against molds. Sorbic acid and its sodium and potassium salts are particularly effective in preventing mold growth, the activity increasing with decreasing pH. [why you need both!]

*[…#botulism blah blah boring]

They explain the pearson square for working with sugar.

The section on coloring is sort of painful.

“Flavoring is added after the sugar concentration of the cherries reach 40 Brix. Most of the flavor volatiles originally present in the cherries are lost during the brining and leaching operation, leaving a product characterized principally by the sharp taste of residual SO2. Benzaldehyde is a naturally occurring compound that contributes significantly to the flavor of both sweet and sour cherries. Since almonds are an even richer source of benzaldehyde, almond extract was a logical choice for flavoring maraschino cherries. […] Artificial flavorings for maraschino cherries will have benzaldehyde as a principal ingredient. If the processor prefers to use natural flavorings, almond and/or cherry extracts will be commonly used.”

The finish by explaining some labeling laws.

One cool reference ends up in the bibliography that I’d love to track down:

Filz WF, Henney. 1951. Home preparation of maraschino cherries. Afr Exp Sta Bull Nr 497. Corvallis, Oreg: Oregon State College. p 1-11.

Searching for that book turns up a really interesting masters thesis on maraschino cherries.

In chemistry for budding food scientists, Peter Atkins is your Virgil.

One of the great books I’ve come across lately is Molecules (1987) by renowned educator Peter Atkins. I came across the title as a curious entry relative to the others in the back of Neurogastronomy. I figured it was selected for a good reason and looked it up. Wow. The book was so ahead of its time and gives a very intuitive look at chemistry. Atkins continuously touches upon subjects near and dear to me which are food chemistry and plastics chemistry. I thought I would just reference a few things, but I ended up reading straight through.

Molecules is really exemplary science writing and Atkins continuously manages to be edu-taining by saying memorable, often funny things that help to retain the material. He infuses his explanations with an Nth degree drama.

Samples from Molecules:

“There is delight to be had merely by looking at the world, but that delight can be deepened when the mind’s eye can penetrate the surface of things to see the connections within.”

“I tried to avoid technical terms throughout, but some inevitably (or at least unintentionally) crept in and are explained in the Glossary. Where possible, I also tried to explain. But do not expect too much fulfillment here, for some explanations are not yet known to anyone, and others require too much technical background. Moreover, I did not want to diminish delight by overloading the text with too much explanation: this is only an introduction to understanding. I particularly wanted to show that some appreciation of the features of molecules can be achieved without a college degree (or even a freshman course) in chemistry.”

(Just before benzaldehyde, Atkins explains the lock & key mechanism of how odors interact with odor receptors. I think this section is why Neurogastronomy referenced it)

“Benzaldehyde (103) C7H6O

Hydrogen Cyanide (104) HCN

Benzaldehyde is a colorless liquid that smells of bitter almonds. A closely related molecule, phenylethanal, is obtained conceptually by inserting a -CH2- group between the benzene ring and the -CHO- group. This latter molecule fits a floral receptor better than benzaldehyde itself. It smells of hyacinth and is used in perfumes under the name hyacinthin.

Hydrogen cyanide is an almond-smelling, colorless, poisonous gas with an odor that fades on prolonged exposure. […

…] The aroma of cherries and almonds is due to benzaldehyde, but the hydrogen cyanide in cherries, also contributes somewhat. Benzaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide both occur quite widely in drupes and pomes (multiple seed and single-pit fruits), especially apricots and peaches. They are released when the pips are crushed and enzymes can get to work. This much the Romans and Egyptians also knew, for they ground peach kernels to make poisons. [….]”

“Isoamyl Acetate (105) C7H14O2

Ethyl 2-Methylbutanoate (106) C7H14O2

With these two molecules we see nature building different compounds in similar ways and from the same kit. The isoamyl acetate molecule is an ester formed from acetic acid (32) and an alcohol, isoamyl alcohol. The ethyl 2 methylbutanoate molecule is also an ester with the same numbers of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms, but they are bonded in a different pattern.

Both compounds grow in prominence as apples ripen and, as their concentration increases, they mask the characteristic flavor of the unripe fruit. Esters with about seven carbon atoms have characteristic fruity smells, occur widely in fruits, and result from the breakdown of long-chain fatty acids (35) as the cell membranes are oxidized during the ripening process.”

I enjoyed Atkins approach so much to a topic commonly thought mundane that I plunged into another of his titles, Reactions (2011), where he guides you through the “private lives of atoms” via an engaging Dante/Virgil guided tour sort of relationship to the underworld.

Reactions is chock full of tours (maybe more like journeys) that are directly related to many things I’ve been working on, particularly distillation. Atkins explains acid/base reactions in a way I’ve never seen before. He covers the unique qualities of water that make it so reactive in a way I’d never experienced in two years of high school chemistry (hydrolysis!). Most specific to things I work on, Atkins covers esterification reactions and explained how acids participate as a catalyst. These two texts will greatly aid distillers and wine makers who want to deepen their involvement, help you to be able to read and understand journal articles, and just finally understand what the fuck all the “reduction” wine makers obsess over is about.

Again, Atkins constantly says ridiculous things, the kind of stuff you expect from your favorite teacher who is trying to enliven a dry text. He is a master of amusing puns and I found myself jotting down bits of his sense of humor to recycle as cocktail names (blunderbuss affair!). Atkins truly becomes your Virgil and is the best possible tour guide to a world many dare not enter.

I consider these two titles to constitute a gentleman’s understanding of chemistry and should be requisite reading for anyone striving to be a generalist. The titles may even be read not for the content, but just for their exemplary form. Every daunting subject needs a Peter Atkins.

“Chemistry is thought to be an arcane subject, one from which whole populations seem to have recoiled, and one that many think can be understood only by the monkishly initiated. It is thought to be abstract because all its explanations are in terms of scarcely imaginable atoms. But, in fact, once you accept that atoms are real and imaginable as they go about their daily lives, the theatre of chemical change becomes open to visualization.”

Wonderful stuff.

Philosophy of Involvement

Over the years of participating in and watching the various culinary renaissances, an idea I call involvement has become more and more important to me. Involvement is basically the various degrees you are aware of and control variables in a project. Some people cook pasta and only really consider three variables, but when Dante cooks pasta somehow he can identify ten variables and he uses them all! Dante’s involvement is pretty deep. Unfortunately, it isn’t so straight forward that more involvement is better. When involvement gets too deep, chaos, chance, the duende, and so much that is endearing can be compromised and this often plagues mass market products. A big part of connoisseurship becomes understanding something and judging it relative to its involvement.

Modernist cooking, molecular gastronomy, or whatever you want to call it is in large part about the deepening of involvement. We are increasingly using scientific investigation techniques to continuously identify more variables and slowly learn to bring them into the normal fold and control for them. New organizational techniques are continuously allowing us to improve each generation of our products. As a recent phenomenon, the great chefs of the world are so successfully mastering involvement in their recipe development that they can write recipes for multiple high end restaurants from one central mountain top kitchen. Temperature controlled cooking and recipes written in baker’s scales probably are a big part of what makes this possible.

It has been really frustrating to watch the food media be absolutely oblivious to involvement. They really egg on the beverage crowd to attempt new things but never really master anything. The articles started with people making their own syrups but with little degree of consistency. Sloppy, brownish Grenadines were made slathered with orange flower water and runaway sugar contents. No one bothered to learn to use a refractometer yet people kept spouting the ideology “homemade is always better than commercial”. Nothing was endearing enough (or even delicious enough) about these products to trump many commercial versions. Don’t get me started on home made vermouth. Anyone that tried to make their own demonstrated near no involvement for what is one of the most involved products in the entire culinary world. Vermouth is the summation of oenology, distillation, and perfumology, but not a critic called anyone out on anything. Connoisseurship did not exactly come back with the culinary renaissance. Once we point out that someone is doing something we need to figure out if they are doing it well.

The rise of micro distilleries, and the eventual rise of the home distiller will require an understanding of involvement or we are pretty much doomed. A whiskey is not the product of one batch like a home distiller would make, but rather a string of interconnected batches dependent on the recycling of aroma precursors in the heads and tales. More or less, the only thing a home distiller can produce is appreciation for the large guys by realizing how little the small guy can practically control. The home distiller cannot even say that they have an advantage because the large guys use inferior ingredients (as is the typical rhetoric). There is no such things as bad bourbon, only good bourbon that got blended down to bland. The home distiller hasn’t really come yet but we need to make sure they don’t get out of control before they start.

At the same time, we need to cut the micro distilleries some slack due to limitations of their involvement. These limitations often turn out to the be the endearing ones. A mega-gin and a micro-gin are two different beasts, both to be loved for different reasons. The recipes for mega-gins have gone through vast amounts of recipe generations due to countless executions. Frequency of production allows the still to be tuned for the minutia of time under heat, relative equilibrium, sometimes partial vacuum, etc. Botanical/spirit interaction options are fully explored (gin heads, boiling botanicals, etc). The botanical charge can be standardized by someone with the full skill set of a PhD chemist. There is enough money to test all the source-able juniper in all the known world to find the preferred source. Mass spectroscopy and gas/liquid chromatography are employed at every step in the process. This probably only generalizes half of mega-gin involvement. Beafeater, Bombay, Tanqueray, and all the products in their tier are really wonderful stuff, marvels of involvement, and we can only bitch about their prices.

Micro gins are a challenge to make and when someone does it well we really should be in awe. Standardizing the botanical charge when you cannot viably perform batch by batch oil yield analysis is tricky. It is daunting to improve your product by fitting in the time to collect literature and read about the subject when your second full time job is also marketing the project. Man hours have to found to perform experiments as well as hours when the equipment is actually available. Micro gins and micro distilleries in general typically rely purely on organoleptic analysis (your own sense organs as opposed to chemical analysis) because they either cannot afford the analytic tools the mega-gins use or they cannot spare the time to learn to use them. Micro-gins test the adage constantly that life is short and the art is long. If you understand the distinctions this can all be endearing. True, some micro-distilleries churn out ignorant, insecure garbage but others, the best, grapple with their production, chaos sneaks in, and the results are thrilling. The batches of the best are somewhat snowflakes, but just as much as single barrel bourbons are. What is important is that they are still recognizable as gin and recognizable as their brand.

Understanding involvement is at the core of connoisseurship. We will need it to empathize with, evaluate, and review all the new fruits of the culinary renaissance. You just cannot judge everything by the same criteria, you need other criteria. Considering this criteria will also help us fragment the path to improvement. If those in the food media ever want to become anything significant and worth re-reading years later, they will have to capture this concept. The need for exposure and new content too easily turns the culinary arts into a circus that works against sustainability. The circus compromises involvement and all its associates like tradition and mastery. When culinary journalism should be looking to investigate and recognize new but diverse staples, too often it looses its way and sinks into an obsession with shallow fads. Developing an understanding of involvement will keep us on the sustainable course.