Advanced Sensory Convergence Basics

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[Wow this post was long ago and its some terrible writing. Many of these ideas of been updated significantly since then.

If you are here with an interest in magic, consider these post where I reference the books Sleights of Mind:
Nature vs. Nurture vs. Cocktail – Holistic vs. Salient Creative linkage
Olfactory Phantoms and Illustrations of the Dynamics of Perception
A Theory of Wine & Food Interaction
Advanced Super Stimuli Basics
A Case for  21 and Other Small Insights]

I have recently been trying to synthesize and ton of new information and probably have been doing a horrible job. Don’t forget this is only a blog. So here goes.

I should probably start with an update of the olfaction in terms of gustation olfactory construct. The term olfactory construct seems proprietary, but comes from a book called Aroma: Cultural History of Smell. It basically refers to the divisions cultures uses to classify their olfactory world. Most all cultures use highly subjective symbolic divisions (things like good/bad, male/female, earth/water/fire), but it could be possible to use a fairly objective cross modal metaphors. I chose a gustatory analogy and it is at the moment based on my artistic intuition rather than hard science. Hopefully science will eventually validate my intuition, but while I’m waiting I’ll still use it to create beautiful things.

An interesting paper (Smelling Sounds: Olfactory–Auditory Sensory Convergence in the Olfactory Tubercle) talks of sensory convergence which is essentially the underlying idea of my construct. Other explanations like synaesthesia do not seem to have the right connotations.

Another great book I’ve been reading lately (Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals About our Everyday Deceptions) speaks of mirroring functions in our brains that are important for anticipation. If we use one sense to anticipate another we may end up with convergence as we come to rely on the predictions.

Drastic illusions might happen when we consume highly abstracted foods. We seem to have 21 years of eating minimally abstracted foods until alcohol enters our lives. Things get wacky when you introduce fermentation, infusion, and distillation. 21 years of mostly correctly correlating olfaction and gustation becomes strange when the sweet aromas of a wine do not correlate to its gustatory structure because all it’s sugars were converted to alcohol. Our linguistic techniques for describing these experiences starts to break down.

So does a lot of the pleasure of drinking alcohol containing beverages rely on all this pent up convergence? Is a cocktail a multisensory magic trick?

Sleights Of Mind is also devoted to a study of attention and consciousness which has been a big focus on my culinary theory building. Culinary art is subject to similar attentional order of operations as the visual-auditory systems.  Attention to aspects of a flavor can be mapped and controlled just like the visual-auditory exploits of the magician. Same principles, different sensory modalities. And just like magic, the intuition of the artist might outpace science.

Another priceless nugget from the book is the notion of a sensory after image. Visual after images are the most well known but every sense experiences them. Reactive wine pairings might be based on these after images as well as the notion of a wine having a long finish.

Wine pairings may operate similar to Black Art stage illusions. In the illusion, we cannot differentiate between the black on black props (everything is wrapped in black felt) and the color of everything else is somehow enhanced and brightened. Matching gustatory aspects like acidity between wine and food could enhance and brighten other aspects similar to the props on magician Omar Pasha’s stage.

This high contrast effect might also explain some of the pairing strategies used in Francois Chartier’s Taste Buds and Molecules: The Art and Science of Food With Wine. I did not really enjoy his book. Chartier did not really define a pairing or articulate the results of interactions like an aroma or gustatory sensation being magnified harmonically or inharmonically. He also did not spend enough time with gustation when it is at least just as important to a harmonic reaction as the aroma of a wine.

Re-stimulating aromas is described in Auvray and Spence’s review, The Multisensory Perception of Flavor. They do not use the term after image, but describe mint gum whose aroma fades over the course of chewing but can be reawakened by introducing more gustatory sweetness (sugar). So what exactly is happening here and what else can we do with it? Maybe we could create a list of foods with aromas that produce the most intense and reactive after images. I’ll be the first to add Porcini mushrooms to the list.

Auvray and Spence describe the brain’s tendency to create locations for things that you are smelling. The other day I was eating meatballs and red sauce at work while a coworker was applying mint aromatized hand sanitizer. The aroma of the mint made the vivid and noticeable move from Sam’s hands to inside my mouth which was quite inharmonious. Quite the illusion. It would be cool if we could use it in a beautiful context.

Out of time, more to come!

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Redistributing Consolidated Knowledge

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Enjoy. Critique. Start a dialog. Leave a comment.

The domestic alcoholic beverage industry is in a bit of an economic crisis (crisis might be slightly too strong a word). Legal barriers threaten competition and the technical and artistic knowledge of production has been consolidated into giant multinational corporations. This all goes on while agricultural subsidies and high transportation costs of micro harvested produce has created agricultural surpluses that we don’t know how to use and are not legally able to in certain ways.

Change is simple. We can overhaul and amend laws in an effort to reduce barriers to entry. This will attract new competitors, many of whom may be putting to use our agricultural surpluses. Funding research initiatives will help these new producers make safe, smart, successful products. Pressure to get any of this done will hopefully keep coming from the sustainability movement. People are beginning to realize more and more that agriculture is often an environmental atrocity, therefore we have to distribute the agricultural load to be sustainable.

Distribution of production means smaller scale operations which laws at the moment do not make economically viable. Distilleries for example, require purpose-built facilities, licenses, and safety provision overkill. All the requisites, which are largely the product of prohibition era paranoia and ignorance, can make the cost of starting an operation approach a million dollars (I hear this number is coming down). This does not support the small grower who simply has a surplus of fifty bushels of apples and would like to make fifty bottles of apple brandy to be sold in a restaurant. Bureaucratic product label approval can also be enough of a disincentive to produce at the micro scale.

Sustainable and therefore smaller scale production, also requires the redistribution of knowledge. Alcoholic beverage technology is now intensely controlled by specialists, but if technology is going to be applied on a smaller scale, it has to be closer to common knowledge. The first modern books on small scale distillation have just been written, but they still do not answer enough questions to common scenarios to make a huge difference in redistributing knowledge. We also have no modern books on economically significant categories like liqueur production. The research such a book requires is more costly than the sales profits it could generate, therefore its not likely to come along without the support of a government organization or university.

Most all research stumbles in its lack of interdisciplinary approach. Nearly no one tackles the artistic aspects of production. Domestic newcomers to the market seem to have more art issues than science issues which definitely limits the competitiveness of their products. Vodka which many distillers started their businesses on might have required no art, but demand for it is on the decline and successful gin production requires more art theory than is common knowledge.

Hopefully our art deficit will change. The “greatest restaurant in world” just changed from one that invents new technologies to one that develops art techniques (creative linkage) to explain how to use forgotten native food sources from foraged produce to snails and fish that haven’t had a market in generations (a change from El Buli in Spain to Noma in Copenhagen). A larger focus on art theory which can be constantly reapplied will definitely increase apple to apple competitiveness as well as steer producers into unknown territory where there may be comparative advantages.

Prohibition

The most significant economic crisis the domestic American beverage industry has ever seen was prohibition. The Volstead act completely erased the legitimate market for alcoholic beverages. This was prolonged enough (thirteen years) that vast amounts of common knowledge was also lost. Alcohol went from often being a household product like backyard cider or blackberry brandy to something that was not even able to be produced as fuel in case it was re-purposed. The idea of “dual-use” is often championed by government as always beneficial, but the fear of alcohol’s dual-use nature has had its production stricken from our school curriculums. Ignorance of fuel production technology (via beverage production) has likely exacerbated our current fuel crisis.

The prohibition knowledge gap was filled by many efforts. Books on distillery science were written by former industry men like Irving Hirsch (Manufacture of Whiskey, Brandy, and Cordials, 1937) and prefaced with the goal of restarting the industry. The University of California at Davis rose to the occasion and started a viticulture and oenology program that translated and unified the worlds wine technologies under academic super stars like Maynard Amerine and James Guymon. The result of the research at U.C. Davis was the creation of the multi billion dollar California wine industry which offers global competitiveness and employs vast amounts of people. Dividends on continued research could still be massive when you look at the numbers of imported alcoholic beverages we still consume. In many categories we have yet to offer any competition.

Not all recoveries after prohibition were so successful. Despite many books on the subject being published, the cocktail never made a comeback (in quality) until recently. The cocktail is important because of the art concepts it holds. Mixologists never avoid the challenge of putting to use foreign ingredients which is important because to be sustainable we need to be able to use everything. The wine industry on the other hand has trouble selling a grape varietal that few consumers have heard of.

The cocktail also holds the greatest ability to expand harmony. The tension that exists between elements of taste (sugar, acidity, alcohol, etc) and elements of aroma are larger than any other beverage medium therefore cocktails facilitate the acquiring of acquired tastes. The often celebratory experience of drinking cocktails also helps to add positive symbolic value to the sometimes dissonant instances of tension.

Sustainability requires the expansion of harmony. There will be no demand for more food sources unless there is more indifference to the different pleasures they create. Food can bend to our tastes but we can also bend to food. The cocktail illustrates the art concepts that facilitates both.

World War II

The next crisis that came was during World War II. We finally realized just how economically significant vermouth was and that we did not know how to make it when many European imports were cut off from the U.S. (vermouth was responsible for more than 50% of tax receipts on wine, though it is taxed at a higher rate). Filling the void was not exactly easy. Vermouth is a very complicated aromatized wine, but unlike other wines its production techniques were not common knowledge. Europeans producers protected their interests by the deliberate spreading of misinformation. Sensory descriptions of vermouth also seem to escape language which means that it is hard to share ideas on the subject.

Well established European producers made vermouth seem more sophisticated than it was by exaggerating the amount of botanicals that were used in their formulas. They also lied about their aroma extraction techniques. The claim was that high proof solvents were used like everclear, but the truth was that they used fairly low proof solvents and small amounts of heat and agitation to capture aroma while minimizing bitter principles. These small tricks of the establishment likely derailed the American vermouth industry by considerable amounts of time.

America quickly filled the production void during the war (albeit with low quality that luckily saw no foreign competition) and eventually grew and improved to make some of the best vermouth in the world during the 1970‘s (an estimate of their artistic peak gleaned from old Consumer Reports annual liquor guides). Domestic consumption was dominated by domestic producers like Tribuno and Gallo. This is not a well known history due to the gruesome demise of domestic production before we had a wine or a cocktail renaissance. Domestic production and its knowledge eventually reconsolidated only to be completely crushed under the weight of conglomerates that were the victims of Wall Street’s leveraged buy outs. The highly leveraged operations were too poorly financed to compete with the Italians who out advertised them twenty to one at one point in time.

The short lived rise of domestic vermouth only kicked off with domestic research initiatives. Maynard Amerine’s Vermouth, An Annotated bibliography, 1974 can be reconstructed into a time line that shows a great amount of mid century articles in trade publications like Wines & Vines that try to start a dialog on the subject. Authors collectively dispelled production myths so that the supply side of a market could emerge. The thought that multiple producers were necessary to create confidence in domestic production may have been the incentive for cooperation. The logic being that multiple producers leads to competition and competition is an incentive for quality which is worth putting up the money to consume on slightly less than blind faith.

In alcoholic luxuries, quality eventually becomes an artistic matter rather than one of functional utility. Vermouth started as a shelf stable wine product used in cooking for its acidity and generally “complex” and stimulating aroma, but eventually evolved into a sophisticated art object used to elevate or be elevated by gin or whiskey. Validating quality in art is not easy, but its even more difficult when you are the sole domestic producer and you get quickly denounced by the establishment as inferior because of your point of origin. Demystifying a product with transparent research is the only way to be evaluated without nationalistic bias. Not being the sole domestic producer also helps.

Amerine’s annotated bibliography was actually commissioned for a scholarship funded by the Tribuno’s (of domestic vermouth fame) to study and further aromatized wine. The science was becoming exhausted and research was likely to take a turn for the anthropological or artistic. The industry quickly collapsed at the time the scholarship started and so was re-purposed for the study of wine aroma. This is a shame because we would have learned more about aroma in general if we stayed with a medium where aroma could be moved and manipulated more easily.

The study of vermouth or wine aroma leads to classification of aromas which leads to the creative linkage of the classifications and eventually to symbolic value we places on aromas and their linkages. Understanding these things is the only way to be competitive in the highly established non functional luxury beverage market.

The present

The current crisis we face is not having a legal framework to produce under and not being artistically competitive. The solutions to the these challenges is not particularly costly and the return on investment could be massive based on the past examples. This country could easily resemble Europe with ingenious uses for a diverse agricultural portfolio. Demand could be claimed to be more advanced than supply as evidence by all our imports.

The last thirty years has seen the legalization of home wine making and home brewing. Large amounts of home brewers have turned into commercial micro brewers and started the economically significant, rapidly growing, widely distributed, craft beer industry. The successes of the reform should be carried further into distillation. Every house hold should legally be able to distill whatever they are legally able to ferment. It will still be illegal to sell, but legal to share and most importantly legal to learn from doing.

Legalizing home distillation will redistribute consolidated knowledge enough so that entrepreneurs may acquire enough to build a domestic business. Numerous competitors whether active commercially or only at the hobbyist level, will lead to artistic advances that make us more competitive with highly established imports.

The Future Direction of Research

New research could expedite the entire process of becoming more competitive. The vast amount of past research needs to be re-popularized while new research needs to put to use new tools that have only recently become economically viable. Work in both directions needs to be interdisciplinary. More interdisciplinary work will increase the return on investment of research.

Past analysis which often starts with Louis Pasteur was only able to measure and find patterns between elements of taste (taste, or gustation only represents part of a flavor. Flavor is a synesthetic multi-sensory concept). The intricacies of aroma was beyond their reach. This analysis needs fresh interest because it has not yet been put through the interdisciplinary ringer. The audiences that can benefit from research intended solely for wine makers can be fairly large.

The anthropologist can turn food and beverage into metrics that define a society’s sense of harmony and measure changes over time. The wine maker can follow the anthropologists work and learn what directions to abstract wine relative to various markets such as the domestic market or various differentiated export markets. The liqueur producer can learn the abstraction techniques of the wine maker. The bartender would do well to learn the sanitation techniques of the wine maker and can also learn from anthropologists when trying to push the limits of harmony. The distiller who looks to create new products where there is a comparative advantage will try and fit within the new harmonies of the mixologist bartender.

Another emerging market is the “soda as acquired taste”. Producers create non alcoholic products that features dramatic tensions between elements like sweetness, acidity, and dissolved gas to replicate much of the emotional content of an alcoholic drink experience but without the alcohol. People get hung up on alcohol, but it does not define as much of the pleasure of drinking as one would think. It just so happens that alcohol is paired with these tensions and contrasts. The perception of something like dryness could be seen as a flavor bi-product of producing alcohol and to some degree that is what we often crave. Desired flavor bi-product structures do not have to happen naturally like in a beer or wine because we can use abstraction techniques to replicate them. This is not new as its been practiced with cocktails for quite a while, but it can always be refined especially if you want to confidently remove alcohol from the equation.

Aroma

Aroma is the great frontier of flavor and powers much of the highly imaginative and memorable quotient of an experience. We can finally tackle aroma due to the increasing accessibility of tools like mass spectroscopy and gas/liquid chromatography. These tools can be used to finally develop a comprehensive olfactory construct that integrates into past research on elements of taste. This would be of interest to all of culinary art (integrated) as well as the perfume industry (emotional content of aroma only). One would think that the perfume industry has already figured these things out, but they seem to do more with creating synthetic aroma than categorizing and studying creative linkage. They are also secretive so who knows exactly what they have developed.

Botanicals are really important to learning the creative linkage of aromas. For starters they are typically power plants for small aroma sets as opposed to large sets like wine or meat which makes them useful for experimenting. The digestibility of botanicals also lets us study their impact on our sense of taste. Taste or rather gustation seems to be particularly important to categorizing aroma and this importance might be why perfumers have not developed categorization techniques that have trickled down to culinary. The study of aroma can only be furthered by integration into the other senses.

The categories we put aromas in need to have names, but because these names are arbitrary, it is hard to pick names which will seem intuitive. Names often begin with an analogy to another sense. One of the most significant sensory naming categories that has stuck is warm and cool in regards to color. This analogy might have been successful because for nearly every sensory input of perception another sense is also touched (co-experience?). Thermoception, from where the warm and cool concepts are derived, might be the closest sensory input to sight. In regards to olfaction, gustation is likely the most significant sensory input that is also activated. Aroma probably needs to be first categorized by its relationship to gustation.

The relationship between aroma (olfaction) and taste (gustation) means we can take our botanical aroma building blocks and create experiments that categorize them by their ability to stimulate gustatory divisions (bitter, tart, salty, sweet, umami, and piquancy). Unlike symbolism which forms the divisions of many olfactory constructs (good or bad aromas for example), this might not be culturally relative and might therefore be universal.

The most significant gustatory division that is stimulated by aroma seems to be sweetness. Many of our most highly regarded simple aroma sets (black tea and lemonade perhaps?, anise and wormwood?, juniper and orange peel?) create tension and pleasurable emotional content by juxtaposing aromas that could be said to have one increasing the perception of sweetness while the other decreases it. The aromas may also just create favorable tension by each solely stimulating separate gustatory divisions. This alternative idea would create tension that completely parallels the tension between gustatory divisions (sweet contrasted with tart equals the pleasurable sour concept) .

Even if we carried out tests to identify the simple aromatic building blocks of all known botanicals (the number is manageable) and then we created experiments to identify the gustatory stimulus of the building blocks, we still would not have a comprehensive construct. Further divisions would have to be made, but to be honest, I do not have an idea of where to divide next.

The most sophisticated botanical olfactory construct I have ever seen is Harold McGee’s from On food and Cooking. McGee starts with three categories (“light”, “warm-sweet”, ”other qualities”) and elaborates those to ten. (light: fresh, pine, citrus, floral, warm-sweet: woody, warm-”sweet”, anise, other qualities: penetrating, pungent, distinctive). In the chart, every botanical can be placed in multiple categories because they contain sets of aromas, but aromatic compounds themselves mostly only reappear in one category.

Besides the large “other” category, knowingly or not, McGee starts out using analogies from other senses though not the same sense. The next sub division looks like it tries to group a botanical around an iconic aroma that would face little danger of being unknown to a culture. Unfortunately the “other” category is very large and only broken down into very complex words that rely on McGee’s furnished definitions.

“Light” as a category does not have the most clear meaning. It could refer to a sensation of lightness but also the nature of the botanicals because everything in the light group is particularly volatile (terpenes) and therefore the first to be perceived (top notes in perfumer’s jargon). “Warm, sweet” and “other” are filled mostly with phenolic compounds which are less volatile and have different solubility than terpenes. The “penetrating” category is not clearly defined while “pungent” refers to botanicals that stimulate pain receptors like chilis (sometimes called piquancy). The distinctive category is for botanicals that are dominated (some more than others) by phenolic compounds unique to themselves (saffron is the only botanical producing safranal).

McGee’s construct definitely succeeds in helping one parse the aromatic components of certain botanicals. Knowing to look for something increases the schemas you have to break an aroma set down. The chart states a goal of helping people identify affinities between botanicals but offers no logic on how affinities arise. If you plug many large botanical sets into McGee’s construct which are considered complex and generally highly regarded, you do find a pattern of all divisions being employed (a vermouth formula for example or many spice rubs).

If we study many famous aroma sets using mass spectroscopy and chromatography we can identify more patterns of pleasure, especially between smaller sets. It would not be surprising to see the same patterns of creative linkage used repeatedly. New tools of analysis would also help us realize the role of aromatic timbre in creating favorable emotional content. When we create large aroma sets from botanicals there are many overlapping divisions touched upon in an olfactory construct. Tight linkages perceived as overtones might also be really important to aromatic affinities. The best experiments to demonstrate these affinities will likely be the aromatized wine and the cocktail.

Conclusion

A vast frontier of possibilities is open before us. We have overcome the challenges in the past and no doubt can continue to do so. A new legal framework with increase artistic quality by increasing competition, but research initiatives can always expedite the process as proven by the past. You would be hard pressed to find anyone that does not admire Europe for its agricultural diversity, its ingenuity in preparing the bounty of its harvests, and its contagious when in Rome ability to have people eat and maintain the regional specialties. There is no reason America could not eventually achieve the same.

The main difference between the culinary Economies of the U.S. and Europe is the distribution of knowledge. The U.S. has been negatively impacted by forces in the establishment which tries control knowledge and protect itself against affronts of competition. The only way to redistribute knowledge is to provide a legal mechanism that reduce barriers to entering the market thereby increasing the number of competing firms and funding research that creates a transparent understanding of the products produced. The only way to be sustainable is to redistribute knowledge so we can spread out production and to master harmony when applying our new diverse agricultural bounty.

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Advanced Culinary Communication Basics

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This is an amateur rant targeted mainly at enthusiasts of popular, contemporary, culinary art. All ideas are mainly the product of meditations I’ve gone through to make better, more powerful cocktails as well as become a better steward of wine. Not every “foodie” will be amused by my targets of inquiry and in regards to aspects of art criticism, Peter Schjeldahl said it best, “a chemical analysis of water would irk someone mostly aware of being thirsty” so either turn back now or quench your thirst and lets keep going.

Interest in culinary art really seems to be growing these days. It could easily be because the news of late is so depressing that people are opting to only read the dining and sports sections of the newspaper. This explosion of interest has even led to a few of the chefs I know appearing on TV (looking like idiots). My oppressively blue collar parents have even started drinking wine. I never thought I’d see that day.

I feel though, that this growth of interest is all happening with barely any advances in our ability to communicate about our experiences. We are taking all this culinary art in, and it is touching our souls like art does (awesome), and we want to talk about it (naturally), but we are only able to market these experiences to each other in conversation (“balanced” wines with 97 point RP scores), not describe them or differentiate them. Our methods of converting sensory evaluation and emotional content to language needs more attention.

The first question we have to ask is what can culinary art communicate? What can I say with a cocktail and what specific aspects of it say anything? A drunk bar regular once told me his glass of tequila whispered to him “the desert is large”. We cannot expect the most useful things to be said, but I have been moved to my greatest joys by things I’ve drank. What takes us to that joyful state (or any state, even repulsion) are tensions that exist in the work. These tensions add up to emotional content and are therefore the provoker of your reaction.

My cocktails aim to have particular tensions between elements of structure (acidity, sweetness, alcohol, etc.) as well as tensions between symbolism (particularly the aromatic type), however vague. The symbols do not have to be too precisely read because there is no plot to the story. Olfactory symbols are intended to be more like reminders or reference points. We string them together or bounce off of them creating tension that adds to the emotional content. Emotional content via symbolism functions relative to the micro or macro context you frame it in, therefore each “reminder” doesn’t exactly point to the same place for each person and we will react in different ways (why we have preferences).

Conversing about our experiences is important. For starters, when we have a conversation with ourselves we may be more likely to etch an experience into our mental library. We rely on this library to build the schemas that we use to parse experiences. New wine drinkers are often frustrated that they have little to say about a wine while experienced wine drinkers have tons to say and probably have more feelings, positive or negative about the experience. The difference between the drinkers lies in the size of their library, which I bet, discussions of sensory evaluation and emotional content enlarges and maintains.

Our culinary history has a historical record that begs to be written and sensory evaluation should be a key component yet it often gets left out. Somehow our recipes have always been slim on details. Julia Child (among others) changed recipe writing and culinary history when she detailed the techniques used to physically link ingredients so dishes could actually be recreated by laymen. Child’s insights ended a long era of purely “shovelware” cook books, but things could be taken further by adding some sort of sensory evaluation to the recipes. This is easier said than done. A spaghetti Carbonara recipe cannot practically turn into a book in itself (bad marketing material) where every possible relationship is mapped, but if it had to be done, does anyone know how to do it? We seem to have some sort of deficiency of technical analysis skills and a lack of creative linkage jargon to push the theoretical limits of recipe writing.

The current state of most our recipes is that they are highly dynamic, but what happens if we can write them in a way that makes them static? The static recipe is a way to walk a day in another man’s shoes, which is usually my goal when I ask someone for their recipe. A static recipe can convey the regional acid ethic of a classic dish which is something so many chefs get criticized for missing. Culinary history would be firmer and culinary art objects would become more accessible and enduring.

Many cocktail recipes have made the static shift which is not difficult because of the simplified texture and temperatures. In 19th century books like the The Bon Vivant’s Companion, early mother recipes like the gin sling or whiskey cocktail were encouraged to be dynamic and stretch up and down to an imbiber’s whim. By the time the Savoy Cocktail Book came around, some recipes were on their way to becoming more staticly locked (many will challenge this assertion). The result was that new recipes could be more expressionistic and packed with emotional content that we can still experience today just like other art mediums such as Edvard Munch’s expressionist painting The Scream. The Lucien Gaudin from the Savoy (look it up!) is not the “Lucien Gaudin” if the proportions, which largely define its emotional content, change. Of course a new can of worms gets opened up because these statically motivated authors did not have the foresight to see that brands would waver or go defunct.

The cocktail renaissance has often stumbled because of so many defunct ingredients. Many ingredients have no sensory evaluation in their historical record so substitutions are impossible. We will never know if products with a fantasy names like Hercules or Caperitif were anise or orange aromatized, but we do however have all of their marketing which makes the products seem enticing enough. It is really a shame that they are gone forever (or their static recipes are just stuck in Internal Revenue Service laboratory records that the Freedom of Information Act can’t seem to penetrate. Yes, the IRS did pioneer static recipe writing with their importation forms for aromatized wines).

Many imbibers strive to reenact the Civil War and make historically accurate cocktails (I love the idea of taking in the same experience as the first Martinez, Manhattan, or Martini), but some suspect the ingredients have wandered aromatically and if they haven’t, how did they do it? Developing and maintaining aromatized products like the Chartreuses or the vermouths takes a team (generations of teams) who obviously have to communicate. What do these teams say to each other and can we benefit from their communication techniques? American liquor law might state circularly that “vermouth is a wine which looks and tastes like vermouth” but generations of vermouth producers have hopefully come up with something better.

Culinary communication might be furthered if we could refine or popularize some definitions. The word at the heart of it all that needs more attention in defining is flavor. Flavor too often gets confused with it’s component parts, therefore the ambiguity of the language used can make it difficult to communicate. Flavor is the synesthetic summary experience of tasting, touching, and smelling. Things get confusing because we use the verb taste to take in flavors but taste as a noun is only a component of a flavor. This communication setback probably happened because we did not realize flavor was a synesthetic experience.

Synesthesia in this context means that, for example, the aromatic component of a flavor will influence perception of the taste component and separation of the components while perceiving will be challenging if not possible. This happens because certain aromas make things taste sweeter than they really are while other aromas make things taste less sweet. The components of flavor can be identified, named, and relationships between them can be mapped. This knowledge, like the formal aspects of painting, can be used to charge culinary art with extra potent emotional content (my obsession).

The painting analogy can teach us a lot about breaking down the flavor phenomenon. Early in the 20th century, painters started to be intensely concerned with exploring spatial effect in the picture plane (sensation of three dimensions using the two-dimensional picture plane). These plane conscious artists mapped all the illusions that led one to believe they were experiencing three dimensions on the two dimensional picture plane. These artists even liberated us from mere illusions which often have negative connotations. What was once illusory became a plastic reality. What this means to flavor is that if you think a wine is sweet, but there is no measurable sugar in the wine, you aren’t really wrong. Not being wrong isn’t the end of it. You still have to work harder in communicating if you want the waiter to bring you a wine whose perception of sweetness via aroma you actually enjoy.

Plane consciousness is the future of culinary art. The painter Hans Hoffman stated “a plane is a fragment of the architecture of space”. A culinary art experience is easily analogous to taking in space because space isn’t so much real as just an abstract concept. Each culinary art object is an entire world created out of relationships between these planes. Isolating planes and defining their relationships is going to motivate artists to develop the science behind manipulating them (we have already seen great growth in this recently).

The great frontier of culinary communication is in aroma. Each of us has an olfactory construct that we use to divide and categorize our aromatic world. Research shows that olfactory symbolism or the meanings we attach to aromas which guide the divisions of our constructs are culturally relative and therefore we are not exactly hard wired to believe anything smells good or bad. Many constructs are possible and aromas can be divided into all sorts of categories, some more useful to culinary art than others.

There may even be a hardwired type of olfactory construct that is intensely useful to building and describing flavors in culinary (someone please study this I’m dying to know if it is hardwired). We can divide aromas based on how they change the perception of sweetness in a flavor. I call this construct the “round/angular olfactory construct”. Round aromas are the fruits like orange, apple, apricot, etc, but also aromas like anise, and almond. If only slightly, these aromas will all increase the perception of sweetness in a flavor. Angular aromas create the opposite effect and some bartenders call spirits like rye whiskey, that are dominated by hard to name angular aromas, drying agents. Other angular aromas are spices like juniper, clove, and cinnamon.

Multiple round aromas in a flavor experience can be described with the analogy of overtones and intervals. Some round aromas together like apricot and orange are intensely hard to parse and create an overtone. Distinct intervals happen between more disparate round aromatic linkages like coconut-pineapple or anything-anise. The aromas are perceived in a succession that can add serious depth to a flavor experience. The round aromatic interval is analogous to how depth is created in the picture plane by intervals of warm and cool colors (warm & cool is an arbitrary analogy that we’ve grown to accept!).

Angular aromas exist in what could also be called intervals, but they seem to have a slightly different nature where they do not produce overtones (or maybe they do? My theory is not firm). An analogy to describe the groupings of angular aromas could be terraced with few intervals that seem to climb in larger steps (fernet) to crescendo where there are many intervals which seem to climb gradually and are hard to differentiate (vermouth, Chartreuse).

We seem to love the linkage of round and angular aromas. They often lead to a very pleasurable sense of spatial effect (Arnold Palmer) and are great considerations when improvising drinks. Strangely, both Chartreuses seem to be elaborate sets of only angular aromas absent of nearly all roundness. The skewed nature of it all may have had strange symbolism to the early monks such as celibacy or the denial of pleasure (though it could also be a cover up for their deviate behavior). No matter what the Chartreuses symbolize, it must have taken some sort of communication of sensory analysis to exclude any botanicals with round aromas (Anise lurks everywhere. The anise aroma can actually be found in green Chartreuse but the aroma is locked up by the high alcohol. When the proof gets cut, the anise aroma is more free to be volatile).

Another great olfactory construct which relies heavily on searching for universal symbolism in Western culture is the temporal olfactory construct which separates aromas based on a time association with them; does an aroma remind you of the past or the future? Just like we enjoy the clash of the round and angular, we also enjoy the violent juxtaposition of the past and future (and often both constructs overlap). Examples of backward looking aromas in Western culture would be the Garden of Eden fruits and antiseptic preservative aromas like juniper, sage, and wormwood. Forward looking aromas are often exotic like coconut, pineapple, Demerera rum, or Cognac. Some aromas like cherry have a tonal range and can point in both directions. Cherry liqueurs like Heering point towards the past with their stodgy density while forward looking Kirschwasser glows aromatically in a neon sort of way after being liberated from non-volatile aromas via distillation. Famous temporal juxtapositions would be gin (epic olfactory tension!) with purifying juniper contrasted with exotic saffron and orange peel or absinthe with glowing futuristic anise contrasted with ancient preservative wormwood, but of course it is all culturally relative. These days we have lost touch with the symbols and our reference points are too personal. The olfactory literacy rate being so low really stifles the art.

The emotional content that olfactory symbolism creates makes aromatic tonality very significant though overlooked. Ferran Adria might have made playing with texture the hot topic, and texture has its own emotional content (as well as makes for good fluffy journalism), but aromatic tonality is where its at (not to diminish Adria, I bet his team is really into aroma and I’d really love to hear what they have to say about it). Shifting the shade or tone of an aroma charges it emotionally, but we talk about it strangely. When you see tasting notes for wines that address aromatic roundness they are always written as “fruit comma fruit comma fruit comma etcetera”. The commas lead one to believe the wine will have all those aromas, (maybe in intervals or via a true time element provided by rapid oxidation in the glass) but somehow the shade of round aroma really exists between the fruits (beautiful mermaid-grotesque!). When we abstract and build wines, we aspire to push and pull aroma into this unknown space between the known values. We need to trade the commas for another logical operator that indicates between-ness.

Admitting a love for the space between two known values does not solve much. We still can’t comfortably articulate in conversation shades of strange aromas like “organic earthiness” in a wine (In my eyes the most emotionally charged of all wine aromas!). My favorite shades are emotionally very sensual and romantic because of their similarity to animal aromas and can even be divided symbolically into the masculine and feminine. Other organic earth aromas at the far reaches of the spectrum are analogous to a white truffle that is past its prime (so sad!) and are in the negative end of my olfactory construct. Using these analogies, in a hundred years will anyone understand my descriptors of the red wines of Bolgheri, and if Bolgheri never produces a bottle again, will anyone feel they found a similar shade of earth aroma in another part of the world?

Tonality and juxtaposition bring up another communication issue. What exactly is complexity in a flavor experience and is it a useful descriptor? The desire to call something complex seems like an instance where we settle for one word to market an experience, but we really need to divide it into multiple words to describe an experience. Experiences of rare expressions of roundness often get called complex even when they don’t have any distinct intervals. The same thing happens with angular aromas. Is complex appropriate or should we say something like distinct, rare, or enigmatic to denote the out of the ordinary experience? To me complex seems reserved for flavor experiences that have many intervals of aromas, employ many planes of taste, and maybe even a have a time sensitive evolution via rapid oxidation.

My favorite spirit at the moment is Medronho from the Algarve region of Portugal. Medronho is a brandy made from the Strawberry Tree or Arbutus. Nothing is more esoteric or made under rarer circumstances. I could easily call the brandy spectacular or balanced (hells no!) and market Medronho to all, but I can’t really call it complex. The aroma of the brandy basically consists of a strange, distinct, pungent aroma very much like Tobasco minus the vinegar and another mousey-autolytic aroma similar to what you find in some Champagnes (who knows if it is a from yeast autolysis). There is the typical taste structure of a distillate plus the two distinct aromatic intervals. The juxtaposition is as strange as it gets and the aromas are rare for a fruit brandy, but complex does not fit the bill. I’ll settle for distinct or even avante-garde relative to the normal Western culinary experience. Medronho has no counterpart.

The dissonant nature of some experiences challenges another word that we commonly use in our culinary marketing. Everything in culinary seems to be balanced, but the word has a lot of problems. Balance does not seem to have any provisions for cultural relativity and cannot account for the acquired tastes that drive modern culinary art. We can build in cultural relativity or we can switch to another word. The musical world has championed the word harmony and sorted out every nuance of its use. Harmony is relative because of consonance and dissonance which have been acknowledged to be flexible and always in motion. Arnold Schoenberg famously stated that there is no dissonance and rather “a dissonance is a further removed consonance that we have yet to absorb.” Schoenberg’s learned harmony idea opens up a world of acquired tastes that balance, with its fixed connotations, closes off. There is a new crop of foodies out there whose hobby is essentially acquiring acquired tastes.

Tossing the art of dissonance metabolizing fetishists into the market is dangerous because of our mastery of marketing. We so easily sell acquired tastes to people that are not ready for them, creating dissatisfaction and potentially hindering the progress of expanding harmony. Embracing plane consciousness in communication might be a solution. If we describe the direction of planes to summarize spatial effect (identifying the dissonant space in few articulate words), we can keep people that shouldn’t be from swimming in the avante-garde of culinary art.

Culinary communication is an art in itself. The task of communicating what artists consciously abstract into the synesthetic unknown is a crazy proposition. Hopefully plane consciousness, olfactory constructs, culturally relative harmony, and acknowledgment of grotesque tonality will give us an edge. Ahead of us, we have static recipes to build so we can preserve the complicated ethics of our culinary heritage. There are monumental works that still need to be maintained and modern symbolism that still needs to be explored. It would be nice if through more discourse, the art of culinary communication will catch up to culinary art itself.

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Daiquiri; An Analysis

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daiquiri
x oz. rum
y oz. lime juice
z g. sugar

The daiquiri is an iconic drink with no specific recipe. What one believes a daiquiri should be is all subject to the principles of cultural relativity. This relative concept is significant because of how polarized western food ways are. One might find another’s daiquiri to be undrinkably sweet, too tart, or too alcoholic. Hemingway often enjoyed a sugarless daiquiri that most imbibers would find very extreme and probably inharmonious.

With just three ingredients (plus some water!) there is a multitude of options. Rum, which fortifies the drink, is the most diverse spirits category there is. The range of rum’s aromas is staggering and hard to fully outline. Rum aromas can range from simplistic (and very common in culinary) like caramel or vanilla to rare like iodine, or the enigmatic and un-nameable (beyond language!). The appeal of rum aromas are also subject to a lot of culturally relative symbolism. Each of us has an olfactory construct which we use to categorize aromatic experiences and attach meaning. In western culture there are some aromas with close to universal symbolism but classification is also often very personal. To me, the aroma of caramel in rum is a negative. I find caramel boring and try to avoid rums dominated by the aroma. I don’t want my rum to go through some elaborate process and end up smelling like something ordinary I could just make in my kitchen. Yet the market speaks and those rums sell well. Within rum, many people probably hold the caramel aroma favorably in their olfactory construct. Symbols can congeal. Maybe I used to like caramel as well, but experiences can make your olfactory construct shift and reconfigure.

For many, a daiquiri takes shape with an intense plane of acid. Limes have a very consistent amount of acidity, but their aromas can vary significantly. The lime aroma is very piney and angular in nature, but the degree of its intensity varies significantly with the lime. Sometimes when limes have a yellowed skin, the aroma of their juice can be obnoxious, overly piney and very hard to enjoy. If the lime has dimpled skin, the rind is usually very thick and there is little juice inside. Limes with the best juice economy and most elegant aroma are not so intensely green as dimpled limes, don’t feel solid, and have very smooth skin. These are what growers strive to put on the market.

The character of the sugar source for a daiquiri can vary drastically. Bleached and highly refined white sugars are not aromatic. Bleached sugar brings sweetness to the daiquiri’s structure but no aromatic contrast to the rum and lime. On the other hand, raw sugars can be distinct and highly aromatic. At the far extreme, molasses is a concentrate of the aromatic part of sugar, separated during the refining process. Aromatic sugars have a density of aroma that can overshadow many nuances of a rum and should be used with that in mind. Using a sugar source with aroma also has the potential to make boring rums much more exciting.

The relationship of sugar to acid is where the majority of the daiquiri’s emotional content comes from. Aroma, its level of extract, and alcohol pull on these planes of structure, but they are not too significant or predictably manipulated. The pH or even g/L as citric of the acid is hard to obsess over so it becomes easiest to describe the acid/sugar ratio as relative to a 400g/L sugar source in a 2:1:1 sour.

1.5 oz. rum (80 proof)
.75 oz. lime juice
.75 oz. sugar syrup (400g/L or very close to a common 1:1 simple syrup)

The above recipe really captures the average of most western tastes and is what is typically served in a restaurant scenario. As the relative amount of sugar decreases, the drink can be described as drier and appealing to less imbibers on average while sometimes gaining in its ability to thrill a minority. When producing daiquiris for others, the challenge becomes abstracting the drink to an idealized emotional state by changing the ratios of rum, lime, and sugar as well as other planes like temperature, dissolved gas and inhomogeneous elements like ice chips produced during shaking.

Switching to stirred in granular sugar while trying to maintain a similar acid/sugar ethic decreases the overall volume of the drink and therefore you need to extrapolate other variables. Using granular sugar without a scale takes intuition, but can increase the intensity of the spirit without having to use a higher proof bottling because the drink is not diluted with water from the syrup.

Language to describe the emotional content of a drink is very underdeveloped and because food ways are so diverse, all we really have is trial and error when matching drinks to drinkers which can be costly. Unlike a painting which only needs to be painted once, every time a culinary work is consumed it needs to be produced which is not without expense. We have developed language effective enough to sell drinks and make them seem enticing, but not effective enough for people to actually understand what they are getting with any precision. Most imbibers just shoot in the dark with a simplistic mentality of “I like ‘x’ trendy liqueur so I bet I’ll like any drink that features it”. Everybody gets by, but with such an asynchronous system (one side knows everything, the other side knows little) for new experiences, the art can not go very far. No one is likely to become the Arnold Schoenberg of mixology, expressing the tricky aspects of the zeitgeist which require new notions of flavor harmony.

Anyhow, make my daiquiri like a Markovich Lissitzky or Wassily Kandisnky painting; abstracted and expressionist. Stretch it with the emotionally charged raring to go structure of a 250 gram sour pulled taut by low extract aroma (via non-aromatic sugar!). Throw out those common “culinary” aromas. I want my mind to wander through enigmatic, mermaid-grotesque, aged, Cape Verdean rum aromas terraced against the gentle piny-ness of a perfect lime. Forget those over oaked, lacquered up whiskey cocktails, this will be like a licking a green marble sculpture; shaped by structure and veined by aroma. If you come from a Snapple-sweet tea lifestyle, be prepared to find out we don’t idealize the world the same way.

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