The “Maraschino” Blackberry Illusion

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The maraschino cherry is an interesting art object. To many it is just a preserved cherry. But it also can be a trick of expectation and anticipation. You expect this simple looking preserved cherry to taste like a cherry and it does, but also with the intense almond-y note of the pit. This was done by an alcoholic solvent bringing the character of the pit to equilibrium with the rest of the cherry. But you can’t just use any alcoholic solvent. Because we are dealing with equilibriums and certain expectations that must be met, the solvent has to have the same aroma as the juice of the cherry. Therefore it must be a cherry eau-de-vie. That is usually the first mistake people make in making brandied cherries. If you use something with different aroma than the fruit, equilibrium will strip the flavor out of the fruit with often horrific consequences.

Maybe we could do this with another fruit than cherry. But none really have a pit or inhomogeneous element that a solvent could homogenize. So what we would have to do is aromatize a fruit brandy with a spice and push it into a fruit instead of pulling it somewhat out. Hence we have the “maraschino” blackberry. Blackberries soaked in blackberry eau-de-vie that was distilled with mace and grains of paradise (then mixed with vitamin C powder as an anti-oxidant).

I more or less executed the maraschino blackberry idea but came to a stumbling block. I made a nice blackberry eau-de-vie that I distilled with an intuitive amount of spice (I didn’t measure). The resultant elixir was definitely palatable on its own and not over intense in spice by itself. Things got messy after I added the black berries and let things sit for a couple weeks. You can drink the liquid on its own, but the spice aroma in the black berry upon eating seems wretchedly over extracted. You have to spit it out. There is obviously some trick of perception that amplifies certain sensations, but how the hell does is it work?

I think I will just dilute the spice extract with more plain eau-de-vie and see what happens. The maraschino blackberry may still be salvaged, but I need a better understanding of this flavor illusion. I’m reminded of two experiences. Years ago I made a simple clove infused whiskey with Seagram’s VO and probably ten cloves per liter. The infusion tasted really flat and un-clove-like until you added some triple-sec. Wow did the flavor wake up. Sugar is a known flavor enhancer and likely its full potential was unleashed on the cloves. The same could be happening to the spices from the sugar in the blackberries. But there isn’t much sugar in the blackberries (maybe just a few %) and much of that sugar was brought to equilibrium with the rest of the liquid. So what is really happening?

Another experience was drawn from making a simple pineapple rum infusion. When it comes to equilibrium and you eat a piece of pineapple you get a sensation that you’ve just taken in over proof rum. Even to someone quite desensitized, the sensation is a jolt. It doesn’t seem probable that the pineapple has more alcohol than the liquid. So what gives? Is it a result of the texture? Maybe. Blackberries and raspberries taste great whole but when you juice them and rob their texture they taste flat and muted. To get any life back into them you need to abstract and ameliorate them with more sugar and more acid.

Maybe we are experiencing an abstraction through texture. All those tiny blackberry cells keep popping in your mouth, hitting you with barrage after barrage of sensation. It echoes and amplifies. I know Ferran Adria experimented with “limes with texture” where he overshadowed the character of cucumber with lime to borrow their texture. I wonder if anything was amplified and maybe he was inspired by other fruit abstractions that we more commonly encounter.

Potential amusement abounds.

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3 thoughts on “The “Maraschino” Blackberry Illusion

  1. lately i’ve been reading “Taste What You’re Missing” by Barb Stuckey (read it!). she describes a case study where a woman damaged a part of here tongue and then lost retro-nasal olfaction. texture may be important to awakening retro-nasal olfaction which is why the texture of the black berries could so significantly change the threshold of perception of the mace aroma. the tongue must also be the trigger for other senses as well because of the effect of stoli doli jar phenomenon.

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