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Putting the food genie in a bottle

india Updated: Feb 07, 2010 01:33 IST
Mini Zachariah
Mini Zachariah
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Inside the spotless kitchen at Zaffran, the restaurant at Crawford Market, master chef Chetan Sethi has buttermilk and gram flour cooking on a slow flame and it’s about time to temper this Rajasthani karhi.

With the butter heated just right, Sethi tosses in the spices and flips the spluttering seasoning into the karhi, the spicy aroma taking over the senses.

Behind him, Dr Klaus Gassenmeier wonders how he’s going to capture those flavours. Gassenmeier is research manager, analytical science and technology, and is part of a team of flavourists from Givaudan, the Swiss flavours-and-fragrance company, which is on a culinary expedition across India.

The sample’s integrity is critical, so the karhi is tempered afresh and placed under the glass dome of his Aroma Trap, which traps aromas, to be later analysed in Givaudan’s laboratories.

There, the molecules, after being merged in a range of combinations, will likely find their way into the fast-expanding packaged food industry. The packaged rajma-chawal, paneer makhani or Goan prawn curry that we normally toss up for a quick meal, would taste like processed cardboard if we didn’t have these taste and aroma enhancers.

“We are here to break down the flavour curve so the diner experiences all the flavours in the dish,” says Prakash Raote, a Givaudan flavourist who matches flavours with the company’s 82 broad descriptors such as roasty, fatty, caramelized and lactony.

Nutritionist Mehar Panjwani strikes a note of caution,“Foods are best eaten in their natural form. Food flavouredwith refined and redefined molecules could trigger chronic diseases in the long run. I wouldn't recommend these flavorings be used regularly for household cooking.”

So a pre-cooked Rogan josh from a packet may taste quite like the original without having the actual ingredients. Jeff Peppet, Givaudan’s marketing head, counters that, saying: “The goal is not to deceive consumers but to make products that they can enjoy. It is impossible for food manufacturers to use all their ingredients fresh because of the cost, quality control, and quantity involved.”But Sethi is not complaining. “With this technology, I can offer a consistent taste across the country,” he says.

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