In Indian cuisine restaurant Zaffran’s spotless kitchen in Crawford Market, Mumbai, master chef Chetan Sethi moves with the practiced ease of a seasoned performer. The buttermilk and gram flour mix is cooked on slow fire and it is time to temper this Rajasthani karhi with a variety of spices.
As the rarefied butter is heated just right, Sethi tosses in the whole red
chillies, the mustard and coriander seeds, bits of turmeric, chilli and asafoetida powder. Then, he deftly adds the spluttering seasoning to the karhi, as the spicy aroma fills the air.
While the flavourists of Givaudan —a Swiss flavours-and-fragrance company on a culinary trek of India — take in and talk about the roasty, creamy, clovey flavours, Dr Klaus Gassenmeier, research manager, analytical science and technology, scratches his head wondering how on earth is he going to capture these different aromas for research.
Gassenmeier’s job, unlike that of the flavourists, is to break down the aroma to the compounds and molecules. It is an exacting science, the sample collection has to be accurate.
So the karhi is tempered afresh and immediately placed under the glass dome of his Aroma Trap to collect the aroma in the absorbent packed in the three tubes and then thermally desorb it into a Gas Chromatogram for
analysis at Givaudan’s US and Singapore-based laboratories.
There, the aromas from the humble karhi, will become the molecules and compounds that when correctly identified and accurately combined may find their way in our fast expanding packaged food industry and other food-and-beverage market.
The packaged food of Rajma-chawal or Paneer makhani or Goan prawn curry that most Indians-on-the-move swear by, would taste like cardboard if it was not for the taste and aroma enhancers.
Says Prakash Raote, one of the flavourists from Givaudan who helps match the flavour and aroma with the company’s 82 broad flavour descriptors like roasty, fatty, caramelised, lactony etc. “The cashew paste in Rogan Josh, for instance, gives the dish a fullness of body and the consumer a feeling of richness of taste and indulgence while the tangy spicy flavour leads to salivation. We are here to break down the flavour curve so that the consumer experiences all these before the hotness of the spices hits him at the end of the palate.”
So, chances are that in a couple of years if you pop a pre-cooked Rogan Josh from a packet into a microwave, it may taste quite like the original without having these ingredients in adequate quantities. “Which,” according to Antoine Lewis, food and wine writer in Mumbai, “is cheating the consumer.”
Jeff Peppet, marketing and communication head, North America, counters that.
He says: “The goal is not to deceive the consumer but to make products that the consumer can enjoy. It is impossible for food manufacturers to work with all fresh ingredients because of the cost, the quantity and the control of quality involved.”
At least Sethi, who is planning a third outlet of Zaffran soon, is not complaining. “Indian restaurant chains have not worked in India because because the ingredients I get in Mumbai differ vastly from the ones I get in Bangalore. With this kind of technology I can give consistent dishes across the country.”
As part of their culinary trek, the team tasted and tested the Pav bhaji and Dhangari mutton in Mumbai and the Tandoori dishes, samosa and parathas in Delhi for possible recreation of the flavours later.
They did not taste your grandmother’s rasam or your mother’s Kesar Kheer. Alas.