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Flavour enhancers



Function of flavour enhancers

Food and drink is not just about survival.  In food, flavour, aroma and structure are discovered.  Flavour enhancers give food an extra dimension.  With the addition of herbs and spices in every day food, bland cooking can be avoided and more variation in aroma and flavour added.  In this way the quality can be successfully increased.  Flavour enhancers can be used in different ways.  Salt and sugar can be added to accentuate a product, vanilla and bay leaves can be added for flavour and a sprig of mint can be placed on a dessert for decoration purposes.


The nutritional value of flavour enhancers

Since only very small quantities of flavour enhancers are used, it is not appropriate to discuss the nutritional value in terms of energy, proteins, fats, carbohydrate, vitamins and minerals.
Confectionery products containing liqueurs, sugar or sugared fruits contain energy in the form of carbohydrate and /or alcohol.  However when alcoholic beverages are used in hot sauces and such, the alcohol evaporates off and there is then no question of nutritional value.

Fresh garden herbs
The Romans introduced garden herbs into Northern Europe when they invaded it over two thousand years ago.  Century’s later fresh herbs are still found in many monastical gardens. These herbs were treasured not only for the culinary uses but also for their medicinal value. This interest in herbal remedies has carried on and is still prevalent today. Fresh garden herbs create somehow an atmosphere of purity, respectability, caring and inner peace.

Purchasing flavour enhancers

When purchasing flavour enhancing ingredients attention should be paid to the following:

  1. The types of flavour enhancing ingredients available
  2. The physical condition in which they can be bought
  3. The quality hallmarks of the various ingredients
  4. The price of the various ingredients
    1. The types of flavour enhancing ingredients available

The types of flavour enhancers are sub-divided as follows:

    1. Herbs
    2. Spices
    3. Condiments
    4. Confectionery products
    5. Drinks


    1. Herbs
      Examples of herbs are: aniseed, basil, chives, summer savory, borage, cacao, lemon melissa, dill, tarragon, angelica, hyssop, juniper berries, capers, caraway seed, chervil, garlic, coffee, cumin, coriander, mint, lovage, marjoram, horseradish, peppermint, parsley, pimpernel, rosemary, sage, celery, tea, thyme and watercress.



    1. Spices
      Examples of spices are: mace, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, pimento, pepper, saffron, star aniseed, cinnamon, bay leaf, paprika, Spanish pepper, vanilla, ginger and yellow root (turmeric).


    1. Condiments
      Examples of condiments are: saltpetre, essences, yeast extracts, marmite (vegetable yeast product) and MSG (sodium glutaminate).


    1. Confectioners products
      Examples of confectioner’s products are: castor sugar, lemon rind, couverture, marzipan, jelly, honey, jam and syrup.


    1. Drinks
      Examples of drinks are: tomato juice, coffee, soy sauce, port, wine, cognac, grappa, Madeira or whisky


  1. The physical condition that flavour enhancers can be bought

There are four possibilities:

  1. Fresh flavour enhancers
  2. Fresh-prepared flavour enhancers
  3. Preserved flavour enhancers
  4. Flavour enhancing products
  1. Fresh flavour enhancers

Fresh flavour enhancers are herbs and spices that are bought fresh such as parsley, chives, onions, Spanish peppers and many more.

  1. Fresh-prepared flavour enhancers

Fresh- prepared flavour enhancers are ingredients such as fresh herbs, which are vacuum or gas packed  (perhaps washed), and portioned such as coriander, thyme, chives or basil.

  1. Preserved flavour enhancers

Preserved flavour enhancers are all the dried spices such as pepper, juniper berries, bay leaves, cloves, mace (whole or in powder form), and dried herbs such as parsley, chives, chervil and thyme.  Also freeze dried herbs such as tarragon, dill, chervil, herbs and spices in oil such as pesto’s and mustard types.  As well as this there is an assortment of frozen herbs.

  1. Flavour enhancing products

Flavour enhancing products include:

    • Solid confectionery products such as couverture, fondant or icing sugar
    • Fluid confectionery products such as marmalade, syrup and honey
    • Drinks such as fruit juice, coffee and tea
    • Fermented flavour enhancing ingredients such as ketchup, Tabasco and soya sauce
    • Light alcoholic beverages such as beer, port, sherry and vermouth
    • Strong alcoholic beverages such as brandy wine, amaretto, cointreau and kirsch

Flavour enhancing vegetables
In the chapter on vegetables, various vegetables used particularly for flavour are discussed fully. They will not be discussed further in this chapter except to mention that vegetables with this particular capacity are onions, celery, leek, fennel, horseradish and celeriac.


  1. Quality hallmarks of the various flavour enhancing ingredients

Fresh and fresh prepared ingredients
Harvested herbs and spices are living products. In quality they can, by the very fact that they are picked, only deteriorate in quality. By handling them correctly and methodically, this deterioration can be somewhat delayed.
The most noticeable change is herbs after harvesting is the reduction in moisture. The herbs become limp and dry out whereby they also lose aroma and flavour.  Ethereal oils (essential oils) disappear, also from the concentrated smell.  As well as this, enzyme processes take place, which negatively affect the appearance, the aroma, the colour and the flavour of the herbs.
The firmness of leaves and stalks is an important criterion for the freshness of herbs, and the quality can be checked by the intenseness of the smell and flavour.

Preserved flavour enhancing ingredients
Pay attention when purchasing dried or freeze dried products for the presence of moisture and fungus forming.  Dried herbs and spices can colour due to excessive sunlight. Herbs with little aroma can easily take on a hay-like flavour when drying.  Check them, smell them before use.  Check the packaging dates of deep frozen ingredients and the use-by-date.

Flavour enhancing products
Flavour enhancing products are normally bought ready made.  Industry has high standards for quality and since it is in everyone’s best interest, do all they can to offer these products as perfectly as possible on the market.

The health aspect of herbs and spices

Herbs and spices have a relationship with general health. In fresh garden herbs, as already mentioned, the medicinal value is built into the basic structure of the herbs.  In fact using herbs is more or less like taking a tonic!  This is not a trend; more a requirement of the body and it always generates a lot of public interest.
Micro organisms often decide the relationship between spices and health.  In tropical countries for example, people have built up a better resistance to food poisons (often because of poorer hygienic conditions).  Spices with strong or sharp flavours can restrain the growth of micro organisms.  However the strong flavours of the spices can also help to disguise food that is decaying.  For Westerners, strongly seasoned food, which is typical of tropical countries, has a double risk: our ‘feeling’ for fresh food does not apply any more and Westerners are more susceptible to decaying food. When we eat strongly seasoned food we must be extra careful and have no concerns about hygiene or freshness before eating it.

  1. The price of the various flavour enhancing ingredients

The price of flavour enhancing ingredients is not normally an issue nowadays.  It is therefore easier where possible to buy top quality.  Ensure the stock will be sufficient for around six months.  For fresh ingredients storage periods are obviously much shorter, it has no benefit to buy in larger quantities than is required.

Exotic and tropical history
Spices originate more or less from the (sub) tropics.  For a large part of the middle Ages, the city of Venice had a monopoly position for the imports of spices to Europe.  The city owed its expansion and riches to this.
After the voyage of discovery when Marco Polo visited China and India, Christopher Columbus America and Vasco da Gama, India, the spirit of enterprise of the international Dutch and English business houses came more and more in touch with the extensive and expensive world of spices.  Initially the spices were very highly priced but gradually as the demand got higher and the production processes more efficient, prices became more affordable.

Nowadays spices and herbs are part and parcel of the kitchen: prestige, status and high prices do not play a part.  However a little of the history is always present: spices are associated with the exotic, unknown, dynamic and adventure!  The association with ‘expensive’ or ‘unique’ is in the past



The handling of flavour enhancers in the kitchen

The handling of flavour enhancing ingredients is broken down into the following stages:

    1. The transport
    2. The delivery
    3. The preparation
    4. The use in the kitchen
    5. The storage
  1. The transport

Fresh and prepared flavour enhancing ingredients
During the transport the chance of quality deterioration is great. Herbs and spices are sensitive to discolouring, flavour and aroma deterioration, moisture loss, fungus forming and oxidation processes under the influence of light and insects.

Preserved flavour enhancers and products
Flavour enhancers should be transported carefully.  These products are often packed in glass. Herbs and spices that are reduced in size such as ‘broken’, milled’,  ‘powder’ or meal are extra sensitive for the above mentioned quality deteriorations.  With deep frozen ingredients, the cool-chain must not be broken.  The products should always be check for packaging (intact) and the use-by-date.

  1. The delivery

Fresh flavour enhancers
Fresh herbs should be checked on delivery in the kitchen for quality, type and amounts. It is then of vital importance to place the herbs in water as quickly as possible. Elastic bands should be removed and a small piece cut from the stalks of the herbs to allow water intake. If herbs are to be stored for longer than one day, they should be placed in a lightly blown plastic bag in the fridge.  Alternatively fresh herbs can be rolled in wet kitchen towel and stored in the fridge.

Prepared fresh flavour enhancers
Generally prepared fresh flavour enhancers are packed in bags containing nitrogen, oxygen or a combination of both.  These products must be checked for amounts and quality.

Preserved flavour enhancers and products
Generally speaking flavour enhancers and products packed in plastic or glass should be checked for type, amount and use-by-dates.  Take careful note of any damages and the fastening of the packaging.

  1. The preparation

Fresh and prepared flavour enhancers
Herbs and spices should be as fresh as possible. When fresh herbs are picked from a garden, they should be picked at the last moment before use.
The fresher the herbs, the stronger the aroma. When herbs are chopped, pressed, milled or rasped, enzyme reactions are begun which can cause bitter flavours. It is therefore essential to use a very sharp knife when preparing fresh herbs.

Where possible, do not wash fresh herbs; otherwise a portion of the aroma is lost in the water. Wet leaves lose even more aroma when chopped. How fine the herbs are chopped depends on the dish.  A good golden rule is: the finer the soup or sauce, the finer the herbs. The aroma is quickly drawn out of finely milled or chopped herbs or spices.  Therefore a whole clove of garlic will give less flavour than a pressed clove which will quickly release its’ aroma.
When a clove of garlic is boiled, the enzymes are killed and very little garlic flavour is released. On the contrary a pressed clove of garlic will first undergo an enzyme reaction and release an intense garlic aroma.

Essential oils
Herbs and spices take their aroma and flavour characteristics from their essential oils, which are very volatile.  Essential oils are compounds that release strong flavour and are difficult to dissolve in water.  Each type has its own characteristic aroma.  Essential oils are found in all types of herbs and spices.  The flavour and aroma of the herbs and spices is influenced by the soil in which they are grown and by the climate.  For example Muntok (Indonesian) pepper tastes very different to Sarawak (Malaysian) pepper and Brazilian pepper very different again.

Preserved flavour enhancers and products
Preserved flavour enhancers and products are ready to use.  An exception is deep-frozen herbs.  They must be de-frosted before use. Weigh powders and concentrates carefully to add flavour to a dish. It is always possible to add some more but impossible to remove powders and concentrates.

  1. Use in the kitchen

Fresh and fresh-prepared flavour enhancers
Garden herbs such as lovage, celery, chives, parsley, sage, summer savory, thyme, mint, oregano, basil, tarragon, chervil and dill are in general ‘friendly’ and not sharp. The accent is on the mild aroma and flavour.  Preferably, they are used fresh.
Vulnerable herbs such as dill, chives, chervil and basil are added at the last moment. Cooking reduces the aroma. Add freshly milled pepper or freshly rasped nutmeg also at the last moment.
Care must be taken when adding different herbs and spices.  Avoid a loose hand when adding spices and herbs!  There are herbs and spices that are particularly dominant such as tarragon, dill and aniseed.  They set the tone in a dish and it is often better not to add other flavours.
Not all herbs can stand heat.  However flavourings that come from firm hard leaves with a strong aroma such as rosemary, sage, thyme and juniper berries, actually improve their quality by heating. They can be cooked with the dish. They can also be easily removed during cooking and replaced at the end of the cooking time in this way a good balance can be found without the flavour being over-powering.  This can be the case with bay leaves as they continue to release flavour during cooking.

Preserved flavour enhancers
Spices such as cloves, cumin, nutmeg, mace, ginger, cardamom, pepper and curry are concentrated in flavour.  They come from (sub) tropical climates.  The accent is very much on the pungent flavours and aromas.
Instead of using herbs and spices such as oregano, marjoram or basil, oils, pesto or pastes made of herbs can be used.
The best flavours are obtained by heating spices quickly in a dry frying pan. Curry and paprika powder are fuller of flavour when heated with fat or oil: this is called ‘myoter’ in French.   However take care that the temperature is not too high: the aroma can be lost and a bitter flavour develop. 
Try to ensure that spices and herbs add to the dish and never detract from the main ingredient. Be careful about the amount used, add small amounts and check the flavour as it develops.

Flavour enhancing products
Condiments are ingredients that add flavour to food or strengthen the flavour.  Condiments can be used in soup, sauce, a pasta or puree. Practically all condiments contain MSG (sodium glutamines), which ensures a stronger flavour.
Fluid flavour enhancers are products like vinegar and ready-made sauces.  Vinegar gives a sour flavour.  A sour flavour in combination with fat flavours is in general appreciated.
There are also fermented flavour enhancing products such as soya sauce, Tabasco and Worchester sauce. They can be used to raise the flavour in soups and sauces.  Only a few drops are normally required as they are very strongly concentrated.
In most kitchens wine, distilled alcohol and liqueurs are used.  Alcoholic drinks are just as important as butter, flour, salt, pepper or eggs.  The alcohol content is not important but the flavour in these drinks. Some drinks have a broad abstract flavour base such as wines, gin, cognac and whisky.  Other drinks such as aniseed, cherry brandy or cointreau have a very definite flavour. Another important difference is: a definite sweet flavour, a little sweet or not sweet.  Strong alcoholic drinks are used at the table to flambé.
Liqueurs contain 20 – 30% sugar and are very definitely sweet.  Drinks such as whisky, Dutch gin (young), vodka and most eaux-de-vies contain no sugar.  Some white wines, port and vermouth are a little – medium sweet.  Liqueurs and eaux-de-vie can give fruit salads and fruit compotes an unusual accent.
Solid or fluid confectioner’s products can be used to accentuate a certain flavour.  For example: strong alcohol in bonbons, fondant for a fine crystalline structure, ground almonds for a surprising structure, bigarreau for decoration or spices for a certain complexity in flavour.

The extraction value of herbs and spices

The extraction value is the amount of flavour and aroma that herbs and spices release during the whole preparation process. A high or low value is dependent on the amount used and the moment that the herbs or spices can be added to give optimal results.
Herbs and spices that are strong in flavour, aroma and colour and have firm or hard leaves such as thyme, celery, rosemary, bay leaf, sage, juniper berries, cloves and nutmeg have a high extraction value.  As well as these, curry and paprika powder have a high extraction value, intensified after they are heated in a little oil or fat. The flavour, aroma and colour are released after this so called (in French) myoter process.
Herbs with a low extraction value have soft leaves such as dill, basil and coriander. Herbs and spices with a high extraction value should be used differently in the kitchen than herbs and spices with a low extraction value.  In general the following can be said: the longer the preparation time, the less amount of herbs and spices required. When too much is used, herbs and spices with a high extraction value will tend to dominate.  Herbs with a low extraction value such as dill and chives are better not cooked with the dish.  The released flavour does not last long and they are better added just before service.  Fresh herbs are better added at the last minute to sauces or soups: they do not need to be removed from the dish.  Dried herbs (not freeze dried) should be sieved from the dish, as they are normally hard. In this type of herbs and spices it should be indicated if they have a high or low extraction value.
Herbs with a high extraction value have, as mentioned, hard leaves or stalks; they too should be removed from the dish before serving.
The extraction value of herbs is also influenced by the preparation beforehand.  Fresh herbs have a higher extraction value than dried, deep-frozen, or freeze dried herbs. The preparation of herbs damages the cell structure of the herbs whereby they lose moisture.  With the moisture, there is also a loss in colour, flavour and aroma. Fresh herbs are required in smaller amounts for these reasons than dried herbs.

Relationship with oil and fat
It is not commonly known that there is a relationship between herbs and spices and the use of oils and fats in particular areas.  There are various types of fat or oil in the world. Oils and fats have often very little flavour but they can have a great deal of influence in the flavour of a dish.  They fill the roll of flavour conductor.  They deepen and expand the flavours and influence the so-called ‘mouth-feel’.
From a basis of the climate and origin of the herbs, spices, plants and animals, four main areas can be pinpointed: the tropics, the sub-tropics, moderate climates and the continental climates.
In tropical areas vegetable fat is normally used such as coconut oil, palm oil and peanut oil.
In subtropical areas olive oil is most commonly used.
In moderate climates traditionally animal fats are used such as butter and cream while in continental climates animal fats such as pork, goose, cattle and /or chicken fat is traditionally used.
In general the warmer the climate, the more vegetable oil is used and the hotter the spices. These include chilli, curry and pepper.  On the contrary, the milder the climate, the milder the flavours (more creamy) and the more animal fats used.  This is not a golden rule but a logical pattern. The use of subtropical products such as tomatoes, pasta’s, olives and the like, compliment the subtropical olive oil and subtropical herbs such as oregano and thyme.

5. The Storage

Fresh and fresh prepared flavour enhancers
Fresh herbs and spices contain essential oils.  Light is harmful to essential oils.  It is therefore important to store these oils dark storage areas and with tightly fitting lids.

Preserved flavour enhancers and products
Dried herbs and spices must be stored in dry, dark and cool storage areas, for not longer than six months. Spices such as pepper, cinnamon or cloves are best stored ‘un-ground’ or whole.
Deep-frozen herbs, well packed, can be stored for relatively long periods.  Ensure that they are clearly labelled and use within six months.
Condiments and solid confectioner’s products should be stored cool and dry.  Ensure they are used within six months.
Fermented flavour enhancers, light alcoholic drinks, strong alcoholic drinks, oil based herbs and / or spices and fluid confectioner’s products have in general a good to very good storage life.  They should be stored in a dry, cool and dark area.

General tips:

  • Do not combine too many herbs and/or spices with each other.  Choose wisely otherwise quickly a brown, cough-mixture type of substance will result which is very uninteresting!
  • Be careful with spices.  The effect can be that very quickly a dominant flavour will develop. It is always possible to add but not remove flavouring.
  • Many spices which are not particularly dominant, can be used in small amounts in many dishes. Spices such as mace, pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, coriander, parsley, chives and onion types.  On the other hand curry and cloves have a dominant character and must be carefully selected for use.
  • A fresh accent can be obtained by using the following: aniseed, chives, dill, tarragon, chervil, horseradish, parsley, mint, celery, fresh ginger, lemon grass (sereh) and sorrel.
  • Ripe tones can be obtained by using the following: summer savory, cardamom, cinnamon, garlic, cloves, mace, bay leaves, nutmeg and truffle.
  • Onion is perhaps the most important flavour enhancing vegetable of all.  Onion develops the flavour and ensures a  broad base. Onions must always be cut with a sharp knife.  The queen of the onions is garlic. Garlic should not be fried in too hot fat as it will burn and become bitter.  Use as much as possible, young, fresh garlic.

Cultivation of flavour enhancers

It is surprising that so few herbs are home grown.  Herbs that are frequently used such as parsley and celery may take up too much space and time, however other herbs such as thyme, chives and rosemary can be grown in pots and do not require much space and attention.
Most herbs grow best in shaded areas.  If too many herbs are grown too close together there is a possibility of cross-pollination.  Ensure that herbs are not planted too close together to allow them to keep their own identity and character.

A brief history of herbs and spices

Through the ages spices and herbs have played an important roll with mankind.  Nowadays this is actually less.  The herb corner in a supermarket nowadays makes it very easy to purchase all types of spices and herbs and has no relationship to the wars that were played out for monopoly positions in the trading of spices in years gone by. There were times in the past when herbs and spices were as valuable as gold.  In Roman times for example 100 grams of cinnamon cost the same as a slave.  In these times rich people had their food cooked with lots of herbs and spices as a status symbol.
Luckily for modern chefs, they can concentrate on the flavour and aroma of herbs and spices. The modern gastronomic philosophy is that each flavour should be allowed to develop in a dish and be tasted for what it is. However it is always interesting to develop variations and with all the possibilities at hand, herbs and spices play an important roll today, especially since the history of the products has not been forgotten.  Spices such as curry, coriander and fresh ginger give a totally different sensation than herbs such as sage, dill or parsley. 

Geographical and historical background
Herbs and spices have a different geographical and historical background. Most people are more or less aware of this. A curry sauce with parsley is technically possible but it does not ‘feel’ right.  A curry sauce with a few leaves of fresh coriander feels better. Humans do not only test with their senses but also with instinctive associations.