Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Where Do the Delicious Flavors of the World Come From? Do You Even Have to Ask?

The answer, as all our savvy readers know, is that all amazing things, including deliciousness, come from New Jersey. Here's the trailer of what will be an awesome documentary on those flavors (the documentary is a bit less fawning over the flavors and presumably a bit more tongue in cheek):

The Spice Trade Expedition from anfw on Vimeo.

If you want to find out more, go here. The documentary (documentary? No. 'Tis a quest) is still in progress, but check out their websites for updates. It should be excellent insofar as it will provide a unique behind-the-scenes look at the flavor industry. To give you some idea as to the dogma the movie is trying to propagate, their ideals and motivations seem to be in line with Michael Pollan's, but perhaps not (my vote is that they are).

The flavor industry is one of the more ubiquitously experienced industries - but one of the most secretive and unknown. Manufacturers guard their recipes jealously, as they should, because they truly develop amazing things. I drive by a factory that produces, depending on the day, strawberries and cream flavors, maple syrup flavors, chocolate, etc. Most processed foods contain them. Check out Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser - he discusses them a little, visits a factory, and samples some flavors. As proof of how awesome and specific the flavorings can be, he relates smelling one that is identical in essence to a grilled hamburger. Crazy.

We can have any range of opinions on natural and artificial flavorings. As a cook, I am torn. For one, I understand the criticism - they are generally symptomatic and emblematic of America's over-processed and poor food habits. They exist, mostly, to make extremely, hyper-processed foods taste better, because the processing has killed all flavor. They make the unpalatable super palatable. And, they generally Take fake maple syrup v. real maple syrup.

On the other hand, I have two things to say in favor of them. A) Beverages - while sugary beverages are clearly unhealthy, I have trouble seeing anything philosophically troubling with adding concentrated essences to water to make a drink - isn't this similar to the bitters that I use for cocktails? B) While some of these flavoring are made using chemistry and scientific processes...when I make a concentrated, delicious veal stock, what am I doing but using chemistry and heat to make veal flavoring?

These are not airtight arguments for or against. Personally, I think if we are to improve our food system, there are much more egregiously bad things to worry about than flavorings. But I hope I've for thought. Perhaps added some flavor to your opinions. Or at least...spiced up the arguments. 

So, check this flick out, and stay tuned for the completed product. It will be...delicious?

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