The Sweet and Meaty Taste Science of Grilled Vegetables

The Sweet and Meaty Taste Science of Grilled Vegetables

The Sweet and Meaty Taste Science of Grilled Vegetables

“Let’s grill tonight” translates to “let’s eat meat tonight”

in many backyard BBQs. It’s not surprising since grilled meat products create hundreds of complex aroma and flavor compounds. Grilled vegetables create less of these craveable compounds but develop delicious flavor profiles that can make them popular with kids and adult “veg-avoiders.” Whether using wood, coal or gas heat sources for grilling meat products or vegetables, the flavor differences are determined by browning reactions that depend on carbohydrates and protein.

Vegetables and meats exposed to high heat in a dry environment develop unique flavors from non-enzymatic browning reactions known as the Maillard reaction and caramelization.

Caramelization relies on sugar for creating tasty molecules whereas, the Maillard reaction requires protein and a hint of sugar for flavor development.

grilled sweet potato

Flavorful Proteins

Vegetables meet two of these Maillard reaction requirements; however, the low protein content compared to meat products limits the flavor development. Meat, poultry and fish, when exposed to a high and dry heat, yield hundreds of complex Maillard aroma and flavor compounds ranging from savory and meaty to floral and earthy. Because meat products also include the simple sugar ribose, some caramelization flavors also may be detectable.

Flavorful Sugars

Caramelization is a browning process from heating sucrose or sugars such as fructose or glucose, also known as reducing sugars. Caramelization requires higher temperatures than Maillard reactions. Annette Hottenstein, Sensory Scientist and Registered Dietitian, explains that grilling typically exposes vegetables to higher heat than other cooking methods and at these high temperatures, new complex volatile flavor components become available as natural sugars caramelize.

Caramelization flavor compounds are less complex than those from Maillard reactions, but don’t disappoint with a flavor range that includes butterscotch, sherry, rum or toasty notes.

Vegetables with high levels of reducing sugars and protein such as corn, sweet potato, onions and eggplants create tasty flavors from both types of browning reactions.

Veg grilled Eggplant Michele Redmond

“Meaty” Grilled Vegetables

Like meats, some vegetables can develop a “meaty” taste element thanks to sulfur. Vegetables with an amino acid linked to sulfur such as cysteine create more savory elements or a meatiness. Cysteine is plentiful in cruciferous vegetables and alliums like onions.

Cysteine found in onions and combined with naturally high sugar content transform onions on the grill but also explain why caramelized onions are popular additions in many meals.

Grilled vegetables also offer pleasant contrasting textures. Hottenstein shared that she particularly enjoys the crispy tips of grilled asparagus and how the heat of the grill intensifies the green flavor components while adding a smoky dimension.

Veg grilled Asparagus

Vegetable Grilling Tips

Here’s some veggie grilling flavor techniques to make “let’s grill tonight” translates to “let’s cook delicious foods” where vegetables are hogging the grill grate.

  • Fresher is better: Some vegetables, like sweet corn, rapidly convert natural sugars to starch after harvest. Less natural sugars result in less flavor and sometimes a mealy texture
  • Par-cook: For dense or slow-cooking vegetables such as carrots or potatoes, partially pre-cook then grill or grill the surfaces for color and flavor, then finish cooking on the warming rack.
  • Coat or naked: Dry the surface of vegetables before coating lightly with oil or a marinade. Or instead grill them naked like whole eggplants or peppers for smoky, charred skin aroma compounds.
  • Veggie densityVegetables such as zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes that are less dense due to high water content grill quickly in general and even faster if sliced or quartered. It’s best to not mix them with dense vegetables, such as root vegetables, to ensure even grilling results.
grilled potato fingerlings | Tasteworkshop.com

About Me

The pleasure of food, good health and well-being through simple habits for eating well and flexitarian low-key cooking.
Michele Redmond

Michele Redmond

French-trained Chef, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist & Food Enjoyment Activist

It's about Making Food First

Get Taste Workshop periodic updates on easy ways to choose and cook foods that satisfy your appetite, nurture your body and make eating well a pleasure.

Lazy, Lighter Chocolat Chaud—Hot Chocolate with French Airs

Lazy, Lighter Chocolat Chaud—Hot Chocolate with French Airs

Lazy, Lighter Chocolat Chaud—Hot Chocolate with French Airs

Chocolate chaud hot chocolate cup TheTasteWorkshop.comIt snowed in the desert on National Margarita day. Neither event makes sense—a beach-boozy drink celebrated in winter and snow-covered cactus. Instead of tequila, my beverage is based on chocolate liquor—the meat of the cocoa bean.

Any cold day seems a good day for a hot chocolate break or breakfast treat to warm your body and soul. To help with that, I’m sharing this chocolat chaud recipe that I’ve tested until woozy with cocoa to get it just right, even if not exactly French.

Is this even French?

Enjoy rich foods fearlessly and without excuses! If only we could do this more often. Such a French food attitude wouldn’t need a “lighter” hot chocolate—Non Merci! You would instead sip traditional chocolat chaud, intentionally, slowly and happily—just enough to satisfy without feeling heavy.

I didn’t see “light” versions of chocolat chaud when I lived in France. Certainly not made in a microwave—not a classic French culinary move. So why create a lazy, lighter version? Because sometimes simplicity reigns and this three-ingredient version delivers on flavor and comfort.

In the U.S., hot chocolate may contain milk, water or both with cocoa powder or syrups instead of chocolate. French recipes include milk most often, sometimes cream, but milk paired with a high-quality dark chocolate is rich enough.

Is this even Chocolate?

As a kid, I reveled in making my own hot chocolate. Add a packet of cakey cocoa with chalky, sweet white bits to a cup, stir in hot water and voilà—chocolate for breakfast.

I loved this astronaut-ready freeze-dried instant hot beverage. Especially after meeting an astronaut who I was certain sucked up hot chocolate and marshmallow bits in zero-gravity.

Chocolate chaud Hot Chocolate TheTasteWorkshop.comIn college, I graduated from “milk chocolate-flavor cocoa mix” to Nestle’s chocolate syrup with hot milk. The cocoa mix has 16 ingredients and the syrup has 12, three of which are food colors.

If you grew up enjoying these options, then ignore the ingredient list–just enjoy it as a periodic treat. For me, everything changed when my friend Michel treated me to Chocolat Chaud in Paris at his quiet neighborhood bistro.

Liquid Chocolate

The best part of chocolat chaud that I’ve loved, is at the bottom of the cup. A morsel of soft, not fully melted, chocolate lingers. This “Pièce de Résistance” (proof of real chocolate), leaves you a couple spoonfuls of thick chocolate or sips of thick cocoa tonic to boost your mood.

Unlike the drinkable chocolate bar offered at the famous Angelina’s in Paris, most versions of hot chocolate I enjoy in Paris are neither thick nor super rich. Sometimes, whipped cream decorates the top, but for me, that’s just a pretty distraction diluting the cocoa flavor.  But I get grumpy when cold, so just ignore my whinging and bling up with dairy delights as you wish.

Chocolat Chaud Recipe

Hot milk mixed with dark chocolate pieces plus a hint of sugar to balance the bitter dark chocolate.

Ingredients

3 ounces dark chocolate, chopped (about ½ cup—see notes for chocolate and chips)

1 ½ cup skim milk (see milk option notes below)

2 teaspoons powdered sugar (thickens drink & balances bitter notes in chocolate)

Dark chocolate options—3 ounces of:

  • 70% bittersweet chocolate bar (about ½ cup chopped). I like Valhrona (6 ½ squares is about 3 ounces), but pick any high-quality chocolate you like.
  • Dark chocolate chips (about ½ cup) tend to be only 60% dark chocolate, are sweeter, have a lighter chocolate flavor and different nutrient profile.

Steps:

  1. For your your pièce de résistance, pull aside about ⅓ (about 1 ounce or 2 tablespoons) of the chopped chocolate or chocolate chips, and divide between two small tea or coffee cups.
  2. In a glass measuring cup (at least 2 cups), add 1 ½ cups milk. Microwave on high for 3 minutes.
  3. To the milk, add the remaining chocolate (about 2 ounces left) and powdered sugar. Whisk or stir with a metal spoon scraping any chocolate that sticks to the sides or bottom. Taste. If the taste is a bit bitter, add more powdered sugar–each teaspoon is only 10 calories. Microwave for 1 more minute, whisk or stir vigorously until frothy. 
  4. Pour in equal amounts into the cups each with the chocolate pieces waiting to be partially melted. No need to stir, unless you want a thicker drink. Find a cozy, quiet place to enjoy or share with kids or other adults and let time stop a moment to create a chocolatey memory.

Chocolate chaud Hot Chocolate TheTasteWorkshop.com

Milk Notes

  • Skim milk texture is thinner than whole milk, but the powdered sugar versus a crystalized sugar acts as a thickener.
  • If you use whole milk, it can bubble over, and possibly erupt in the microwave, so reduce the heat or the time to control this.

Serving & Make-Ahead notes:

  • Serve warm in the smallest coffee or tea cups you have (demitasse cups if you’re into French dishes).
  • If making ahead of serving, put in the refrigerator for a few hours or even overnight. Rewarm and stir before serving. The chocolate pièce de résistance will likely melt though, so you can leave that out, warm the cocoa, then add the extra chocolate to the cup.
  • If you don’t’ have a microwave, go old school and heat milk in a pot, add chocolate and reduce until thicker.

Calorie Notes–Urg. I hesitate to share since this beverage isn’t about watching calories, but it is a rich treat, so here’s some specs:

  • Skim milk calories versus whole milk for this recipe is about 50 more calories per cup.
  • Because this is a rich beverage, use small cups and enjoy slowly. Each serving is about 300 calories—just a bit more a Starbucks 16-ounce version at 400 calories, but it’s a different taste and flavor option.

About Me

The pleasure of food, good health and well-being through simple habits for eating well and flexitarian low-key cooking.
Michele Redmond

Michele Redmond

French-trained Chef, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist & Food Enjoyment Activist

It's about Making Food First

Get Taste Workshop periodic updates on easy ways to choose and cook foods that satisfy your appetite, nurture your body and make eating well a pleasure.

Easy homemade Honeycomb for a Flavorful Sweet Treat

Easy homemade Honeycomb for a Flavorful Sweet Treat

Easy homemade Honeycomb for a Flavorful Sweet Treat

Cinder Toffee from Royal Highlands Fair in Scotland

Cinder Toffee from Royal Highlands Fair in Scotland

I ate honeycomb for the first time at the Royal Highlands show in Scotland where it was called cinder toffee. I adopted a Scottish accent after the first bite.

I’d eaten honeycomb-covered chocolate bars in London, but fresh-made honeycomb had heady aromas of caramel, toffee, butter, smoky flavors and a hint of bitter. All of these qualities make it a perfect garnish for flavor-forward desserts.

Honeycomb is also known as hokey pokey (New Zealand and Australia) and tire-éponge (Quebec/France). This recipe was provided by a pastry chef who specializes in flavorful foods. Chef Country Velador of New Wave Market and Super Chunk Sweets & Treats shared her recipe scaled down for home-kitchen use.

Ingredients (Super Chunk Sweets & Treats Recipe)
1 tablespoon baking soda
½ cup water
⅓ cup honey
¼ cup corn syrup
1½ cup sugar

Steps

Honeycomb from Superchunk Sweets and Treats

Superchunk Sweets & Treats Restaurant Quantity

  1. Line baking sheet with a silpat and set aside. Measure out the baking soda and leave next to the sheet pan with a whisk.
  2. In a large saucepan (final mixture will foam up dramatically), combine the water, honey, and corn syrup. Stir to dissolve the honey and corn syrup as much as you can. Add the sugar and carefully stir in, being careful not to get sugar on the sides of the pan. Put on the stove over high heat.
  3. Bring the mixture to a boil and clip on a candy thermometer. Cook until the candy thermometer reads 305F.
  4. Take the pot next to the silpat and pour in the baking soda and quickly whisk it in. The honeycomb will puff up. Quickly pour it out onto the silpat, pouring all of the candy right in the center of the pan.
  5. Let cool completely before breaking up. Store in an airtight container.

Honeycomb goes a long way as a garnish for cakes or cupcakes icing, paired with chocolate, tucked in a yogurt, fruit parfait or sprinkled on ice cream or roasted bananas. Cook some up and play with it.

Eat within a few days or share with people to increase your popularity immensely. If it sits too long, it begins to absorb moisture from the air quickly and becomes sticky and soft. Don’t store in the fridge for the same reason, and wrap it in plastic wrap after it has completely dried to avoid exposure to moisture.

Honeycomb by Superchunk Sweets and Treats

About Me

The pleasure of food, good health and well-being through simple habits for eating well and flexitarian low-key cooking.
Michele Redmond

Michele Redmond

French-trained Chef, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist & Food Enjoyment Activist

It's about Making Food First

Get Taste Workshop periodic updates on easy ways to choose and cook foods that satisfy your appetite, nurture your body and make eating well a pleasure.

Kids in the Kitchen: A little Cooking Competition is Healthy

Kids in the Kitchen: A little Cooking Competition is Healthy

Kids in the Kitchen: A little Cooking Competition is Healthy

Parents rarely get to brag that their children regularly make the family meals using lots of new ingredients. However, TV cooking competitions for kids give the illusion that they often whip up complex meals quicker than their parents can google the recipe.

Some cooking competitions pit kids against each other, give blistering critiques and drop them into professional line cook jobs or catering events. While it may work as entertainment, it doesn’t send a message that cooking can be a relaxing and healthy way to bond with other kids or adults.

Cooking Competitions for Kids-Not Just for TV

Kids can cook and compete in ways that encourage them to try new foods and have fun creating meals. I was reminded of this during a cooking event I organized for 100 kids participating in Fuel Up to Play 60, a healthy eating and fitness program run by the Dairy Council of Arizona. During the one-hour cooking session, they:

  1.  encouraged each other to taste new ingredients with no adult intervention,
  2.  bonded over “foreign foods” that they adventurously tried,
  3.  helped each other with techniques and cooking tools,
  4.  learned cooking skills or shared skills they had, and
  5.  cooperated to name their dish and meet the deadline.

Tips for Simple Competitions

Home-based cooking competitions can have the same benefits and involve as few as 4 kids in teams of two. Here’s some tips to create simple competitions that promote creativity and enjoyment of nutrient-rich foods: 

  1. Remind kids that people have different tasting skills and perceive food tastes, flavors and textures in different ways. Place a ban on “yuck”, “gross” or “disgusting” comments.
  1. Like many adults, kids can’t describe why they like or dislike certain foods. Review the five taste qualities (sour, sweet, bitter, salty and umami) and show which ingredients fit those qualities.
  1. Share that flavor and texture also influence food preferences. Encourage tasting recipe ingredients such as spices, herbs, condiments or vegetables and fruits.
  1. Provide some combination of known ingredients with new ones. This relates to the concept of “flavor pairing” or “associate conditioning” that can reduce food neophobia (fear of new foods).
  1. If they are to make a meal that’s new to them, select ones that feel familiar, like flatbread, or describe it in ways that connects them to other foods they’ve enjoyed.
  1. Select the same meal to cook so kids can compare the finished versions and be exposed to other taste and flavor choices.
  1. Suggest kids take photos of their final creations rather than taking photos during cooking as it’s a distraction and cell phones are a food-safety hazard.

Cooking competitions for kids are entertaining without the stress of elimination or having an apron taken away for failing to meet the TV judge’s standards.

Home-based cooking competitions for kids create supportive peer environments that promote trying new foods, build skills, increase interest in cooking and make for good play dates, birthday events or a way to get your kid to make dinner that night.

Tartines Cheesy Melt Cooking Competitions

August is Kids Eat Right Month: This is a dedicated time to celebrate and promote ways to encourage kids to cook and eat well. Culinary nutrition expert Sara Hass, RDN organizes a month-long effort called “Kids in the Kitchen” to promote different ways that kids can get engaged and interested in cooking.

Find more information at Sara’s website and Kids Eat Right. Post photos of your kids cooking and use the hashtag #kidsinthekitchen to celebrate their efforts and get practical and fun information from culinary nutrition experts who love to get kids in the kitchen having fun.

About Me

The pleasure of food, good health and well-being through simple habits for eating well and flexitarian low-key cooking.
Michele Redmond

Michele Redmond

French-trained Chef, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist & Food Enjoyment Activist

It's about Making Food First

Get Taste Workshop periodic updates on easy ways to choose and cook foods that satisfy your appetite, nurture your body and make eating well a pleasure.

X