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Something to chew on when you bite and sip

- Science explains what grandma knew

New Delhi, Oct. 8: Chef Ranveer Brar is savouring the equivalent of a spectator’s delight when the apple fell on Isaac Newton.

Science has just explained what chefs like him, gluttons and devotees of good times had known “forever and forever” and inherited from the “wisdom of cultures”.

Nutrition researchers have provided a scientific scaffold to the widespread gastronomic practice of consuming wine with meat, fries with beer, and pickles with parathas.

A team of French and US researchers has shown through laboratory experiments how a mildly astringent solution such as wine decreases the oral fat sensations left in the mouth by fatty foods.

Sensory scientists define astringency as the “drying, roughening, and puckering sensation” felt after consuming substances like red wine, black or green tea, or an unripe banana or pineapple.

Mumbai-based executive chef Brar said all cooks have known about the benefits of pairing astringent and fatty foods “forever and forever”. “I guess science is now explaining the ‘why’, just like everyone knew apples fall, until Newton explained the ‘why’ through gravity,” Brar, executive chef at Mumbai’s Novotel, said.

The Franco-US study has demonstrated that pairing astringent and fatty foods, a universal principle in almost all gastronomies around the world, provides the palate a cleansing sensation not achieved through water.

“The mouth needs to be lubricated just as an auto-engine does,” Paul Breslin, professor of nutritional sciences at Rutgers University in the US, told The Telegraph. “But it needs to be lubricated in just the right way,” said Breslin, principal investigator of the study that will appear on Tuesday in the journal Current Biology.

Breslin and his colleagues have shown that astringent or dry sensations and fatty or greasy sensations lie at the opposite ends of a spectrum of oral lubrication sensations. “Pairing of foods achieves a balance between the greasy or slippery feeling and dry and astringent feeling,” he said.

In their experiments, the researchers found that volunteers asked to take sips of an astringent — tea — or plain water in between bites of meat.

The volunteers reported that the perceived fattiness of the food was “less pronounced” after drinking the tea than after drinking water.

They also experienced a significant growth in the sensation of astringency with multiple sips without fatty food in between, indicating that the fat reduced the build-up of astringency.

These observations, the researchers believe, could explain why parathas seem better with bites into pickles in between, and why beer seems to taste better when consumed with fries.

When people consume fatty food, chef Brar said, a layer of fat coats the palate and astringents help in getting rid of the coating. “And that in turn allows you to appreciate the next bite,” he said.

Breslin, an experimental psychologist who has turned his attention to taste perception and taste enhancement, says he is exploring the science underlying “the wisdom of cultures”.

Astringent and fatty foods are paired around the world — red wine with meat, pickles in sandwiches, beer or soda with French fries or peanuts.

“It’s an everyday culinary practice in Indian homes, too,” said Maya Prakash, head of sensory analysis at the Central Food Technology Research Institute, Mysore. “We add amchur (powdered mango) to introduce sourness into highly pungent foods or other spices into fatty dishes,” she said.

Breslin, who collaborated with scientists in France, said another example was the dish of fruit sorbet in a traditional multi-course French cuisine. The sorbet acts as a “palate-cleanser” to prepare the mouth for the next dish, he said.

Japan, too, has its traditional cleansers — pickled ginger is typically eaten with sushi, Breslin said, to refresh the palate between bites of fish.