All people that love to cook and love food seem to have one skill in common. The ability to define, retain and recall tastes and aromas that they have experienced. Over time this skill creates a personal compendium of flavor and aroma profiles.
The information used by this process can come from the humblest of meals at home or fancy restaurants with white linen table cloths. Whatever the origin, these disparate culinary experiences come together and shape each inventory in a unique way. Eventual, this inventory becomes a reference for comparison of all the new flavors and aromas that come across the user’s palette.
Most of these definitions we don’t consciously write or sort into order or cross reference. Most of this work is done by an obscure process deep in the hidden components of our analytical engines.
I refer to my compendium as The Lexicon of Flavors. LXF for short.
Below are a few of the more interesting entries my mind has been compiling and cross-referencing for over fifty years. Some are complex but understandable while some esoteric for reasons I don’t fully comprehend. Others are like landscapes or impressions. Each one is a world of its own inside the universe of my psyche.
These recollections are the building blocks of my culinary creativity. Here they are presented, as best as mere words can, with no explanation or analysis as to why they are what they are. I want you to see how they appear in my mind when they are called up from that mysterious instrumentality.
(Any definitions containing a date were taken from my journals and have been redefined over time.)
Juniper berries – Freeze Dried: Aromatic pine. Clean, long lasting.
Cedar flavor note from varied sources: Complicate, dry, expansive, evergreen. Undertones of earth or gravel shores against northern waters. Firm in structure.
Pineapple, 1982-1995: Sharp, bright sugar. Wide on the palette.
Pineapple, 1995 – present: Mt. Gay Ruminesque. Crisp acid blunted by a dark sugar bomb, promising smoke and cracked black pepper as I tumble down a mountain stream in the tropics.
Cilantro: Burst of minty power greens. Vibrant with a long, difficult finish that is medicinal in nature.
Lemon: Summer sunshine on a white sand beach.
Lime: Summer sunshine on a white sand beach under a shade tree.
Basil: Standing in my Grandmother Florence’s sunny garden, surrounded with a peppery, darkly floral, fragrant afternoon.
Parsley: A fresh green note. Ephemeral and fleeting in character.
Ginger, 1979: Pepper, rum and the promise of dark sugar. Long, difficult finish.
Ginger, 2019: Boech pears poached in sherry, brown sugar and ginger root. Difficult finish. All held in a hand-blown glass on a Chippendale table. The year is 1789. (Seriously, that is what comes to mind!)
Dry porcini, 1987: Pungent, dry organic, cheese-like, cautiously attractive.
Dry porcini, 1998 to present: Rich, engaging, intense. Mushrooms on a forest floor of moist loom and damp leaves drying out in the sun after a rain. Heavy in structure.
Nutmeg: Christmas in renaissance Italy. Dry, sophisticated, strange, intense at times. Defined by how it mixes with other ingredients more than by its own qualities.
Saffron: Time, ancient time, undisturbed for centuries. The scent of a still, sunny attic space. Subtle but very deep and satisfying in taste and aroma. (Double serious!)
Liquid smoke: A smoldering fire of oak leaves in a grove of oak trees. Rich and heavy on the palette. A dominantly intrusive character. A smoldering flavor best used as an undertone.