Everone of a certain age enjoys a few foods, drinks, and other orally-injested substances that, when first tried, were simply unpalatable. Coffee is a good example of this, though maybe not the best example. More on that later. In any case, this class of substances is known as "acquired tastes." Most acquired tastes are bitter substances. We don't like bitter things because poisons are traditionally bitter. Poisons such as caffeine. After all, a tiny but of caffeine will easily kill a person. It's also one of the most addictive substances we know of. And yet, we love the stuff. What's wrong with us? The thing we know best about caffeine is that it provides us with some handy if imperfect benefits, like giving us something of a wakefulness boost. Conditioning being what it is, if we taste something that disagrees with us, followed by a pleasant sensation, then eventually we'll come to like what we tasted. I mentioned that coffee was not a perfect example of this, because coffee only tastes bad when it's prepared improperly. There us so much great flavor in coffee that the bitter should just be an underlying note. Which is, incidentally, another way that tastes are acquired. You taste something terrible, but sense another taste underneath that is really good. Conditioning happens again, until you not only look forward to the underlying taste, but the bitter taste as well. The photo accompanying this article is of a beer float, which combines a bitter stout beer from the Highland Brewing Company in Asheville, NC with a stout beer ice cream from the Ultimate Ice Cream Company. Depending on how you combine the ingredients, you'll often start with a bitter hit, then have that mellowed out by the ice cream. As you go on, you appreciate the dish more and more. It's a very quick way to acquire a taste.
Preview photo by Northeast Indiana under a Creative Commons license. In his post Doing the Math, Michael Laiskonis goes through an exercise where he looks at an old ice cream recipe of his and filters it through his knowledge of how to make ice cream now that he really understands what's going on with ice cream. I enjoyed this post for a couple of reasons. On the surface, because it explores what makes a good ice cream and points us in the direction of greater knowledge about ice cream techniques. More than that, I like this post because it sums up why I am terribly interested in what goes on inside the food, and why that makes it so much more interesting when food was just a collection of recipes or (heaven forbid) just something that came from a box. via Ideas in Food.
I feel kind of guilty writing this, but I fear that I must spread the word: chocolate chunks in ice cream is a bad idea. I know, I've just lost half of my readership, but bear with me. I'm not suggesting that chocolate is in any way bad, as chocolate is clearly one of the most important foodstuffs of the past however many years since it was discovered. I'm not saying that chocolate flavoring in ice cream is bad, either; though it's not one of my favorite flavors, it's a vital part of the ice cream pantheon. No, what I'm saying is, at the freezing temperature of ice cream, chocolate chunks have the flavor and consistency of candle wax. And not that fancy, scented candle wax either, no. The dollar-store, white, plain, boring, good-for-a-power-outage candle candle wax. Oh, sure, there's a hint of chocolate flavor once it's finally come to a decent temperature, but that's brief and unsatisfying compared with the candle nature of the stuff beforehand. It's a waste of chocolate, it's a waste of ice cream, and I really wish people would stop putting it into what would otherwise be a flavorful, nicely-textured dish. That is all, continue with your day.