(March 20, 2020) The proverbial saying, “A chef is also an artist,” has more validity than one ever would expect.
Just as artists understand the dynamics and usage of color, a chef must also have that innate sense of visual awareness and variation.
Color is perhaps the single most important influence when it comes to the process of consumption. An understanding of the sensory, scientific and psychological impact of color can not only stimulate anticipation but also enhance presentations.
According to an article, “How Color Affects Your Perception of Food,” the practice of adding dyes and food colorings to processed, packaged and even fresh foods is a common practice.
These additives are used to enhance the food’s natural color or provide color to foods that are normally colorless.
For example, wild salmon is naturally pink due to their diet which includes astaxanthin, a reddish-orange compound found in krill and shrimp.
However, farm raised salmon, typically an unappealing gray color, is dyed pink to give the impression that the fish is fresh and of high-quality.
I am amazed at the vibrancy of vegetables as they appear on the pages of advertising. Apples show off their ruby red hues, spinach takes on an emerald green tone, and carrots dazzle us with their natural radiance.
But as I prepare these ingredients, I have a tendency to lose the intensity of the natural color.
A little brushing up on food chemistry can do wonders for the beautification of food.
There are four basic pigments that are responsible for any given fruit or vegetable’s color. Understanding how these pigments react to the stress of cooking is key for color retention.
Chlorophyll is responsible for the bright green color in foods such as asparagus and broccoli. However, chlorophyll becomes unstable when applied to heat.
Shirley Corriher, who wrote “Cookwise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking,” explains that when green veggies are heated, the chlorophyll loses its magnesium and is replaced with hydrogen from the vegetable’s natural acids.
The longer the cooking process, the more the chlorophyll breaks down and the brightness of the green color becomes muted and dulled.
Anthocyanin produces the rich reds and blues found in purple eggplants, berries, beets, red cabbage and red onions. They are acid sensitive and certain precautions need to be exercised to maintain their inherent beauty.
A touch of acid reinforces the spectrum of color whereas sugar can result in the food turning a grayish lavender color.
Boiling, steaming and microwaving have no significant effect on the anthocyanin. However, baking, frying, air-frying and stir-frying can reduce the anthocyanin level by as much as 45 percent.
Anthoxanthins are a type of flavonoid pigments that are found in plants that range in color from white, ivory and pale yellow. Anthoxanthins are predominately found in white cauliflower, parsnips, white and yellow onions and pale-green cabbage.
Like anthocyanins, the white-toned vegetables are better preserved with an acidic environment. A splash of white wine, rice vinegar, or lemon juice helps prevent these types of vegetables from turning yellow after prolonged cooking.
The carotene pigment, which produces the bright oranges and yellows, is fairly indestructible. Carrots, pumpkins and winter squash are some examples of foods that contain carotene.
The next time you host a special occasion, bring out the artistic side of yourself and explore the world of color. Veggie chips such as beets, sweet potatoes and purple potatoes add excitement and raises the level of anticipation.
A mandoline is a must unless one has incredible knife skills. Paper thin chips will crisp up quickly and ensure a crunchy texture.
Fry one type of vegetable at a time. Different vegetables have a dissimilar cooking times and this process is the only way to ensure consistent cooking.
Stay away from flavored oils, they will compete with the natural flavors of the chips. Canola oil allows the true essence of the chips to come to the forefront.
In closing, homemade potato chips are tasty and easy to make. Homemade veggie chips are eye-catching and will steal the show!
* If you are interested in food scientology, I highly recommend Shirley Corriher’s “Cookwise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking.”
1. Using a mandoline, peel and slice vegetables thinly.
2. Using a deep fat fryer or a deep sauté pan, heat oil to 350 degrees.
3. Make sure the vegetables are dry before frying.
4. Carefully lower chips of the same vegetable into the fryer and cook until crisp.
5. Using a slotted spoon, remove chips and drain on a cooling rack that has paper towels underneath to absorb any oil that may drip from the chips. You may have to use paper towels and blot the chips.
6. Place the chips in a bowl and toss with kosher salt.
* The ratio and portion of veggie chips is up to the individual cook and occasion.
Secret Ingredient – Color. “The greatest masterpieces were once only pigments on a palate.”
– Henry S. Haskins