Brown until scorched: the pleasure of burnt food

How many times have you thrown burned food in your kitchen? Well, believe it or not, what we consider waste seems to be setting a new gastronomic trend in Anglo-Saxon countries and specifically in New York City, where every day it acquires a greater presence in restaurants and gourmet kitchens.

The chemical reactions of the molecular transformation to which foods are exposed when they are scorched or browned above what is usual, causes a change in their flavor that causes our taste buds. Is that why in Spain we fight for the socarrat? Seen in this way, it is easy to understand that a whole dish can be made much more attractive to the palate if we apply this technique to some of its ingredients.

What is the burning technique?

Along with the smoking of food, the burning technique has gained ground in restaurants since last year, and not only does it use this term to refer to meat dishes, but a variety of desserts are served with burnt sugar and many preparations have burned vegetables as a gourmet preparation.

Smoke and fire are the protagonists of this cooking technique of burning. A new kitchen in which more powerful textures, aromas and flavors are sought and in which charred fruits and vegetables are the great novelty. The intake of burnt animal protein, advised against by the WHO, keeps many chefs from applying the technique to meat and fish for those who use more common cooking methods such as roast or grilled.

The chefs who follow this trend defend that the chemical reactions that take place in food sensitize the papillae to perceive new flavors. The scorching or scorching technique creates different compounds that add complexity to the flavors of many dishes and make them more interesting.

A technique used in many kitchens around the world

There are many kitchens throughout the planet in which the burning technique has been applied for a long time. Turkish or Kazakh milk pudding requires a fully seared base to unleash its full potential. But the same goes for any dessert that is finished off with a touch of burnt sugar, like the Catalan cream, a simple caramel flan that is nothing more than burnt sugar.

From Vietnam we know the nuoc mau, a traditional burnt caramel sauce that is used to enhance the color and flavor of many dishes, very similar to what is called "golden" in Caribbean cuisine. In Spain, in addition to the coveted socarrat, we scorch the calçots and the skin of the peppers when roasting them to facilitate their peeling and give their meat a touch of smoked flavor, while in Middle Eastern countries they burn the outside of the aubergines with it. objective.

In many other kitchens, sesame seeds are roasted to give them a crunchy texture before covering the tuna with them, which is then sealed over high heat so that it is well done on the outside and red on the inside. And in the cuisine of India, the spices of most preparations are roasted as they are mixed so that they release the maximum of their aromas and are integrated.

What are the risks of burnt food?

Regardless of whether this trend is palatable to everyone, the voluntary burning of food can negatively affect health, especially in those with high starch content, such as potatoes or bread, in which excessive heat produces acrylamide, a substance associated with cancer. The reality is that when a food is scorched, smoke is released that contains carbon dioxide that is absorbed by the food and ends up entering the body, damaging it.

But not only that, the high temperatures that this technique requires increase the production of heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, as is the case with overcooked meats. These substances have mutagenic power and can increase the risk of cancer.

On the other hand, burning and charring food produces glycation, a chemical reaction responsible for the change in color and texture of food that can lead to oxidative stress, inflammation, and insulin resistance. The cooking required to achieve a burnt dish can also increase the risk of diabetes.

Will these risks stop this movement or will we end up eating everything burned?

Understanding and sharing that the fact that foods cooked with this technique have a flavor point that others lack, we consider that it is essential to know how to control it so as not to go beyond the fine line that separates what is healthy and tasty for the palate from what is harmful for health, therefore, better to brown without actually burning our food.

However the pleasure of burnt or seared food is indisputable. We like to scrape the bottom of the paella too much, the edge of the baking dish or the flan tub, not to mention the crunchy caramel layer that forms on the Asturian rice pudding. Small (or large) details that many are not willing to give up and that make us wonder if we will not end up eating everything burned.

Consulted bibliography | Environ Mol Mutagen. 2004; 44 (1): 44-55; Cancer Res. 2005 Dec 15; 65 (24): 11779-84; Cancer, Volume 122, Issue 1, January 1, 2016, Pages 108–115 and Diabetologia, October 2016, Volume 59, Issue 10, pp 2181–2192. Images | Pixabay

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