A Cut Above: Food Cuts

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There are lots of ways to cut food; julienne, dice, and chiffonade. You can grate it, shave it, mince it, cube it or brunoise it. Anyway you slice it, food is food, right?
Wrong! The cut of the food plays a role far greater than aesthetics. Cook time, texture, and how the seasoning is absorbed and distributed is effected by the size and shape of it.

A recent article on NPR’s The Salt takes the issue to the experts. Chef Brendan Walsh of the Culinary Institute of America states,”If you put a vegetable that is more rounded in your mouth, your mind is generally going to be thinking about something that has more of a succulence to it. Something cut in squares is going to be a little bit more toothsome, with a jagged edge, and will give the impression of something rugged or tough. Your mind will think something is flavorful if it is smoother.”

Bill Fuller, of the big Burrito Restaurant Group contends that texture and aroma are different depending on how the food is cut.  “Flavor is the taste of what is in your mouth, but it is also partly textural,” he says. “If you slice a radish really thin, you just get the flavor without the snap, pop, crunch, which is really an important part of the radish.” He also states that shape can effect the aroma of the food, which contributes to the flavor. Fuller says, “With a tomato, if you slice it and spread the slices out on a plate, you’re going to get a lot more of the tomato smell than if it’s quartered and piled up,” he says. “So you’re getting a lot of tomato aroma when you eat. I think a wedge of tomato doesn’t taste nearly as good as a slice of tomato.”

Food science plays a big role in aroma. When you cut into a fruit or vegetable, cells are broken open which release an enzyme that produces a chemical reaction. The more you cut the item, the more enzymes you release. For example, the more finely one cuts onions or garlic, the more flavor is released. The size and exposed surface of the food deterimine the cook time, and how much searing, browning or charring will occur.

Whether it is about texture, aroma or how quickly it cooks, the experts clearly agree…it’s time to sharpen up those knife skills to make your meals a cut above the rest!

Photo: Glasshouse Images

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