How fresher flavours are created with Steam Infusion

A product’s flavour and aroma can be greatly influenced by the cooking method used in its production. The unique Steam Infusion cooking process creates fresher flavours and scents, but don’t just take our word for it – Chris Brooks, our Steam Infusion Development Chef shares his insights about why the process works and the scientific evidence behind it.

What affects the flavour?

Within food, components known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) give the product its aroma and flavour. The range of VOCs present and their concentration within the food affects how the product tastes. Often, the distinctive aroma of a food will be down to a few particularly highly concentrated VOCs.

During cooking, the heat will affect the VOCs present in the food, as well as generating new VOCs (thermally generated compounds). Aroma profiling is how VOCs within a food are consistently and reliably identified, and using this technology off-odours and taints can be recognised.

Understanding what VOCs contribute to your product’s flavour is the key to optimising your recipes and getting the flavours just right.

Case study: broccoli and Stilton soup

To understand the effect that the cooking method has on flavour, aroma profiling was carried out on two samples of broccoli and Stilton soup. The control sample was cooked using a traditional steam jacketed vessel, while the second sample was cooked using the Steam Infusion process.

A product like broccoli and Stilton soup is made predominantly from fresh or low-processed ingredients that are naturally high in VOCs, such as broccoli, Stilton, onions, and spices. When these ingredients were heated during cooking, the types and concentrations of the VOCs present changed, affecting the flavour. The graph below shows how the VOC profile changed between the control sample and the Steam Infusion sample.

Across the 92 VOCs that were present in both samples, 47 VOCs were common to both samples, while 20 VOCs were present only in the control sample and 21 VOCs present only in the Steam Infusion sample. This proves that the cooking method affects the VOCs that are generated.

In the Steam Infusion sample, the dominant VOCs were often present in slightly higher concentrations, giving enhanced flavours compared to the control sample. If the peak areas of VOCs are extracted from this analysis and categorised by their flavour-aroma notes, the two samples look very similar:

However, whilst there may be 11 total VOCs that contribute to the leafy, green vegetable note in both samples, the individual VOCs that contribute to this total are notably different. The VOCs that make up rancid, fetid, and off-aromas in the Steam Infusion sample are weaker and less concentrated than in the control sample, as shown in this table:  

While the VOCs that make up the dairy flavour-aroma notes are slightly higher, with a notably increased waxy/fatty flavour and additional buttery aromas:

These extra flavours are a result of the unique Steam Infusion process which creates a creamier mouthfeel and fresher tasting foods.

How does Steam Infusion achieve this?

Traditional cooking methods have a much longer cooking time than the Steam Infusion process. This means that the ingredients are heated over a longer period of time, causing Maillard reactions that caramelise the starches in the product. There is also product burn on from the hot-contact surfaces that gets incorporated into the food as it cooks. These factors cause discolouration and affect the flavours that are produced.

With Steam Infusion, products are heated quickly and simultaneously mixed by the force of the steam, which is injected directly into the product. This significantly reduces the cooking time by approximately 80%, removing the potential for Maillard reactions to occur. As a result, more vitamins are retained, which would be boiled off by a traditional method.

The speed of the steam energy that is introduced into the product means that a vacuum is created, which pulls the flavours back down into the food rather than losing them to the atmosphere. This is especially suited to retaining delicate flavours like broccoli. Additionally, the disruptive force of the steam breaks down the starches in a product to create a fat mimetic which helps to create a luxurious, creamy mouthfeel without adding fat.

See for yourself

If you’d like to see first-hand how Steam Infusion can help you create fresher-tasting products, join us at our cookery school. Our specialist chefs demonstrate this unique technology and can answer any questions you may have.

Or, spend a day cooking your products with Steam Infusion and our Development Chef at the National Centre for Food Manufacturing, Holbeach by booking a trial day today. Click here for more information and to get in touch. 

Deborah Stokoe