Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Pungent Spices

This is well defined group of spices which are used universally in food seasoning to add bite or piquancy to the end product. In the case of pepper and ginger this pungent effect is accompanied by a quite characteristic flavor due to nonpungent aromatic components present in the essential oil of these spices, the familiar bite and flavor of mustard, on the other hand, is due to a very volatile constituent which largely constitutes so-called “oil of mustard.”

It is not easy to equate the relative pungency of the spices in this group as the effect of each in the mouth is so very different. Pepper causes a pleasing tingling sensation along the front edge of the tongue with very little effect upon the throat tissues unless it is present far in excess of normal.

Capsicums are different in that they can be detected in low concentrations as a sharp pain deep in the throat with almost no effect upon the linings of the mouth and tongue.

Ginger differs yet again in having a fuller and more rounded pungency which is evident upon the sides and back of the tongue but not in the throat.

Compared with all these, the distinctive pungency of mustard is in a different class. The pungent principles of pepper, capsicum and ginger are present as nonvolatile constituents of the spice and can be recovered unchanged by solvent extraction. That of mustard is volatile and is created by enzyme action when ground mustard flour is mixed with water, the warm, sharply aromatic pungency of mustard surfuses the whole mouth.

One readily differentiate between the various pungent spices when they are evaluated singly but it is much more difficult to separate out the several effects when they are represent together in a seasoning – as is usually the case. With all of these spices, the pungent effect is cumulative so that one feels an increasing response with successive doses of the same level of stimulus until one reaches a threshold of saturation.

This makes the evaluation of the spices themselves and products containing them very difficult to achieve with any degree of accuracy as the build-up of pungency detracts from and ultimately overwhelms any flavoring effect. All the pungent species leave an after taste which may be of long duration.
The Pungent Spices
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