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Aging canned foods

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 15, 2014

Originally from the sixth issue of the excellent Lucky Peach magazine, mad food scientist Harold McGee of the joys of aging canned food and its “extremely cooked flavor”.

This punishing heat treatment helps create the distinctive flavors of canned goods. So does the hermetically sealed container, which means that after any preliminary cooking outside the can-tuna is steamed to remove moisture, for example, and the best French sardines are lightly fried-oxygen can play only a limited role in flavor development, and that whatever happens in the can stays in the can-no aromas can escape. Hence the common presence of a sulfurous quality, which may be eggy or meaty or oniony or cabbagy or skunky, from compounds like hydrogen sulfide, various methyl sulfides, and methanethiol. Some of these notes can gradually fade during storage as the volatiles slowly react with other components of the food.

The overall flavor is nothing like freshly cooked foods. Food technologists often refer to it as “retort off-flavor.” But it’s only off in comparison to the results of ordinary cooking. It’s really just another kind of cooked flavor, an extremely cooked flavor, and it can be very good. Canned tuna, sardines, chicken spread, and Spam all have their own appeal.

(via @sippey)