Summertime in St. Louis, evenings drip down through storm drains and gurgle; the humidity mounts and each particle of air seems to vibrate. Each breath feels strained and damp, like gasping through wet cotton. Food is an afterthought.
Although heat functions as the primary player in the kitchen, the absence of heat (cold) also possesses transformative properties. Flame provokes violent changes, caramelizing and then burning even the most stalwart subjects. Or the gentle, lapping roar of an oven coaxes batter into cake, dehydrates, toughens, and then destroys. Cold, however, gestures with a lighter hand, sapping the warmth from custard and suggesting the first crystals of frost. Beyond the obvious physical manifestations of cooling though, cold dramatically alters flavor perception. As temperatures decrease, the activity of certain volatile aroma compounds diminishes, eliminating overtones and scrubbing a flavor profile of undue complexities. Core elements of the product remain salient, making that frozen grape taste sweeter, smoother, more two-dimensional in its “grapeness.” Additionally, psychological factors like expectation setting and memory distortion enhance this unwrinkling of flavor; strawberry ice cream ought to taste like strawberry ice cream: cold (if such a taste exists), creamy (more a textural percept), and faintly strawberry-y.