Why You Can’t Cut Corners When You Cut Vegetables

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Does the way you cut vegetables change the way they taste? It’s a question many cooks have pondered as they painstakingly slice and dice, shred and chiffonade, julienne and brunoise, or … uh … chop. Really, does all that careful knife work make a difference, flavorwise?

Writing on NPR’s The Salt blog, “biologist-turned-science-writer” Carolyn Beans recently sought an answer to that very question and consulted several experts. And those experts told her the answer is (no need to mince words) yes.

Here’s why:

Surface Area: “The cooking method is going to penetrate more finely cut vegetables more. You’re going to get more of a reaction,” Dallas Morning News restaurant critic Leslie Brenner told Beans.

Texture: The cut of a vegetable creates a sense of texture, which can affect the perception of its flavor. “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,” Culinary Institute of America dean Brendan Walsh explained to Beans. “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.”

Aroma: The way you cut some vegetables can affect the way they smell — and smell is a big part of taste. In some cases it comes down to chemistry. Physiologist Charles Forney, of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, offered Beans an example: “If you cut an onion or garlic, you release an enzyme called alliinase that produces the typical pungency or onion or garlic aroma, which really isn’t there when it’s intact.” He said, “The enzymatic reaction forms the flavor — so the more finely it’s cut, the more flavor that will be released.”

Sigh. Too bad for those of us lazily hoping we could cut produce any which way and hope to get the same effect. On the bright side, at least all your work in the kitchen all these years hasn’t been for naught.

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