Batches of homemade chicken soup -- fondly known as "Grandma's Penicillin" -- will be more appealing to stuffy-nosed cold and flu victims this winter if prepared with plenty of celery. That's the take-home message from a study which reports identification of the flavor-boosting components in celery.
In the new study, Kikue Kubota and colleagues note that cooks have long recognized celery's "remarkable" ability to enchance the complex flavors of soups and broths. Almost magically, celery takes on a sweet-spicy flavor after boiling, helping to give food a thick, full-bodied, satisfying taste. Until now, however, scientists have been unable to track down the roots of celery's effects.
The scientists prepared batches of chicken broth with and without a volatile extract from celery. Panels of tasters confirmed that the flavor of soup made with celery extract was more intense. In particular, celery's extract enhanced the sweetness and umami (meaty or savory) taste of the broth, even though the extract had virtually no flavor of its own.
From the extract, researchers identified three compounds responsible for celery's flavor-enhancement. The compounds were phthalides, and they had the ability to enhance flavors despite being tasteless themselves.
The article "Flavor Enhancement of Chicken Broth from Boiled Celery Constituents" is scheduled for the Jan. 23 issue of ACS' Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.