posted by Mindy Lvoff
As I was discussing how to describe (and understand) “countercurrent chromatography” (CCC) with Dave and our friend, Philip Preston of Polyscience (who stopped by FCI today to hang out for a while), Philip summarized the process as “just another flavor separation technique…” Easy to say when you’re a genius, but I needed a little more detail. Dave continued that where our centrifuge separates based on density and our rotovap separates based on volatility, CCC separates based on polarity. The good people of Cherry Instruments have been working on a way to use liquid-liquid CCC in relation to food and flavors, hoping that perhaps this gadget will eventually make the leap into the kitchen. At some point, Dave will chime in and fully explain what the process is, but in the meantime, here is my best attempt at a layman’s explanation (and thus the depth of my understanding): our Cherry Instruments friends are using a centrifuge to hold oil (non-polar) in place as they pump a polar liquid such as ethanol or water through the oil like a filter – thus the “liquid-liquid” designation. Different flavor compounds with different polarities will pass through the oil filter at different rates, with the most-polar coming through first with the polar liquid. Therefore, where our current methods of separation (rotovap & centrifuge) allow only subtle flavor separation, whereas the liquid-liquid CCC process, Dave explained, “allows us to separate and layout different flavors like piano keys.”
We were given 3 different compounds that were broken out into their many flavor components: Coffee, Spearmint & Menthol oil, & Oregano oil. For these, ethanol was used as the polar liquid. The 3 coffee vials that we tasted broke out smokey notes in one, bitter notes in another, and a slight sweet note in the third. The mint oil was a much more forceful demonstration with one vial basically tasting like pure menthol. If you’ve never had straight menthol, it’s a little like shoving a Costco-sized package of menthol throat lozenges in your mouth at once. Luckily, we had already tasted straight menthol before, so we were just upset vs. shocked by the experience. The oregano oil was the worst, but luckily we could barely feel our tongues, let alone taste much, after our bout with the menthol. Bitter oregano notes taste like oregano that’s been boiled until dead and then burned at the bottom of a sauce pot. By the time we were done, all I could taste and smell were smoke, menthol, and bitter oregano. It reminded me a little of college.
The flavor note tasting, while traumatic, did help illustrate the CCC possibilities: you can either isolate a flavor note that you want to use specifically or conversely, remove one flavor element such as bitterness that detracts from whatever you are breaking down. In our case, we thought of our Habanero Vodka technique and suggested trying to remove the capsaicin from Habaneros, or perhaps even isolating out some of the floral notes. We also thought of removing the tannin flavors from teas.
What else do you think the good people of Cherry Instruments should try and separate??? Send us your comments and we will pass them along and keep you updated on their progress!