Tomato Enzymes and Flavor

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

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In addition to tomato enzymes that affect texture, there are enzymes that affect flavor: and in the case of flavor, some initial enzyme activity can be desirable. The fresh, “green”-smelling molecules (hexanal and hexanol) that are an important element in ripe tomato flavor are generated by the action of enzymes on fatty acids when the fruit tissue is crushed, either in the mouth or in the pot. Rapid cooking to the boil minimizes this fresh flavor element, while allowing the raw puree to sit at room temperature—in a Mexican salsa, for example—or only slowly heating it, will cause the accumulation of these flavor molecules in the puree. A method that home cooks sometimes use is to halve or quarter tomatoes, then bake them in a slow oven to remove water, and finally cook them relatively quickly into a sauce. This technique minimizes the mixing of enzymes and targets, so cells stay relatively intact, and relatively little green aroma develops.