The science of wines, beers and spirits

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Alcohol has been around in humans for 13,000 years, with beer and wine residues found in archaeological sites on several continents. And this is not surprising because as soon as you take a source of sugars and water, and give it time, ethanol (also known as ethyl alcohol) will be produced with virtual certainty. . The alchemist in this process is a tiny, single-celled microbe called Saccharomyces cerevisiae which breaks down starches and sugars into ethanol and carbon dioxide.

In nature, yeast is everywhere. It is on the skin of grains, fruits and vegetables. It lies, waiting for the fruits to ripen, soften and release their sugars for fermentation to occur. That blackened banana that got porridge on your kitchen counter – it probably contains between 0.5 and 1% alcohol by volume.

Of course, wild fermentation is uncontrolled and unpredictable as the yeast has to compete with several other microbes, both good and bad bacteria, and pathogenic fungi (hairy ones). So when human beings figured out that grape juice left on its own for awhile turned into a pleasantly heady experience that they instead enjoyed, they began to tinker with the conditions. This is how the great culture and tradition of brewing was born.

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Semantically, fruits are fermented into wine and grains into beer, although this distinction may vary depending on which part of the world one is in. Strong alcohols like whiskey, vodka, gin and rum are produced by adding another step after fermentation to increase the alcohol concentration — distillation. Despite the relatively hostile culture to alcohol in our part of the world, alcoholic beverages have been brewed in India for millennia. For example, feni is made by fermenting the cashew apple and then distilling it to produce a strong liquor at 40-45% alcohol by volume. Toddy, a light alcoholic beverage made from fermented palm sap, yields the most potent arack when distilled.

Here’s what happens when you drink something with alcohol. Ethanol itself tastes sweet because it binds to the same receptors as sugars, but it also causes a burning sensation. Remember what happens when you eat chili peppers? The capsaicin molecule binds to a receptor that senses heat and tricks your brain into thinking your mouth is on fire. Alcohol binds to the same receptor, hence the burning sensation in the mouth and throat, especially when you drink hard alcohol.

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But it also does something more interesting. This makes the receptor more sensitive and causes the brain to trigger a temperature slightly lower than your normal body temperature of 37 degrees Celsius. This causes your brain to literally start to feel the heat from your own body! It’s not the alcohol, it’s your own body heat. And because ethanol ends up blocking these receptors, spicy foods will taste relatively bland, which is why bar snacks tend to be intense enough to compensate. The sweetness of the alcohol also pairs well with the sour and bitter flavors, which is why gin and tonic works. You would never be able to tolerate these bitter herbs otherwise.

Another thing that ethanol does is mess up the production of a hormone called vasopressin, which is responsible for helping your body retain water by controlling the functioning of the kidneys. So when vasopressin is not produced, your kidneys simply let water through, which is why most bars need an additional toilet. This is also one of the reasons why you have a hangover; it is especially dehydration.

If you’ve had a few glasses of wine, chances are some of the ethanol has reached your brain. and manages to disrupt the way the nerves communicate with each other. When this happens, your hand-eye coordination suffers, a condition we colloquially refer to as “drunkenness.” It also affects the functioning of the part of the brain that deals with self-control and inhibition, a phenomenon we are familiar with in the behavior of middle-aged uncles during marriages.

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Alcoholic drinks can also play a stellar role in your cooking. Beer, which tends to contain between 3 and 10% alcohol by volume, is simply not alcoholic enough for this purpose. You can still use beer in your kitchen as an acidifying agent because it is acidic. The fizz is also useful to make it as crispy as possible. pakoda. Just use beer instead of water when making the dough. You can also use sparkling water if you don’t want to use beer.

Wine is a fantastic cooking medium. The grape juice aromas add a complex sweet and sour, while alcohol, a better solvent than water, helps extract more aromatic molecules from the spices. When used in sauces, most of the ethanol evaporates by the time the dish is cooked, so you don’t have to worry about getting drunk on the aloo gobi sauce you just made. You can also use a tablespoon of strong alcohol such as cognac or rum, especially to deglaze the bottom of a saucepan, to release all those deliciously golden products from the Maillard reaction. As legendary chef and culinary instructor Julia Child once said, “I love to cook with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food I cook.

Illustrated by Krish Ashok

Illustrated by Krish Ashok








Illustrated by Krish Ashok

Illustrated by Krish Ashok








Illustrated by Krish Ashok

Illustrated by Krish Ashok








Illustrated by Krish Ashok

Illustrated by Krish Ashok








Illustrated by Krish Ashok

Illustrated by Krish Ashok








Illustrated by Krish Ashok

Illustrated by Krish Ashok








Krish Ashok is the author of Masala Lab: The Science of Indian Cooking.


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