Food Science: Artichokes and Sweetness

published Mar 31, 2009
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Did you know that artichokes can make other foods taste sweet? We’ve never noticed this ourselves, but an article in the March issue of Saveur Magazine mentioned the fact in relation to pairing artichokes and wine. Now we can’t wait to get our hands on some fresh spring artichokes to see for ourselves!

The article explains that artichokes naturally contain an acid called cynarin. You won’t actually taste the cynarin, but it causes the next bite of whatever you eat to taste just a little sweeter than it otherwise would.

Harold McGee explains this phenomenon a little further in his book On Food and Cooking. He says that the cynarin inhibits your sweet-perceiving taste buds. When you take your next bite of food, the cynarin is washed away and our brains interpret the before-and-after contrast as a flood of sweetness.

Apparently this sweetening effect makes it difficult to pair wine with artichoke dishes and gives sommeliers a headache. But Saveur argues that you can actually use this knowledge to your advantage and pair artichokes with wines that could benefit from a little extra sweetness. They suggest dry champagnes and Italian barberas.

Now that we know about this, we’d also like to try intentionally pairing artichokes with other foods and side dishes where the hit of sweetness could work well. Imagine eating a bite of

bitter greens

If you try any experiments yourself, let us know!

(Image: Flickr member Cameron Nordholm licensed under Creative Commons)