Friday, November 20, 2009

a connection

I really like fall, in case I haven't mentioned it before. One of the things I like about fall are its flavors. I anticipate the arrival of squash and brussels sprouts and "warm" spices like those found in a pumpkin pie. I am always enticed by pumpkin-spice lattes and, as autumn seems to indicate that Christmas-time is here and thus it's appropriate to start selling Christmas-type items in OcToBeR??!, gingerbread lattes. However, here-in lies a problem.

I have noted to myself several times that pumpkin-spice lattes make me feel awful. A stomach ache unlike others I get. Most of the pumpkin-spice lattes I've experienced also seem to taste waxy to me. Waxy is the best I can come up with to describe what I'd otherwise term "like crayons" (not that I believe I've ever eaten crayons. But the taste is the same as how crayons smell). Until this year I have ignored the fact that pumpkin-spice lattes are disagreeable to me, and I've had at least one when fall hits...only to be given another data point indicating that Something Is Wrong with them when combined with my body. I guess I mostly remember the bad taste, and I seem to think that if I try enough versions made using different recipes I'll find one that does not taste like a crayon. Finally this year I took the data into consideration and decided not to further test the hypothesis that pumpkin-spice lattes create a sensation of illness and taste waxy.

However, I did have a gingerbread latte yesterday. I think I've had these before, and perhaps they have been bad and I just don't remember it. But yesterday's left me feeling quite like I'd had a pumpkin-spice latte, although it did not taste waxy in the least. In fact, I really liked it. So I was quite disappointed when I had the just-drank-a-pumpkin-spice-latte feeling afterward!

In my scientific mind, it seems like gingerbread and pumpkin-pie flavoring could indeed have similar ingredients, because they have similar spice-tastes, and I know that gingerbread and pumpkin pie are made using similar spices. So I've tried to figure out what might be causing the problem. I learned something quickly: ingredients lists of flavored syrups will NOT give any useful information about what causes a disagreeable feeling in one's tummy or creates a waxy taste. For example, one list included these ingredients:
  • pure cane sugar
  • water
  • gingerbread flavor
  • citric acid
  • caramel color
  • cinnamon extract
Hm, well...I don't think that water or sugar or caramel color (which is in everything...) would cause me illness. And I have cinnamon all the time, so I doubt that. Thus, the culprit is likely "gingerbread flavor"...which is entirely useless. :-P

Kind of makes one start to think about food do folks MAKE gingerbread flavor. It's just chemicals, I know that. What is the chemical in, for example, ginger that causes it to taste like ginger?

I have concluded that instead of attempting to track down complex organic chemistry formulas of flavor molecules, it will be easier to test the individual spices that theoretically make up the pumpkin-spice and gingerbread "flavors" to see if any create a poor reaction (sounds fun, huh?). So far what I can determine is that cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg and cloves are what goes into the flavor of these two. I'll give it a whirl, thing I still don't understand is why neither pumpkin pie nor gingerbread in their original non-beverage forms don't give me any trouble at all!! Hm...