Strawberries are closely linked in our brains with feelings of happiness, and there may even be a chemical reason for that. Because they’re rich in folic acid, which can affect serotonin receptors in your brain and increase your serotonin levels, strawberries can quite literally make you happy. Scarce wonder they’re such a well loved fruit.★
I’ve been a bit lax as a food blogger for quite some time, so here’s a quick molecular gastronomy roundup of the main deliciousness chemicals♥ found in strawberries. I love food pairing, don’t you? Any other foods that contain these volatile flavour compounds should go nicely alongside strawberries in any dish. As usual, there are a couple of pleasant surprises in store…
The methyl ester of cinnamic acid which, as its name implies, is one of the flavour compounds found in cinnamon. A great many plants contain methyl cinnamate, but some notable foodstuffs are basil leaves and sichuan peppers used in chinese cuisine. It’s also responsible for the fruity flavour of certain red wines.
An interesting looking molecule, probably the main flavour compound in strawberries. Pure furaneol has an intense strawberry aroma and is actually used in perfumes! As well as strawberries, the flavours of pineapple, tomato and buckwheat depend heavily on furaneol. This molecule is also prevalent in some red wines (such as Côtes du Rhone, a personal favourite of mine). Some very similar compounds can also be found in coffee and dark chocolate, as well as bell peppers, french fries, and roast beef!
Most astrochemists will know about methyl formate as the sweet scented molecule detected in interstellar space. This compound is indeed one of those responsible for the soothing aroma of rum and the crisp fruity taste of raspberries. Its presence in strawberries too, then, would explain why the two fruit go so well together. Also, it would seem strawberries should go very nicely with a glass of red wine, because this one is found in several wines too. Those times when a wine critic can’t decide if they taste strawberry or raspberry? They’re probably tasting this!
A sweet floral scented molecule, which is also found in raspberries and pears, as well as in Japanese sake, parmigiano cheese, and (yes) white wine. The similar compound, butyl acetate, is a major component in the flavour of bananas.
This one is actually found in more flowers than fruit. Notably, it’s one of the main contributors to the fragrance of jasmine. You’ll also find benzyl acetate in apple, pear and black cherry.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
★ Actually, an old friend of mine always used to eat strawberries, despite being allergic to them. If you like them enough, I suppose it’s a fair price to pay. Strawberry allergies are not uncommon, thanks to their high salicylate content — typically anyone who’s allergic to aspirin may also be allergic to strawberries.
♥ That’s now the technical term. Because I say it is.