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When I make a stew and cook it for hours, the flavours combine to make a better combination than if I cooked them for a short time. The same thing happens when I leave a sauce like a ragu in the fridge overnight.

People talk about flavours mingling, but what is actually going on here? When the cells of foods break down and are released, what happens when they meet?

  • I assume some kind of molecular diffusion takes place to even out the flavours and build new ones, but I have no proof at all. – James McLeod Oct 26 '15 at 3:10
  • This question is related to, and a potential duplicate of, this other question: cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/4157/… – ESultanik Oct 26 '15 at 11:10
  • I would also look at dilution - something that is concentrated in an ingredient, and masks other flavors, can get washed into the cooking liquid and diluted to insignificance ... once made a braised dish with tempeh (that i probably undercooked, or that might have been too ripe), which was unpleasantly bitter (in the tempeh) served after cooking... but leftovers of that dish that had been in the fridge for a day or two tasted awesome! – rackandboneman Nov 5 '15 at 21:32
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There are two different processes.

Amino and glutamine acids break down into smaller components, γ-glutamylpeptides due to long cooking. These proteins create the "complete, rounded taste", kokumi, similar to the umami taste, which is more a feeling than a flavor.

The second process are enzymes breaking down fat into other components that we recognize as flavor, f.e. pentylfuran or heptenal. This process takes time and is independent from temperature and happens f.e. in the fridge overnight. It is similar to the process of aging meat.

Flavor pairing is a different process that is not related to this.

Reference:
Aroma - Die Kunst des Würzens / Flavor - The art of seasoning
http://www.amazon.com/Aroma-Thomas-Vilgis-Vierich/dp/3868510729

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