Why do vegetables cooked over charcoal in a Charlie Oven taste so good?
And why do they never quite taste as delicious, why is that certain je-ne-sais-quoi missing, when you cook them over gas or electric?
THE AMAZING SCIENCE OF TASTE
As with all the fundamental questions in life, the answer lies in science.
Pay attention, class! When charcoal burns, it forms a variety of phenolic compounds. The biggie is lignin: when it burns it releases a whole range of aromatic products. I’m sure you’re familiar with the primary one of these, guaiacol (C6H4(OH)(OCH3)) … which is also a big contributor to the flavour of vanilla, whisky and roasted coffee.
These aromatic compounds stick to the surface of the food you’re cooking. And that’s what gives it that amazing smoky flavour. Voila!
And – as the final cherry on the cake – the burning lignin in charcoal works on many of the same flavour receptors in your mouth as bacon. Vegetables that capture the magic of bacon! That’s our sort of chemistry.
THE HEALTHIEST WAY TO COOK VEGETABLES
But it doesn’t stop there. There’s the whole health bit, too.
We all know all about that: it’s a massive cultural trend. Plant-based diets are growing exponentially. And we probably also know that – in theory – the healthiest way to eat vegetables is raw. (I’m not really sure that could ever work for potatoes, outside of controlled laboratory conditions, but please bear with me!)
Grilling vegetables is the next best thing in terms of preserving all the nutrients within the raw veggies, which can just get cooked away by other forms of cooking.
Exposing things like broccoli and spinach to boiling water reduces their vitamin C content by half. Yes, half. And will cause significant damage to the antioxidants within the veggies and reduce their free radical-scavenging ability. (Although my own experiments at home suggest that my dog, Rusty, loses none of his scavenging abilities however we cook our food. Same doleful eyes looking enviously at your plate whether grilled, roasted, boiled, or fried).
THE TASTIEST WAY TO COOK VEGETABLES
Anyway, I digress.
With a charcoal oven, like Charlie, you hugely enhance the flavour of any vegetable – adding layers, depth, smokiness, complexity – with little need for the unhealthy addition of things like fat, oil, or salt. Think of the charcoal itself as one of the ingredients of the food. It does all the hard work for you.
What vegetables are best to BBQ over charcoal? You might ask … here’s my list of favourites:
Aubergines: rich, smoky, melt-in-the mouth. Broccoli: crunchy, bitter-sweet, slightly peppery. Squash: deep, rich, earthy and sweet. Cauliflower (especially sliced as a “steak”): complex, woody, satisfying. Carrots: rich, sweet, caramelised, tangy.
All a million miles away from what you’d conjure up in a saucepan.
So, if you want to eat more vegetables, or if you’re already reaping the health benefits of a plant-based diet, look no further than the Charlie Oven.
The healthiest way to cook vegetables.
The tastiest way to cook vegetables.
Adding incredible flavour to vegetables, while taking almost nothing out.
And – what’s more - a way to fool your neuro-transmitters that bacon must be involved somewhere along the line, even though, of course, it isn’t.