Compressed fruit has been all the rage over the past couple years in fine dining establishments. I've had it a few times and thought it was a fun idea, but it was usually presented in such a small quantity I couldn't really see how it was any different from macerated fruit. The three things you hear more frequently about compressed fruit are:
- The fruit becomes more flavorful
- The color improves
- The texture improves
First, to understand the purported benefits, we have to take a look at how the process works. If you remember back to your high school biology class, you might recall that plants are made up of cells that have small gaps between them filled with air. The air gaps allow the cells to take in carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, and expel oxygen.
When you put plant matter (such as a fruit) into a vacuum chamber, the air pressure outside the fruit drops dramatically, which causes the air between the cells to expand, forcing it out of the fruit. When the vacuum in the chamber is released, the air pressure goes back up to a normal level, but the air doesn't go back into the plant. Instead the fluid from the cells that were ruptured during the pressure change fill the voids between the cells.
Now that we know how it works, let's revisit those three claims.
- The fruit itself doesn't gain any flavor, but by loosing air (which has no flavor), it gives the perception that the fruit is more flavorful. Politicians should take a cue from this.
- If you've ever made a smoothie, you know that by blending air into the drink the color of the fruit becomes lighter. The same concept applies here in reverse. By removing the air, you're bringing out the true color of the fruit.
- Texture is something entirely subjective and it depends on what you consider "good". Most fruit becomes more dense and takes on a softer texture similar to fruit that's been frozen once.
So does compressing fruit actually make it better? Honestly, I don't think compression on its own does anything magical. What is magical is when you compress fruit while submerged in solution. As the air escapes from the fruit, the liquid that the fruit is soaking in is absorbed into the fruit. An herbed simple syrup or booze are two obvious choices, but there are a lot of possibilities here.