The Secret Ingre-Tea-ent - Part I
One of the reasons I've become so fascinated by tea is that it is one of the most versatile ingredients you can have in your kitchen. I'm not only speaking of the vast breadth of variety in tea flavors and styles, of course. Most people think of tea as just a beverage, but I love cooking with it as well!
All teas possess unique benefits that make them both useful and fun in the kitchen. Black, green, and oolong teas all contain tannin, a polyphenol with astringent properties which, when the tea is used in dry rubs, marinades, sauces, or stews, acts as a natural meat tenderizer by helping to break down tough muscle fibers. I have also taken to replacing water with different kinds of tea in recipes both savory and sweet to add an extra dimension of flavor to the dishes, which opens up all kinds of options to add fun new twists on every recipe.
Those of you keeping score at home may note that the bitterness of oversteeped tea is due to overheated tea leaves releasing tannin and wonder whether cooking with tea will make food bitter. As a general rule, if you are going to infuse the tea and use the result in your recipe, you should follow your normal brewing process in order to avoid a bitter result. However, there is no need to worry when using dry tea leaves, as long as they are not being used as a hot infusion.
For example, in a marinade, the cellular structure of the tea leaves is not being violently disrupted as in hot brewing; tannins are gently extracted from the tea through osmosis instead. This provides the tenderizing benefits without having to worry about the bitterness of oversteeped leaves. When using dry leaves to season something prior to cooking it, the food being seasoned generally has enough surface area to negate any issues.
Now that we have your mind clicking on the concept of using tea in your cooking, stay tuned for our next installment of this blog to get some great examples on how to incorporate that secret ingredient to any of your recipes!