I Used an Aromatherapy Fork to Confuse and Disturb My Body

My broccoli didn't magically taste like strawberry candy, but it did taste less like broccoli.
Publish date:
October 9, 2014
food, science, molecular gastronomy

How would you like to eat broccoli while smelling strawberries or chomp on an olive while the scent of vanilla wafts into your nostrils? You wouldn't? Well, perhaps you would like to experience wasabi-scented potatoes without buying any actual wasabi or enjoy a caprese salad even though you are all out of fresh basil?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, Molecule-R's new Aromafork may be the product you are looking for. Allowing you to introduce an aroma not provided by your food, the fork has a little slot in which an absorbent disk is placed. One of Molecule-R's many scented oils can then be deposited onto the disk and, as you eat from the fork, the aroma of your chosen oil will flow into your nostrils, "therefore doubling the flavors your brain can analyze!"

Depending on which aromas you pair with the food on your fork, the result can vary from "delightfully strange" to "deeply disturbing." Though it has been dubbed the "Fork That Will Make Kids Eat Their Vegetables," I'm not sure that making kids smell a strawberry-scented oil while eating broccoli is the way to get kids to like broccoli.

It is, however, probably a good way to prank your kids.

This product intrigued me from the beginning. As anyone with a cold will tell you, the smell of your food plays a big role in how it tastes and enjoyed. This kit lets you play around with that, turning your body into a kind of sensory lab where you are the maddest of scientists.

The Aroma Oils

The kit comes with four forks, for tiny pipettes, a whole bunch of absorbent disks, and -- of course -- the following "aromas":

  • 3 "Beans" aromas - chocolate, coffee, and vanilla
  • 4 "Fruits" aromas - banana, lychee, passion fruit and strawberry
  • 3 "Herbs" aromas - basil, cilantro and mint
  • 3 "Nuts" aromas - almond, coconut and peanut
  • 4 "Spices" aromas - black pepper, cinnamon, ginger and wasabi
  • 4 "Umami" aromas - butter, olive oil, smoke and truffle

Before I tried any pairing, I took each oil out for a test sniff. Some were much more successful than others. Most triumphant were the herbs and the spices; least successful were the fruits and the beans.

While the basil oil did smell fresh and quite like basil, the strawberry oil smelled less like the fruit and more like strawberry candy. In fact, each fruit aroma smelled syrupy and cloying, making them my least favorite by far.

So it was a mixed bag (or box).

Of course, the only one to open and spill during shipping was the predictably terrible truffle.

This type of product is a lot more fun to review with a friend, so I invited my friend Jamie to come along with me on a sensory journey of flavor confusion.

First, we gathered our foods:

We went with a variety of cooked and raw vegetables, mild and pungent cheeses, and a couple of fruits. The only thing missing was meat, but meat is expensive and also I didn't want to spend the time it takes to cook it.

Let's take a look at some of the highs and lows that comprised this adventure.

Butter-sauteed Broccoli with Strawberry Oil

Since this was apparently was hailed as the "way to get those pesky kids to eat their veggies," I started with this bizarre combination. The result was confusing. My broccoli didn't magically taste like strawberry candy, but it did taste less like broccoli. The overwhelming scent of synthetic strawberry completely distracted me from what was in my mouth. I didn't taste the broccoli anymore; I didn't taste anything. It was like chewing on flavorless plant matter while someone next to you eats a Ring Pop.

Cornichons with Mint Oil

This was by far the most upsetting combination. Not only did I smell the mint, I tasted it. The result was troubling and confusing, but it was also fascinating from a sensory stand point.

Jamie summed it up best with a simple "That's so wrong."

Fresh Mozzarella and a Cherry Tomato with Basil Oil

This was reminiscent of a caprese salad, but like one of those caprese salads where the basil is a little weak. You know, just kind of anemic tasting -- definitely not organic.

It was one those combinations that made us say "Hey, this tastes kind of like a food I had before, but slightly worse." It wasn't unpleasant, this vial of green oil won't be replacing my basil plant anytime soon.

(Actually, I killed that thing long ago, so maybe this is the best option for me.)

Hard-boiled Egg with Banana Oil

Now this was an interesting battle of aromas. I was only able to detect the aroma of (synthetic) banana for a brief moment when I raised the fork to my lips, but after that, the sulfurous egg gained dominance and it was all I could taste.

Not that it was that surprising -- sulfur is pretty strong, the banana oil never stood a chance.

Fresh Pineapple with Smoke

You know what one of my favorite things ever is? Grilled pineapple. That bit of char with all of those caramelized flavors is simply divine, especially when enjoyed with prosciutto. I was hoping to create something similar with this pairing, and I wasn't completely disappointed.

The smoke oil was by far the stickiest and most persistent of all the oils; the aroma hung around for hours. While it did give the pineapple a smoky flavor, my brain wasn't that easily tricked. Because pineapple undergoes all sorts of browning and caramelization reactions when cooked, producing hundreds of new flavor compounds, it was immediately apparent that the fruit had never been exposed to heat.

This isn't the fault of the oil, it did provide the smoky flavor, but because the aroma wasn't accompanied by the flavors that indicate browning, my brain immediately detected it as "artificial."

Good job, brain.

Mozzarella with Coffee Oil

The creaminess of the cheese actually paired alright with the coffee. Jamie said she couldn't taste the cheese at all, but we'll discuss why that might be later.

Kalamata Olive with Vanilla Oil

The "vanilla" in this kit smelled like lip gloss, but really strongly-scented lip gloss. It wasn't terrible, but it definitely wasn't true vanilla.

That said, the sweetness of the oil tempered the olive's aggressively briny flavor, and there was less sensory confusion than expected. It didn't taste like a vanilla olive though, just a less intense version of a regular olive. The aroma didn't seem related to the olive at all; it was just there.

We tried a few more combinations (broccoli with wasabi, peanut with mushroom) but everything started getting kind of muddy, and I was developing a headache.

But there was still one final experiment to be made.

Supertaster Test

We've discussed supertasters on this site before (I miss you, Conway), but just to refresh, Molecule-R describes a supertaster as: individual that will taste with far greater intensity that the average population. For instance, they will be extremely sensitive to the bitterness found in coffee, beer, and in some green vegetables such as broccoli.

Little strips treated with a molecule called PROP can be used to determine if you are a supertaster. If you are, the strip will taste extremely bitter and unpleasant. If you are a "non-taster" it will be tasteless. Normal tasters are somewhere in between.

I found the strips to be a little bitter, but not unbearable; Jamie said they "tasted like paper."

Suddenly, our different reactions to the mozzarella/coffee oil pairing made a lot of sense. Mozzarella is a very mild, delicately flavored cheese. Given this new information about Jamie's "taster status" it made sense that it would be obliterated by the coffee aroma. (It should also be noted that Jamie has an excellent sense of smell and that she commonly complains about food "smelling a lot better than it tastes.")

Should You Buy It?

Molecule-R's Aromafork is a lot of fun to play around with but, given the quality of the aroma oils, I don't think it's a viable option for elevating fancy cuisine.

But if you want to teach some kids (or adults) about aroma and sensory perception, this is certainly a neat little way to do it. It would be fun to break out at a party, but I wouldn't let the intoxicated handle the oils; it would be a disaster if the truffle spilled on anything.

On a practical note, the oil doesn't restrict itself to the little pads. We found ourselves having to wash (rinsing didn't cut) between every pairing, as the aromas would linger long after we removed the absorbent disks. A few more pipettes would be nice for the same reason; washing those little guys kind of slows you down.

At $60, it's a little pricey, but there are enough supplies for many many uses, allowing you to create as many weird pairings as you can think of.