Archive for the ‘academic articles’ Category

Recent academic articles

Saturday, November 8th, 2008

There are a couple of recent academic papers that have been published the last 2 years which I haven’t mentioned in blog posts, but they really deserve attention. Here’s the list (with quotes from the abstracts):

Molecular gastronomy: a food fad or science supporting innovative cuisine? Cesar Vega, Job Ubbink (Trends Food Sci Technol 2008, 19(7), 372-382)

The concepts, history and approaches of molecular gastronomy are discussed with an emphasis on the relation to food science and technology. A distinction is made between molecular gastronomy and science-based cooking (…) We discuss how chefs are dealing with the available systematic knowledge on food and cooking, and how molecular gastronomy can facilitate the cumbersome, but much needed discussions among food scientists and chefs.

Molecular Gastronomy: A Food Fad or an Interface for Science-based Cooking? Erik van der Linden, David Julian McClements and Job Ubbink (Food Biophysics, 2008, 3(2), 246-254)

A review is given over the field of molecular gastronomy and its relation to science and cooking. We begin with a brief history of the field of molecular gastronomy, the definition of the term itself, and the current controversy surrounding this term. (…) On the one hand, it can facilitate the implementation of new ideas and recipes in restaurants. On the other hand, it challenges scientists to apply their fundamental scientific understanding to the complexities of cooking, and it challenges them to expand the scientific understanding of many chemical and physical mechanisms beyond the common mass-produced food products.

The life of an anise-flavored alcoholic beverage: Does its stability cloud or confirm theory? Elke Scholten, Erik van der Linden, Hervé This (Langmuir 2008, 24(5), 1701-1706).

The well-known alcoholic beverage Pastis becomes turbid when mixed with water due to the poor solubility of trans-anethol, the anise-flavored component of Pastis in the water solution formed. This destabilization appears as the formation of micrometer-sized droplets that only very slowly grow in size, thus expanding the life of the anise-flavored beverage. (…) experiments on Ostwald ripening show an increase in stability with increasing ethanol concentration, the results based on our interfacial tension measurements in combination with the same Ostwald ripening model show a decrease in stability with an increase in ethanol concentration.

Formal descriptions for formulation, Hervé This (Int J Pharm 2007, 344(1-2), 4-8)

Two formalisms used to describe the physical microstructure and the organization of formulated products are given. The first, called “complex disperse systems formalism” (CDS formalism) is useful for the description of the physical nature of disperse matter. The second, called “non periodical organizational space formalism” (NPOS formalism) has the same operators as the CDS formalism, but different elements; it is useful to describe the arrangement of any objects in space. Both formalisms can be viewed as the same, applied to different orders of magnitude for spatial size.

Lavoisier and meat stock Hervé This, Robert Meric, Anne Cazor (Compt Rend Chim 2006, 9(11-12), 1510-1515).

Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier published his results on meat stock’ preparations in 1783. Measuring density, he stated that food principles’ were better extracted using a large quantity of water. This result was checked.

Glutamic acid in tomatoes and parmesan

Friday, July 6th, 2007

Pure mono sodium glutamate from Taiwan

A recent article (found via Harold McGee’s News for curious cooks) featuring Heston Blumenthal as a co-author emphasizes the huge difference in glutamic acid contents between the flesh and pulp of tomatoes. Glutamic acid and it’s sodium salt (mono sodium glutamate or MSG) are responsible for the characteristic umami taste. On average the flesh contains 1.26 g/kg glutamic acid whereas the pulp on average contains 4.56 g/kg glutamic acid. Similar differences are found for several nucleotides which posess similar taste qualities. These differences can explain the perceived difference in umami taste between the flesh and pulp of tomatoes – and is worthwhile considering when cooking.

Those concerned about food with added MSG should read the chapter about MSG in John Emsley’s excellent book “Was it something you ate?”. First thing to note is that you can’t be allergic to MSG because our body needs glutamic acid to function properly. Emsley retraces the history of the Chinese restaurant syndrome (CRS) back to it’s roots in 1968 when a letter was published (R.H.M. Kwok, New Engl. J. Med. 1968, 278, 796) describing a series of symptoms experienced after having eaten at a Chinese restaurant. To make a long story short, in 1993 Tarasoff and Kelly reviewed previous studies and conducted a double blind test which led to the following conclusion:

… ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome’ is an anecdote applied to a variety of postprandial illnesses; rigorous and realistic scientific evidence linking the syndrome to MSG could not be found.

Following the publication, a critical reply was published by Adrianne Samuels, to which the authors have replied.

Anyway, it was in John Emsley’s book that I first read about the record levels of glutamic acid found in parmesan cheese: 12 g/kg! That’s nearly three times the amount found in tomato pulp. In some cheeses there is so much that it crystallises out in small white crystals visible to the naked eye. Think about this when you sprinkle your food with parmesan. And if you ever wondered why Italian food tastes so nice, now you know that MSG is one reason (but of course not the only one …).


New perspectives on whisky and water

Sunday, June 3rd, 2007


Among dedicated whisky/whiskey drinkers it is customary to add a little water as this “helps to unlock and release the esters, or flavours, from the fats”. Another site claims that dilution helps “breaking down the ester chains and freeing the volatile aromatics”. Does this make sense from a chemical perspective?

When Erik posted me a question some months ago about why we add water to whisky and the chemistry that is involved, I started to speculate about possible mechanisms and discussed them with Erik. Perhaps the most obvious effect is that the alcohol concentration is lowered. High alcohol concentrations anaesthetises the nose and sears the tongue (as the site metioned above correctly states). This is especially true for cask strength whisky which can exceed 60% ethanol. We considered the possibility of a temperature effect. The obvious effect could be achieved by adding water with a different temperature to either cool or warm the whisky. The less obvious effect could be due to a possible release of heat when adding water to a concentrated ethanol solution. Having thought about the different possibilities I did a search and found a very fascinating article: “Release of distillate flavour compounds in Scotch malt whisky”. It was published in 1999, but was new to me and gave me some totally new perspectives on whisky and water. When reading the article, it seems to me that the motivation for adding water to whisky is in fact to mask some aromas and release others!

Malt whisky contains high concentrations of esters and alcohols with long hydrocarbon chains. When water is added, the solubility of these esters and alcohols decreases, and a supersaturated solution results. In extreme cases, the decreased solubility of fat-soluble, volatile organic compounds can lead to clouding due to precipitation of small droplets as seen with anise/liquorise liqours such as Pastis, Pernod, Arak, Raki, Sambuca, Ouzo… (I think I’ll post about that later some time). This can also occur with whiskys that haven’t been chill-filtered. But even in whisky that has been filtered at low temperature a form of “invisible” clouding will occur. The excess of esters and alcohols in the diluted whisky form aggregates (or micelles) which can incorporate esters, alcohols and aldehydes with shorter hydrocarbon chains. Once these compounds are trapped in the aggregates, surrounded by longer chain esters and alcohols, they smell much less since they have a harder time escaping from the liquid! Fortunately, some of the compounds that are trapped have less desireable aromas described as oily, soapy and grassy.

The presence of wood extracts originating from the aging in oak barrels also influences aroma release. One effect is that wood extracts displace hydrophobic (fat soluble) compounds from the surface layer of the whisky (this effect is significant at room temperature when smelling the whisky, less so at 37 °C in your mouth). Furthermore the presence of wood extracts increases the incorporation of hydrophobic compounds into the agglomerates mentioned above.


So far I’ve only discussed the aggregates formed by long chain esters. But studies have shown that when an aqueous solution contains more than 20% ethanol, the ethanol molecules aggregate to form micelles, just like the long chain esters do. These micelles can also trap flavour compounds. Unlike the micelles formed by the long chain esters however, the ethanol micelles break up when diluting the whisky, thus releaseing the entrapped flavour compounds. It is interesting to note that ethanol is less “soluble” in water at high temperatures (ie. the solution is no longer monodisperse). As a consequence, serving whisky “on the rocks” will actually promote the release of flavour compounds from the ethanol micelles. As Mirko Junge commented below, this is one of the very few cases where cooling actually enhances flavour! But the wood extracts found in whisky matured in oak casks supports the formation of ethanol micelles, so as Mirko Junge points out, matured whisky needs more dilution and/or cooling since there are more ethanol micelles.


The over-all effect is a fractionation of volatile compounds upon dilution with water: water insoluble compounds are concentrated in the aggregates (or micelles) of long chain esters, water soluble compounds remain in solution and compounds (probably those which are slightly soluble in water) that were originally trapped in ethanol micelles are liberated.

So after all, the popular notion that addition of water “opens up” the aroma of a whisky is true, but who would have thought that the effect is a combination of “masking” (inclusion of some arome compounds in long chain ester micelles) and “demasking” (opening up of ethanol micelles) and that there even is a temperature effect?

Serving whisky “on the rocks” helps break down ethanol micelles due to the combined effect of cooling and dilution. (Photo by Generation X-Ray at

Feel free to share your experiences with whisky dilution in the comments section below!

(Note: The text has been revised and expanded on June 3rd following the discussion below. Special thanks to Mirko Junge for his valuable comments and for pointing out the importance of the ethanol micelles.)

Practical molecular gastronomy, part 5

Tuesday, May 1st, 2007

5. Learn how to control taste and flavor.


When invited over to friends for dinner, even before eating, you judge the food by it’s aroma, handing out compliments such as “It really smells nice”! Thankfully, nature is on the cook’s side, because when we prepare food and heat it, volatile aroma compounds are released which trigger very sensitive receptors in our noses. It is generally said that 80% of “taste” is perceived by our nose (what we refer to as aroma), whereas only 20% is perceived by our tongue. How important smell is becomes clear if you catch a cold – suddenly all food tastes the same. Too illustrate the importance of smell, prepare equally sized pieces of apple and pear. Close your eyes, hold your nose and let a friend give you the pieces without telling which is which. Notice how difficult it is to tell them apart. In fact, with a good nose clip you wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference between an apple and an onion! Then, with a piece of either in your mouth, let go of your nose. Within a second you can tell whether it’s apple or pear!

Our tongue has approximately 10.000 taste buds and they are replaced every 1 to 3 weeks. Their sensitivity increases roughly in the following order: sweet < salt < sour < bitter. In addition to the four basic tastes there is umami, the savory, fifth taste. This taste is produced by monosodium glutamate (MSG), disodium 5’-inosine monophosphate (IMP) and disodium 5’-guanosine monophosphate (GMP). Pure MSG doesn’t taste of much, but can enhance the taste of other foods. There are also some claims of a sixth taste.

A number of taste synergies/enhancements exist. I’ve also included three examples of how flavours can influence taste:

  • MSG, IMP and GMP enhance each other
  • IMP and GMP enhance sweetness
  • MSG, IMP and GMP generally enhance saltiness and vice versa
  • Salt enhances MSG, so foods with a natural high level of MSG (tomatoes) taste more if a pinch of salt is added
  • Salt and acid at low/medium concentrations enhance each other
  • Salt at low concentrations enhances sweet taste
  • Black pepper reduces sweet taste
  • Vanilla enhances sweet taste
  • Cinnamon enhances sweet taste
  • The only general, over-all trend which can be found is that binary tastes enhance each other at low concentrations and suppress each other at higher concentrations (but there are several exceptions!). Do check out “An overview of binary taste–taste interactions” (DOI:10.1016/S0950-3293(02)00110-6) if you’re interested in more details on binary taste interactions. I’ve tried to visualize taste enhancements (green) and suppresions (red) in the following figure using arrows to indicate the direction. For example, salt suppresses sweetnes at high concentrations.


    In addition to taste, our tongue also percieves texture, temperature and astringency. An interesting thing about the temperature receptors is that they can be triggered not only by temperature, but also by certain foods. The cold receptor is triggered by mint, spearmint, menthol and camphor. There is even a patented compound, monomenthyl succinate, that triggers the cold receptor, but without the taste of menthol. It’s marketed under the name Physcool by the flavour company Mane.

    Substances such as ethanol and capsaicin trigger the trigeminal nerve, causing a burning sensation. Capsaicin also triggers the high temperature receptors of the tongue, hence the term “hot food” which can refer both to spicy food and food which is very warm. For a general article about taste, check out “Taste Perception: Cracking the Code” (DOI:10.1371/journal.pbio.0020064, free download).

    Our nose has about 5-10 million receptors capable of detecting volatile compounds. There are about 1000 different smell receptors and they allow us to distinguish more than 10.000 different smells – perhaps as many as 100.000! In order for us to smell something, the molecule needs to enter our nose at a concentration sufficient for us to detect. Aroma compounds are typically small, non-polar molecules. The fact that they are small means they will have low boiling points – they are volatile and spread rapidly throughout a room. They are often referred to as essential oils and are very soluble in fat, oil and alcohol. These aroma compounds generally not soluble in water, but there are also water soluble aroma compounds; just think of a well prepared stock – no fat but lots of taste and aroma!

    A challenge with aroma molecules is that they should remain intact during storage and not be released until cooking (or even better, until consumption). A example would be to install a Liebieg condenser over your pot. Dylan Stiles has explored this in his column Bench Monkey by placing a bag of ice on top of the lid. He claims that his roommates prefereed the curry which has been cooked under “reflux conditions”. The study was performed in a double blind manner (which I will come back to in part 8 of this series).

    Because aroma compounds are volatile, spices should be obtained whole and stored in tight containers away from light. If possible, fresh herbs should be used. The flavour of herbs and spices can be extracted by chopping or grinding to increase the surface area. To speed up grinding in a mortar you can add a pinch of salt or sugar.


    Heat can help extract flavour (just think of how we brew tea or coffee), but will also evaporate volatile compounds, so a general advice would be to add spices at the start and herbs towards the end of the cooking time. Some herbs can even be sprinkeled over the food just before serving. In Southeast Asia (and especially India) it is quite common heat spices in a dry pan or in oil. This matures flavours and allows reactions to occur (possibly Maillard reactions). Coarse spices should be added earlier than finely ground spices.

    In addition to adding flavour using spices, herbs and other foods, we can also use heat to create new flavours. When sugar is heated, caramel is formed. And if a reducing sugar is heated in the presence of an amino acid, they react and form a host of new flavour compounds in what is known as the Maillard reaction. Caramelisation and the Maillard reaction are known as non-enzymatic browning. Enzymatic browning on the other hand is detrimental to many fruits (such as apples and bananas), but there are a few exceptions. Enzymatic browning is essential in the production of tea (black, green, oolong), coffe, cocoa and vanilla, although this is rarely attempted in kitchen.

    Another source of flavour is fermentation. It refers to a process were sugar is converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide by the action of a yeast. In the process a number of flavour compounds are formed as well which is why this is of great interest also from a molecular gastronomy viewpoint. Some examples of fermented products include wine, beer, cider and bread. Fermentation also refers to the process where some bacteria produce lactic acid. Some examples of foods resulting from lactic acid fermentation are yoghurt, kimchi and pickled cucumbers.

    Flavour pairing
    Cookbooks and recipes throughout the world are the result of billions of experiments. As a result, some very good combinations of herbs and spices have been discovered. Some of these mixtures have even been given names of their own and it is fascinating how easily one can forget that curry for instance is a mixture of spices. Wikipedia has a wonderful overview of herb and spice mixtures from all over the world. I must admit I only new a fraction of these:

    Adjika | Advieh | Berbere | Bouquet garni | Buknu | Cajun King | Chaat masala | Chaunk | Chermoula | Chili powder | Curry powder | Djahe | Fines herbes | Five-spice powder | Garam masala | Garlic salt | Harissa | Herbes de Provence | Khmeli suneli | Lawry’s and Adolph’s | Masala | Masuman | Mixed spice | Niter kibbeh | Old Bay Seasoning | Panch phoron | Quatre épices | Ras el hanout | Recado rojo | Shake ‘N’ Bake | Sharena sol | Shichimi | Spice mix | Tajín | Tandoori masala | Tony Chachere’s | Za’atar

    A book which I’ve found to be very useful when combining flavours is “Culinary artistry” by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. It is the most comprehensive book about flavour pairing that I’m aware of, and I would say it is indispensible for someone who likes to cook without a cookbook. It has lists of basic flavors contributed by various foods. For example a sweet taste is contributed by foods such as bananas, beets, carrots, coriander, corn, dates, figs, fruits, grapes, onions, poppy seeds, sesame and vanilla (plus sugars and syrups of course). It has lists of “flavor pals”, a term attributed to Jean-Georges Vongerichten. For example, the flavour pals of ginger are allspice, chiles, chives, cinnamon, cloves ,coriander, cumin, curry, fennel, garlic, mace, nutmeg, black pepper and saffron. By far the most extensive part of the book are listings of food matchings. An illustrative example is pork which combines well with (classic/widely used combinations in bold):

    apples, apricots, bay leaves, black beans, beer, brandy, cabbage, Calvados, dried sour cherries, clams, Cognac, coriander, cream, cumin, fennel, fruit, garlic, ginger, hoisin sauce, honey, juniper berries, lemon, lime, marsala, molasses, mustard, onions, orange, parsley, black pepper, pineapple, Chinese plum sauce, plums, prunes, quinces, rosemary, sage, sauerkraut, soy sauce, star anise, tarragon, thyme, vinegar, walnuts, whiskey, white wine

    Despite the abundance of combinations, I dare say that little is understood about the science behind these flavour pairings. Why do these combinations of herbs and spices go particularily well together? Is it all about getting used to the combinations, so that we learn to like them? What influence does the complexity of the flavour play? These are easy questions that probably have rather complex answers.

    Very recently a different approach to flavour pairing has emerged. If two foods share one or more key odorants, chances are that they will go well together. The first step towards finding new pairings would be to identify key odorants. More info on key odorants can be found in the article “Evaluation of the Key Odorants of Foods by Dilution Experiments, Aroma Models and Omission” (DOI: 10.1093/chemse/26.5.533, free download). I’ve initiated the food blogging event “They go really well together” (TGRWT) to explore new flavour pairings and develop new recipes. There are also several blogposts with interesting comments on about flavour pairing.


    Check out my previous blogpost for an overview of the tips for practical molecular gastronomy. The collection of books (favorite, molecular gastronomy, aroma/taste, reference/technique, food chemistry) and links (webresources, people/chefs/blogs, institutions, articles, audio/video) at might also be of interest.

    Chew more and taste more!

    Thursday, April 12th, 2007

    Were you told by your mom to chew each mouthful 20 or 32 times before swallowing? Her rationale was perhaps to prevent you from choking. But it turns out there is a link between chewing (or mastication) and release of aroma molecules. A group of French researchers have studied model cheese systems with varying hardness (J. Agric. Food Chem., 2007, 3066, 10.1021/jf0633793). Their key finding was that in hard cheese, more aroma is released, and it happens at a faster rate than in softer cheeses. It is slightly counter intuitive, because one would expect that volatile aroma molecules would have a harder time escaping from a hard surface than from a soft surface. The reason however is that when chewing a hard cheese our chewing pattern automatically adopts and we chew more intensely. Furthermore a hard cheese will break down into several pieces when chewed, resulting in a greater surface area from which the aroma components can escape into the air.

    (Photo by kurafire at

    Apples and ultra sound

    Wednesday, April 11th, 2007


    Heston Blumenthal has investigated how sound affects chewing, but I didn’t know that sound was so important for how we perceive the taste of apples. Studying particularily crisp apples, named Jazz apples, researchers found the following:

    Professor Povey said, “When you munch a Jazz apple you create pulses of sound containing large amounts of ultrasound which our brains interpret differently from ordinary sounds such as speech. The pulses are so intense that if they were sustained as a tone, they would destroy our hearing.”

    “It appears that ordinary hearing is short-circuited somehow and the greater the number of pulses of sound, the crisper we think the food is. Ultrasound is sound that is beyond the range of normal human hearing but it helps shape the noise into pulses that sound quite different.

    “Our group of subjects were culturally diverse but all were able to identify crispness similarly. So perhaps there is a genetic disposition to the appreciation of crispness which has evolved as a sign of freshness in food.”

    Dyeing eggs for the easter holiday

    Thursday, April 5th, 2007 has a nice guide on how to color eggs, and the list of colors is quite impressive (click for instructions):

    Small Quantity of Purple Grape Juice
    Violet Blossoms plus 2 tsp Lemon Juice

    Violet Blue
    Violet Blossoms
    Small Quantity of Red Onions Skins (boiled)

    Canned Blueberries
    Red Cabbage Leaves (boiled)
    Purple Grape Juice

    Spinach Leaves (boiled)
    Liquid Chlorophyll

    Greenish Yellow
    Yellow Delicious Apple Peels (boiled)

    Orange or Lemon Peels (boiled)
    Carrot Tops (boiled)
    Celery Seed (boiled)
    Ground Cumin (boiled)
    Ground Turmeric (boiled)

    Strong Coffee
    Instant Coffee
    Black Walnut Shells (boiled)

    Yellow Onion Skins (boiled)

    Cranberries or Juice
    Red Grape Juice
    Juice from Pickled Beets

    Lots of Red Onions Skins (boiled)

    More information about the chemistry behind can be found in the article “Chemistry in the dyeing of eggs” (Journal of Chemical Education, 1987, 291). The article discusses anionic dyes with sulfonate groups. These bond to the cuticle (protein) covering the egg shell forming salt linkages as shown (illustrated using FD&C yellow no. 6):


    By lowering the pH (for example by adding vinegar), more amino groups in the proteins covering the egg shell are protonated and thus available for formation of the salt linkages with the anionic dyes.

    Practical molecular gastronomy, part 4

    Saturday, March 17th, 2007

    (Photo by vintage_patrisha at

    4. Learn how to control the texture of food

    Taste and flavour normally get more attention when food is discussed, but the texture of food is equally important and our tongue is very sensitive, not only to taste and temperature, but also to the texture of food. The texture of food determines it’s mouthfeel and it is related to many physical properties of the food. Wikipedia lists the following aspects of mouthfeel (click to see the full description of each aspect) which can be useful when analyzing food:

    Adhesiveness, Bounce/Springiness, Chewiness, Coarseness, Cohesiveness, Denseness, Dryness, Fracturability, Graininess, Gumminess, Hardness, Heaviness, Moisture absorption, Moisture release, Mouthcoating, Roughness, Slipperiness, Smoothness, Uniformity, Uniformity of chew, Uniformity of bite, Viscosity, Wetness

    I will barely scratch the surface of how texture can be controlled by highlighting a couple of topics and point you to further resources. Hopefully it will spark your interest and give some new ideas for you to play with in the kitchen. Those interested in a comprehensive review of food texture are referred to the CRC handbooks on food texture (volume 1: semi-solid foods, volume 2: solid foods).

    What determines the texture of food?
    Put very simple, it’s the relative amounts of air, liquid and solids that determines the texture of food. This is complicated by the fact that liquids have different viscosities. Furthermore the air, liquid and solid ratio is not necessarily constant. A liquid can solidify or evaporate, solids can melt or dissolve, and air bubbles can escape during cooking or storage. An elegant but quite abstract way of describing the complicated mixtures of air, liquids and solids found in food, is to use the CDS formalism (CDS = complex disperse systems), introduced by Hervé This.

    (Photo by Subspace at

    How can texture be controlled and changed?
    Texture can be controlled by temperature, pH, air/liquid/solid ratio, osmosis, hydrocolloids and emulsifiers – to mention a few. Here’s some examples:

  • Heating induces a change in the structure of proteins referred to as coagulation or denaturation. Typical examples are the boiling of eggs and the cooking of meat. When proteins denature they contract and become firmer. There are several helpful tables relating the doneness of different meats to temperature.
  • At around 70 °C (160 °F) collagen, the connective tissue in meat, turns into gelatin. As a result the meat becomes more tender, which is desireable in stews and other slow cooked meats.
  • Heat causes air/gas to expand and water to evaporate to give a foamy/airy texture. For example, experiments have shown that it is mainly the evaporation of water that causes a soufflé to rise.
  • Heat will cause certain hydrocolloids to solidify (for exaple methyl cellulose) whereas it will cause others to melt (such as gelatin).
  • Brining meat can greatly improve it’s texture and juicyness. This is done by immersing the meat in a 3-6% salt solution from anyhere between a few hours to two days before cooking.
  • Frozen water in the form of tiny ice crystals are important for the smooth texture of sorbets and ice cream. Ice cream that has been partly melted and frozen again will grow larger ice crystals that impart a coarser texture to the ice cream.
  • Acidic solutions (low pH) can cause proteins to denature. This allows fish to be cooked without the use of any heat. An example is the use of lime juice in ceviche.
  • Emulsifiers, thickeners and gelling agents have almost become synonymous with molecular gastronomy for many. They can greatly alter the texture of foods and typically only a very small amount is required. Where gelatin was the only gelling agent videly available to cooks in Europe and America only a decade ago, this has changed with the advent of many internet suppliers of speciality ingredients.
  • Cooking under vacuum can create new and exciting textures. First of all it’s a way of removing excess water without having to raise the temperature all the way up to 100 °C. When the water is removed, this will create pockets of air in the food, and when the pressure is released, the liquid surrounding the food that is prepared will rush in and fill these pockets. There is a commercially available vacuum cooker, but a DIY version can be made from a pressure cooker and a vacuum pump.

  • (Photo by Trinity at

  • Green leaf vegetables such as lettuce loose water upon storage. As the pressure inside the cells drops, the leaf becomes softer. By immersing the leaves in cold water for 15-30 min, thanks to osmosis, water will enter into the cells again. As the pressure increases, the leaves become crisper.
  • Air bubbles can greatly modify textures, and foams really are ubiquitious (which becomes obvious if you read the book “Universal foam – from cappuccino to the cosmos”). Ferran Adria’s espumas have become very popular, as has his recent invention, the Espesso. Air bubbles are also very important for the texture of ice cream, in fact ice cream is nearly 50% air (just consider the fact that ice cream is sold by volume, not by weight!).
  • A very recent addition to the modern kitchen pantry is the enzyme transglutaminase. The enzyme acts like a meat glue and Chadzilla has nice blog post on his transglutaminase experiments.
  • There are also enzymatic counterparts of transglutaminase available: proteolytic enzymes also known as proteases. You can find them in pineapple (bromelain/bromelin), papaya (papain), figs (ficin) and kiwi (actinidin) – and they are capable of degrading proteins and muscle tissue. Despite this, they have only found limited use in marinades, as their action can be difficult to control (as Nicholas Kurti experienced, look for the “But the crackling is superb” link).
  • When mixing flour and water, glutenin and gliadin react to form gluten which gives bread it’s elasticity and plasticity. Addition of 1-2% salt to bread tightens the gluten network and increases the volume of the finished loaf. Similarly, addition of 1% oil to the dough (after the first kneading) can further increase the volume. Larger amounts of fat added before kneading will interfere with the formation of long gluten strands, hence the name shortening.
  • The no-knead bread that recently hoovered around in the blogosphere challenges the conventional wisdom that bread needs kneading to get a good texture.
  • Once bread is baked, the staling process starts. Staling does not necessarily involve loss of water from the bread and is caused by crystallisation (or retrogradation) of starch. In this process water molecules are trapped. The process proceeds fastest at 14 °C, but is halted below -5 °C. This is the reason why bread should be stored at room temperature. The staling process can be slowed down by addition of an emulsifier such as lecithin which is abundant in egg yolk.
  • A way of turning high fat foods and oils into powders is by the use of tapioca maltodextrin. Hungry in Hogtown has shown how Nutella can be turned into a powder.
  • *

    Check out my previous blogpost for an overview of the tips for practical molecular gastronomy. The collection of books (favorite, molecular gastronomy, aroma/taste, reference/technique, food chemistry) and links (webresources, people/chefs/blogs, institutions, articles, audio/video) at might also be of interest.

    Green tea with sugar?

    Friday, February 16th, 2007

    A group of Japanese researchers (J. Agri. Food Chem. 2007, 231) has recently shown that the ranking of Japanese green tea can be predicted by careful analysis of several compounds. In the resulting model used for the predictions it turned out that sucrose and glucose contents were most important in predicting the quality of green tea, followed by quinic acid, fructose and caffeine.

    (Photo by entso at

    Based on this it is tempting to speculate whether the addition of small amounts of sucrose and glucose could improve green tea of lesser quality? Certainly this will not improve the volatiles of the tea, but perhaps it could still improve the overall impression? The amount of sugar should be very small – we are talking about milligrams, not grams.

    My first guess would be: no, this will not improve the tea. But with peppermint tea I have noticed that a little sugar greatly improves the aroma. Could the same be the case for green japanese tea?

    Lightstruck flavor in beer

    Friday, February 16th, 2007

    Some years ago, a group of researches studied the formation of lightstruck flavor in beer (Chem. Eur. J. 2001, 4554). They found that isohumulones, compounds contributing to the bitter taste of beer, decomposed when exposed to ultraviolet light. In a recent blogpost, Harold McGee elaborates on this and it turns out that the way this happens is even more complex than first anticipated. The researchers (J. Agric. Food Chem, 2006, 6123) found that riboflavin (vitamin B2) acts as a photosensitizer in beer (and in olive oil, milk and butter) which catalyzes the conversion of oxgyen to a more reactive type of oxygen (singlet oxygen). This oxygen then “destroys” isohumulone and in the process radicals are formed.


    As shown in the figure, the radical reacts with sulfur containing proteins, thereby forming a thiol called 3-methylbut-2-ene-1-thiol or just MBT for short. The amazing thing about this compound is that we can smell it at concentrations as low as a few parts per billion (ppb). The perhaps not-so-amazing thing is that this compound gives beer a “skunky” aroma. Obviously one would want to avoid this, and that’s why beer is sold in dark brown glass bottles that act as the beer’s own sunglasses. Canned beer of course will not go skunky (well not until it’s poured into a glass and served outside in bright sunlight – that will turn any beer skunky within minutes).

    Unfortunately however, not all beer is sold in dark bottles! One well known brand is shown in the picture below…


    And yes – as you might have figured out, 3-methylbut-2-ene-1-thiol is present in Corona beer (and other brands sold in clear bottles, to a lesser extent MBT is also found in green bottled beer). For some references to “skunky” off flavours in beer check out these links: here, here and here. The ubiquitious slice of lime served with Corona beer is nothing but clever marketing since it helps camouflage the smelly thiol formed! (but how well does lime actually camouflage the thiol aroma?)

    The take home message is: keep your olive oil, milk, butter and beer away from sunlight!