Archive for the ‘websites’ Category

Name of meat cuts

Friday, December 19th, 2008

In the last couple of days I’ve encountered a special challenge when reading (and writing) English as a non-native speaker. It’s related to food and more specifically the different meat cuts available. As I read about sous-vide cooking I often sit back and wonder what the cut is called in Norwegian. I’ve found a useful list at Doorway to Norway (quoted below), but my question to you is: Do you know about better or more extensive lists? Are there also differences between American and British English? And more generally: Is there any authoritative source for the translation of food related terms?

English = Norwegian
beef brisket = oksebryst
sirloin = mørbrad
bottom round = rundbiff
round steak = flatbiff
chuck = høyrygg
roast beef = roastbiff
club steak = entrecotè
tenderloin = indrefilet
T-bone = T-ben
boneless strip = ytrefilet
ground beef = kjøttdeig
short ribs = bibringe
flank steak = slagside
stew meat = bankekjøtt

There are a couple of false friends here. The Norwegian translation of “round steak” literarily means “flat steak”, whereas the Norwegian “Rundbiff” which litterarily mens round beef is equivalent to the English “bottom round”. Easy to get confused here…

Liquid nitrogen ice cream

Monday, June 2nd, 2008

I recently became aware of an excellent site focusing solely on liquid nitrogen ice cream! Ever heard about “The institute for liquid nitrogen ice cream experimental studies” or TILNICES for short? They’re located at the Department of Chemistry at the Tennessee Technological University. It seems that the site is still under construction, but several recipes are already available plus a number of papers (available for download as pdf files).

[Thanks to John Placko on the MG mailing list for mentioning the site]

Look out for “The Gastronomer”

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008

(Photo: Mette Randem)

The Norwegian journalist, writer and food lover Andreas Viestad, known to many abroad for his books “Kitchen of light”, “Where Flavor Was Born: Recipes and Culinary Travels Along the Indian Ocean Spice Route” and two seasons of “New Scandinavian Cooking” on television (DVD of season one and two is available), has his debut today in The Washington Post with a new column dubbed “The Gastronomer”. Andreas has let me know that “It will be about food and science – as seen from the kitchen rather than the lab. It is an attempt to create a sort of maverick gastronomy, with recipes”.

The first column entitled “Like Water for Chocolate” is about chantilly butter and chocolate chantilly. Elaborations of Hervé This’ classic recipe in other words!

Andreas is not a scientist, but he has a remarkable capacity for absorbing the writings of Hervé This et al. and transform this into practical advice for the amateur home cook (and my guess is that many pro’s could learn a lot as well). So if you’re looking for extreme cooking á la Adrià, Andreas is not your kind of guy:

Spending hundreds of dollars on sous-vide equipment or ordering stuff weeks in advance and toiling for two days to make a “very interesting” side dish is for people in search of a hobby, not for people who want to make something nice for dinner.

A couple of years ago Andreas invited me to proof read one of his books from a chemical perspective. The book entitled “How to boil water” (only available in Norwegian) had a similar approach as his new column – it was about how the results of food science and molecular gastronomy could be applied to “normal” cooking at home. It was quite interesting, but also challenging, because as a scientist I’m used to a different level of precision when science is involved. But then on the other hand, what Andreas writes is much more readable and entertaining than what most scientists write!

Andreas has attended several of the Erice meetings (the International Workshop of Molecular Gastronomy) and he’s frequently in contact with Hervé This and Harold McGee from whom he gets a lot of inspiration. Although the chantilly is not exactly science, Hervé has told Andreas that:

From a scientific point of view it is nothing, a mere detail, but Pierre tells me it is one of the most useful things I have ever come up with.

In my opinion the chantilly is indeed a very good place to start! Hereby his new column is recommended! And if you have never made a chantilly, why not give the chocolate chantilly a try? I’ve posted a very short recipe previously, whereas Andreas has published a very comprehensive recipe in today’s column. Enjoy!

Foodpairing website launched

Thursday, November 22nd, 2007


The long awaited website on foodpairings has now been launched, and they’ve also registred the corresponding blogspot name (which isn’t online yet as of today). The beautiful photos, great design and easy maneuvering makes it an excellent place to start if you are looking for some new and perhaps surprising combinations of foods. The foods are grouped into categories such as cocoa (?), dairy, fruits, meat, sea food and vegetables. One of the vegetables listed is cauliflower, and clicking it reveals that the topic of TGRWT #7 (caramelized cauliflower and cocoa) is one of several possible combinations. This is how it is displayed (an important detail is that the shorter the distance between the names, the more flavours they have in common):

(click to open the full picture from the site)

As an added bonus interchangeable herbs and spices are also listed. This is how it works:

A food product has a specific flavour because of a combination of different flavours. Like basil taste like basil because of the combination of linalool, estragol, …. So if I want to reconstruct the basil flavour without using any basil, you have to search for a combination of other food products where one contains linalool (like coriander), one contains estragol (like tarragon),… So I can reconstruct basil by combining coriander, tarragon, cloves, laurel. The way to use it is to take from each branch of the plot one product and make a combination of those food products.

It should be noted that the proximity of the foods in the diagrams is based on the number of volatile compounds they have in common, not the actual key odorants. As I have elaborated on previously, pairings like these should preferably be based on odor activity values (OAV). Or to put it differently, if the volatiles shared by two foods are not the ones that actually contribute to the overall flavor, there is no reason to expect that they go well together from a chemical perspective (which is not to say that they won’t match, only that if they do, it is for some other reason). This is a limitation both of the foodpairing site, but of course also of the food blogging event They Go Really Well Together (or TGRWT) which I have initiated. Having said this, I still believe that the foodpairing site is an excellent place to start, especially if you like to improvise in the kitchen. I sincerely believe that the site will spark the creativity both of professional and amateur cooks (just like TGRWT already has)! I should add that the website is set up by the people behind Food for Design, so no wonder it looks so good!

Food related 2007 IgNoble prizes

Sunday, October 7th, 2007


Slightly off topic (but with links to both food and science): At this time of the year it’s time for the IgNoble prizes – the entertaining cousins of the more serious Noble prizes! And once again several of them are awarded to food related research (in the broad sense that is):

NUTRITION: Brian Wansink of Cornell University, for exploring the seemingly boundless appetites of human beings, by secretly feeding them with a self-refilling, bottomless bowl of soup. REFERENCE: “Bottomless Bowls: Why Visual Cues of Portion Size May Influence Intake,” Brian Wansink, James E. Painter and Jill North, Obesity Research, vol. 13, no. 1, January 2005, pp. 93-100. Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, Brian Wansink, Bantom Books, 2006, ISBN 0553804340.

CHEMISTRY: Mayu Yamamoto of the International Medical Center of Japan, for developing a way to extract vanillin — vanilla fragrance and flavoring — from cow dung. REFERENCE: “Novel Production Method for Plant Polyphenol from Livestock Excrement Using Subcritical Water Reaction,” Mayu Yamamoto, International Medical Center of Japan. PRESS NOTE: Toscanini’s Ice Cream, the finest ice cream shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts, created a new ice cream flavor in honor of Mayu Yamamoto, and introduced it at the Ig Nobel ceremony. The flavor is called “Yum-a-Moto Vanilla Twist.”

MEDICINE: Brian Witcombe of Gloucester, UK, and Dan Meyer of Antioch, Tennessee, USA, for their penetrating medical report “Sword Swallowing and Its Side Effects.” REFERENCE: “Sword Swallowing and Its Side Effects,” Brian Witcombe and Dan Meyer, British Medical Journal, December 23, 2006, vol. 333, pp. 1285-7.

In case you wondered – this is in fact real research which has been published in scientific journals. The IgNoble slogan reads “First it makes you LAUGH, then it makes you THINK”. Enjoy!

Molecular gastronomy mailing list

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

It’s a while since the mailing list that was set up at [link to] went down due to a server failure. This list was set up after the Erice meeting in 2004, but there was not much activity there the last couple of months. However, at the EuroFoodChem conference in Paris several people asked about the list. So now Jack Lang has set up a new list. To subscribe, simply send an email to molecular-gastronomy-subscribe_(a) (replacing _(a)_ with @).


Making sense about science

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

When chopping onions, propanethial-S-oxide is liberated. If this compound is not a chemical, what is it then?

There are many misconceptions about chemicals, and one of the most common ones is that food should be “free” of chemicals. For example, in the article “The future of cuisine?” the journalist writes:

“… the ingredients used in molecular cooking are natural, free of chemicals…”

Most of the hydrocolloids used in molecular gastronomy are certainly of natural origin, I don’t disagree about that. But “free of chemicals” is ridiculous… All ingredients used in the kitchen are chemicals (in a broad sense), albeit some very complex and not always very pure onces!

One of my motivations for being involved with molecular gastronomy and popular food science is to promote the understanding that all food is made up of atoms and molecules. Therefore I would like to present to you the organisation Sense about science which tries to combat common chemical misconceptions. According to their site which is well worth a visit they “promote good science and evidence for the public”. As a chemist I found the section Making sense of chemical stories particularily interesting. I think the report Misconceptions about chemicals (downloadable pdf) should be downloaded and read by every journalist writing a story about molecular gastronomy (or any other everyday science topic for that sake). And I think it should be quite interesting for the readers of this blog as well. Here’s a short summary:

You can lead a chemical-free life
The chemical reality is that you cannot lead a chemical-free life, because everything is made of chemicals. Chemicals are substances and chemistry is the science of substances – their structure, their properties and the reactions which change them into other substances. Claims that products are “chemical free” are untrue. There are no alternatives to chemicals, just choices about which chemicals to use and how they are made.

Man-made chemicals are inherently dangerous
The chemical reality is that whether a substance is manufactured by people, copied from nature, or extracted directly from nature, tells us nothing much at all about its properties. In terms of chemical safety, “industrial”, “synthetic”, “artificial” and “man-made” do not necessarily mean damaging and “natural” does not necessarily mean better.

Synthetic chemicals are causing many cancers and other diseases
The chemical reality is that many of the claims about chemicals being ‘linked’ to diseases simply tell us that that a chemical was present when an effect occurred, rather than showing that the chemical causes the effect. Caution is needed in reporting apparent correlations: it is in the nature of scientific experiments that many disappear when a further test is done or they turn out to be explained in other ways.

Our exposure to a cocktail of chemicals is a ticking time-bomb
The chemical reality is that, although the language of “cocktails” and “time bombs” is alarming, neither the presence of chemicals nor the bioaccumulation of them, in themselves, mean that harm is being done. We have always been exposed to many different substances, because nature is a “cocktail of chemicals”. Modern technology enables us to detect miniscule amounts of substances, but the presence of such a small amount of a specific substance does not mean that it is having any discernible effect on us or on future generations.

It is beneficial to avoid man-made chemicals
The chemical reality is that, insofar as there is a ‘need’ for anything, synthesised and man-made chemicals have given societies choices beyond measure about what they are exposed to and the problems they can solve.

We are subjects in an unregulated, uncontrolled experiment
The chemical reality is that there is an extensive regulatory system that strictly controls what chemicals can be introduced: what experiments can take place, what can be used, for which purpose and how they should be transported, used and disposed of.

Apart from the “free of chemicals” misconception there is the whole natural/organic vs. synthetic/conventional food debate. But I think I’ll leave that for a separate post.

Update: Several commenters below have pointed out that Sense about science is funded by various lobby groups. An article by George Monbiot explores this in great detail. It’s OK to be aware of this, but I still feel their statements regarding “Misconceptions about chemicals” are very much to the point and well worth reading.

[“Sense about science” was found via The Sceptical Chymist. Thanks!]

Thinking blogger award

Friday, May 4th, 2007

I’ve received the Thinking blogger award from Cocktail Party Physics, Nika’s culinaria, Jon’s travel adventures, Lab cat and Chadzilla now. Thanks a lot folks!

I guess it’s my turn to hand the award on now. Here are five blogs I read and learn a lot from: Food for design has many fascinating posts on design, architecture, science, nature and molecular gastronomy. Chadzilla and Hungry in Hogtown love to experiment in the kitchen and they’re good at documenting it! I also like the approach of Cooking for engineers and certainly also Harold McGee’s illuminating posts on different aspects of food science over at News for curious cooks. Read and learn! Besides these there are oohhh so many blogs I wish I had time to read more often … and your’s might be one of them.

The Experimental Cuisine Collective

Friday, April 27th, 2007

The Scientist in an interview with Hervé This reports that:

Recently, New York University Assistant Professor of Chemistry Kent Kirshenbaum teamed up with chef Will Goldfarb to bring experts together to discuss the intersection of science, cooking and eating. Often they are talking about the same thing, but with different vocabulary, says Kirshenbaum, who specializes in the architecture of polymer chains. “I think of these as reagents. He thinks of them as ingredients.”

The initiative of Kent Kirshenbaum and Will Goldfarb resulted in The Experimental Cuisine Collective which was officially launched on April 11th with a workshop entitled “Experimental Cuisine: Science, Society, and Food”.


Their mission statement is an elaboration and expansion of Hervé This’ original and revised definitions of molecular gastronomy (ie. not excluding the technological and political aspects of molecular gastronomy, and including the social context):

  • Provide a venue for scientists, food academics, culinary and pastry professionals, journalists, and the dining public to gather and exchange knowledge.
  • Contribute to a rigorous scientific understanding of the physical basis for cooking processes.
  • Enhance understanding of the social contexts for cooking and the societal ramifications of new food technologies.
  • Accelerate the discovery of scientific and experiment-based approaches to innovative culinary practices, unorthodox flavors, and new dining traditions.
  • Provide technical expertise for chefs.
  • Advocate for a balance between modern cuisine while maintaining a healthful and sustainable approach to food preparation.
  • Disseminate knowledge about human diet and health; inform the public regarding the molecular basis of nutrition and the chemical constituents of food; and foster research that will improve people’s ability to obtain and choose healthful foods on a local and global level.
  • Introduce curricula on food and cooking as an approach for generating enthusiasm among school children for studying the physical sciences.
  • Celebrate taste.
  • Their mission statement sums up many of my interests related to molecular gastronomy and popular food science and I look forward to their contributions! And I really hope they will publish their results and findings on the web.

    Searching for flavour pairings

    Tuesday, April 17th, 2007

    Google can be of great help when exploring flavour pairings, especially for those of us who don’t have access to the commercial database VCF. The following tip has been mentioned in a comment to a previous blog post, but I thought it could be a good idea to bring it to everyones attention:

    The Good Scents company has en extensive range of aroma components, and the nice thing is that they list natural occurences and uses. The latter I guess, is based on the organoleptic properties of the aroma compounds. Using google, it’s possible to check if two or more foods have anything in common. Just type in the foods of interest and add site: at the end. The triple combination in my last post for instance gives the following search string (click to perform the google search) and the top 5 hits are:

    furfuryl mercaptan * 98-02-2
    benzothiazole * 95-16-9
    isovaleraldehyde * 590-86-3
    bis(2-methyl-3-furyl) disulfide * 28588-75-2
    5-methyl furfural * 620-02-0

    The numbers following the name of the aroma compound are CAS registry numbers and indentify each compound uniquely. They are often more useful than the chemical name when searching the internet and databases.

    Unfortunately there is no way to distinguish whether the foods listed for each aroma compound occur under the “Natural occurences” or “Used in” labels.