Posts Tagged ‘popular food science’

Podcasts on popular food science

Friday, April 27th, 2007


The New York Academy of Sciences has an interesting series on the Science of Food. On April 10th Hervé This, a pioneer of molecular gastronomy, talked about “Dinner: The Final Frontier”. An interview with This and the other speakers is now available for free download:

  • “From bunsen burners to baked Alaska” with Shirley Corriher (mp3)
  • Science of wine: “A toast to tannins” with James Kennedy (mp3)
  • Science of beer with Charlie Bamforth (mp3)
  • Science of flavour: “Dinner: The Final Frontier” with Herve This (mp3)
  • Science of cheese with Paul S. Kindstedt (scheduled for May 10th)
  • Ten tips for practical molecular gastronomy

    Saturday, January 27th, 2007

    In a recent survey 72% of chefs say they may want to experiment with molecular gastronomy in 2007. That’s an impressive number and considering the attention molecular gastronomy gets in media I bet many home cooks would want to experiment in the kitchen as well. Here’s a list of things to consider if you want to make a scientific approach towards cooking:

    1. Use good and fresh raw materials of the best quality available.

    2. Know what temperature you’re cooking at. A dip probe thermometer with a digital read out is a cheap way to bring science into your kitchen.

    3. Get a basic understanding of heat transfer, heat capacity and heat conductance. “Heat” in this context des not imply high temperature since it also applies to the understanding of freezing/thawing.

    4. Learn how to control the texture of food. Some key points: temperature induced changes (freezing, heating), emulsifiers, thickeners, gelling agents, moisture content, pressure/vacuum, osmosis.

    5. Learn how to control taste and flavor. Some key points: flavor pairings, spice synergies/antagonies, influence of temperature (Maillard reaction, caramelization, temperature stability, volatility), taste enhancers, taste suppresants, solubility of flavour compounds in fat/water, extraction.

    6. Remember that prolonged exposure to a flavor causes desenzitation, meaning that your brain thinks the food smells less even though it’s still present in the same amount. Therefore, let different flavours enhance each other. Similarly, variation in taste, texture, temperature and color can open up new dimensions in a dish. This is referred to as “increased sensing by contrast amplification”.

    7. Be critial to recipes and question authority – they do not necessarily represent “the truth”. Nevertheless, you can certainly learn a lot from the experts.

    8. Dare to experiment and try new ingredients and procedures. Do control experiments so you can compare results. When evaluating the outcome, be aware that your own opinions will be biased. Have a friend help you perform a blind test, or even better a triangle test to evaluate the outcome of your experiments.

    9. Keep a written record of what you do! It would be a pity if you couldn’t recreate that perfect concoction you made last week, simply because you forgot how you did it.

    10. Have fun!

    Heat causes many changes in food, but few appreciate how important it is to know at what temperature they are cooking and at what temperature the desired change occurs.

    These tips for molecular gastronomy relate to the technical and scientific aspects of food preparation and eating, and I plan to elaborate on each of the points in separate blog posts. However, according to Hervé This’ definition of molecular gastronomy, one should also investigate the social and artistic components of cooking. A good example of this is the “Five Aspects Meal Model” developed at Grythyttan in Sweden (Gustafsson, I.B. et al. Journal of Food Service, 2006, 84.). Although intended for a restaurant setting, the general idea can also be applied for home cooking.

    The meal takes place in a room (room), where the consumer meets waiters and other consumers (meeting), and where dishes and drinks (products) are served. Backstage there are several rules, laws and economic and management resources (management control system) that are needed to make the meal possible and make the experience an entirety as a meal (entirety – expressing an atmosphere).

    Or to put it differently: average food eaten together with good friends while you’re sitting on a terrace with the sun setting in the ocean will taste superior to excellent food served on plastic plates and eaten alone in a room with mess all over the place.

    One last thing: once you’re finished in the kitchen with your culinary alchemy, your gastro physics, your cutting edge science cuisine, your molecular cooking, your hypermodern emotional cooking, your science food or whatever fancy name you attach to it – remember the social and artistic components when you serve the food. Just so people won’t refer to you as a techno chef, a mad scientist or a modern day Willy Wonka. After all, molecular gastronomy is about the science of deliciousness, not technical wizardry.

    Questions and topics for future blog posts are welcome at webmaster [a] (substitute @ for [a]) or as a comment below.

    Wolke with column: Food 101

    Thursday, December 28th, 2006

    This is not exactly breaking news, but I just recently discovered that Robert L. Wolke, a retired chemistry professor and author of “What Einstein told his Cook” (volume one and two), writes a food/science column in the Washington Post entitled Food 101. Readers post questions which are then answered. One reader asks:

    Why does a pot roast brown in a crockpot? It seems to be steaming in the pot, which one would think would create a blanched and pale cut of meat, but it comes out as browned as if we had seared it on the stovetop (not that I’m complaining).

    Now, did I say the Maillard browning reaction involves parts of sugar molecules?

    Yes, I did.

    Does that mean there are sugars in the meat?

    Absolutely not.

    Then what the. . . .

    Easy, now. Let me explain.
    A carbonyl group is indeed a certain grouping of atoms found in sugar molecules. But it also is found in many other kinds of molecules, including the meat’s very own fats and proteins. The Maillard browning process can use the carbonyl groups that are inherent in the meat; it does not require sugars. And that’s fortunate, because there are no sugars in meat, beyond perhaps traces of glycogen, a source of glucose that fades away following the animal’s death.

    Check out the other posts – there’s a lot to pick up for anyone interested in the food and science (especially if you like Wolke’s anti “tech speak” jargon – otherwise I would suggest reading McGee instead)!

    McGee with column in NY Times

    Thursday, December 14th, 2006

    Under the heading “The Curious Cook” Harold McGee recently started an occasional column on food and chemistry and everything in between in the New York Times. It’s definitely worth reading as Harold McGee has time and opportunity to really dig into these matters. Also, don’t forget to check out his blog. The latest post on his blog provides more detail on the blue-green colors in garlic and onion, discussed in the NY Times column.

    the curious cook