When worlds collide – The science of… cooking?

At first thought, it seems like an utterly bizarre marriage of two completely unrelated fields. OK, granted, the creative process bears some similarities, as there are scientists who create new compounds and materials from scratch, very much like how chefs prepare complex food from simple ingredients. Still, what on earth could the instruments and techniques used in a typical science laboratory possibly offer to the way we prepare our food?

Apparently, quite a lot!

It seems more and more restaurants all over the globe are making use of scientific equipment and principles to prepare various meals in new and exciting ways; a branch of food science better known as Molecular Gastronomy. If the name alone has made you lose your appetite; and admittedly, it does sound rather off putting; then perhaps this video might change your mind (Apologies to vegetarians in advance).

Dave Arnold’s Burger Of The Future from Eater NY.

From ketchup gel to “cooking” a burger in a 54.5 C thermostat water bath, it certainly looks like a strange way to prepare food, but if the end result can stand up to the taste test, then count me in! (Cost permitting, of course)

There is also an excellent story on ABC’s Catalyst program shown a few weeks ago highlighting this field, and is a great watch for a more in depth look at some of these exotic techniques.

Catalyst – Kitchen Science

I guess science and food preparation aren’t so removed from each other after all! Are you feeling hungry after watching all that food?

2 Responses to “When worlds collide – The science of… cooking?”

  1. Sarah Fumei says:

    I think this is such an interesting topic. I’d never heard of it until last weekend when I was at a friend’s house looking at his cookbook shelf and found one of Heston Blumenthal’s cookbooks. It was fascinating, but apparently pretty useless to my friend, as the recipes all required thousands of dollars worth of equipment! I think this type of cooking is interesting, but not particularly practical.

    However, I think understanding the science behind cooking is really interesting. Cooking is a way in which people are involved in producing chemical reactions on a day to day basis, but we’re so unaware of the science behind it. I also find it really interesting that cooking was developed to such a complex (and delicious) level long before we knew anything about molecules or chemistry. Maybe this is an interesting avenue for engaging people in science, and explaining certain chemical reactions – everyone can relate to cooking 🙂

  2. Call me old fashioned, but I’ve never been a fan of molecular gastronomy. It’s not just on an aesthetic level, either. I don’t see the point of spending hours creating a pea puree and piping it into calcium chloride to make it take the shape of a pea, to create something that looks interesting yet doesn’t taste as nice as a pea, when I could just eat peas!

    Not that science combined with food is not helpful: understanding the way ingredients react is imperative to being a good cook. In my own baking, it is through understanding the effects of dry heat on flour mixtures (e.g., That first the fats and sugars melt, the raising agents give off carbon dioxide that in turn expands and stretches the protein gluten, and so on and so forth) that allows me to create recipes when I bake – not just to follow recipes. Best of all, it helps me troubleshoot when I am missing an ingredient, or something goes wrong.

    But to me, molecular gastronomy seems too cold a process for an unappealing result (and an even more unappealing price). I’m happy to stick with basics!

    Though this is a field that has a lot of people very interested and very excited – it makes for a great story.