Channeling Ina: Chemistry in the kitchen

Science is everywhere! By everywhere, I don’t mean Tisch group study the night before all of the chemistry and biology exams. Science rules most things in the world around us, including all of the cooking and baking processes that turn raw ingredients into delicious food. Food chemistry is by far the best kind of chemistry.

Food chemistry is…

…acids and bases without titrations:

Bases break down the pectin in the cell walls of vegetables. This helps them to cook faster and turn sweeter with very little effort on your part. Just add a pinch of baking soda to your vegetables in your next pureed soup and taste the difference.

Conversely, acids can prevent your vegetables from cooking thoroughly. If you are making a soup, curry or sauce with tomatoes — a fairly acidic ingredient — hold off on adding the tomatoes until your potatoes or other hard root vegetables are fully cooked. Otherwise, they might take excessively long to become tender.

…buffers without ionic strength equations:  

Create a buffer in your scrambled eggs by whisking them with a little salt before cooking them. The salt acts as a buffer between the protein molecules to prevent them from linking too tightly when heated. In addition to making more tender, fluffy scrambled eggs, this will prevent the eggs from exuding liquid just a few minutes after they’re done cooking.

…organic synthesis without NMR:

The Maillard reaction is responsible for the flavor in anything seared or caramelized, from steaks to pancakes. Amino acids and reducing sugars (Chem 171, anyone?) react together to give your food a rich, toasted flavor as well as the nice golden-brown color. To encourage browning, dry off your vegetables or meat before cooking in a super-hot pan.

…crystallization without isomeric configurations:

What makes brownies chewy and cakes fluffy comes down to the crystalline structures of the various fats used in the different recipes. Brownies from a mix are made with unsaturated fats such as vegetable oils. This creates alpha-crystals that are relatively disordered, making the final baked good much chewier. Cakes, on the other hand, tend to use butter, which is a fat that comprises primarily beta-crystals that are better ordered, creating lighter baked goods.

…electrostatic repulsions without Coulombs:

The overall amount of melting and gooey cheese-nirvana in a grilled cheese is completely governed by the electrostatic repulsions between the cations in your cheese. Cheeses with lots of calcium ions and a high pH, like gruyere or emmental, melt beautifully and are perfect for sauces and sandwiches. Crumbly or more aged cheeses with a good amount of tangy sharp flavor (like feta or parmesan, respectively) have a lower pH and less elasticity, which means that while they are delicious, they are not what you should go to for your next grilled cheese.


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