Chemical & Engineering News

Science & TechnologyJuly 7, 2008 Volume 86, Number 27 pp. 26-30 Kitchen Chemistry Our love of food is helping bring science to the masses Lisa M. Jarvis ".....Philosophical discussions on the place of science in cooking aside, ECC [Experimental Cuisine Collective] is helping to shift the conversation about chemistry and food away from merely an exercise in the esoteric—how to use sodium alginate to make faux caviar or how to use liquid nitrogen to make ice cream—toward one that is accessible to a wider audience. For example, Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of "The Cake Bible" and "The Bread Bible," presented an amazingly comprehensive explanation of flour during the group's January meeting. Bread is about as basic as it gets in terms of its ingredients, but the baking process itself is quite complex. She went through the wide varieties of flour, how they differ in terms of protein content, which can range from 8 to 14%, and what that means in terms of texture, flavor, and lift. She threw out phrases and words like "phenolic acid," which is responsible for the bitterness of whole wheat flour, and "glutenin" and "gliadin," the two proteins in flour that form gluten. She went on to explain how the ratio of those proteins influences the density of bread because gluten can absorb three times its weight in water. In the end, she made the perfect sponge cake, weighing and timing the addition of ingredients with the precision of an analytical chemist. The roughly 80 audience members—some chefs, but many simply fans of baking and of Levy Beranbaum's cookbooks—were surprisingly well versed in the science of their craft. They also appeared genuinely interested in thinking about the chemistry of the baking process and how to apply science to get better results in the kitchen. That kind of discussion—troubleshooting in the kitchen, defining the chemical makeup of ingredients, considering how those ingredients interact, and introducing concepts like reproducibility and hypothesis testing—is what Kirshenbaum hopes ECC can encourage. Although others involved in the group may have different goals, his primary objective is to engage a wider audience in chemistry."