I’ve been fascinated by the science of food ever since I was a little kid, so it was no surprise to my parents when I signed up to study Hotel and Food Administration at the University of Guelph. Outside of the programs mandatory culinary courses I sought to expand my understanding of food from other angles, taking courses in apiculture (the science of bees and how they make honey), nutrition, and one particularly challenging elective at Canada’s top Food Science school which focussed on Sensory Evaluation of Food.
For curious home cooks keen to have a better understanding on the science behind everything from why salad dressing emulsions come together to how you can transform slippery egg whites to magnificent meringues, the average cookbook barely covers the basics. On the flip side, most food science texts are filled with jargon and stats that can easily have your eyes crossing.
Dr. Stuart Farrimond’s The Science of Cooking (DK Publishing, 2017) offers a brilliant synergy where colourful diagrams and imagery combine with fascinating facts to offer cooks at home the ultimate must-have food science resource.
Dr. Farrimond answers all your cooking science questions, allowing you to cook tastier, more nutritious food by explaining fundamental principles with practical advice, and step-by-step techniques. Using full-colour images, stats and facts through infographics, and an engaging Q&A format to show you how to perfect your cooking, The Science of Cooking brings food science out of the lab and into your kitchen.
Ever wonder how microwaves actually work? On page 164 you’ll spot an excellent infographic that outlines fun facts on microwave tech, dubunks the myth that “microwave ovens cook food from the inside out,” offers detailed diagrams that show the science of nuking your food from close up, and a step by step tutorial on how you can turn raw vegetables into a perfectly cooked dish for your next dinner party.
Five fascinating food science facts
Does it matter if yolks get into my whipped egg whites?
If you’re looking to whip whites into a stiff peak for meringues you absolutely must avoid getting any fat or grease in the bowl as these molecules displace proteins as they try to hug pockets of air. Just one drop of egg yolk into egg whites can make it impossible to form a foam. Once your whites have reached the soft peak stage add a dash or two of cream of tartar, the addition of the acid creates a velvety texture and ensures the proteins in your whites form a stiff and solid peak.
Why does some cheese get stringy?
What makes soft cheeses like mozzarella so stringy is how the milk was initially curdled, how long it ripened, and the balance of fat and moisture, which makes casein proteins bind loosely. On the flip side, aged cheese like cheddar and parmesan separate into greasy lumps if heated because the casein proteins are bound so tightly that they don’t soften until they are 180F – long after their fats have been liquefied. Young cheeses like mozzarella are perfect on top of pizza while aged cheeses do a better job at incorporating into sauces such as béchamel.
Does basting meat keep it moist?
Anyone who hosts an annual Thanksgiving feast knows that oven-roasted meat is prone to drying out. Tradition dictates that basting meat in its juices moistens meat and makes it more succulent. The truth is, little or none of the basting liquid soaks into the meat. The muscle tissues have no capacity to absorb additional liquid because they are already saturated with juices. They’re also being squeezed by collagen fibers as they shrink in the heat. Basting does a great job at adding flavour to your festive bird but in order to ensure you’re not drying out your meat in the oven make sure you’re following the temperature and timing outlined in your recipe.
Why is whole grain better than processed?
Whole-grain foods, are made from grains and cereals that contain the complete bran and germ. Flours labeled “brown” contain less bran, while “multigrain” labels or “100 percent wheat” indicate that they contain nutrient-dense germ, but not all the bran. Bran carries both a nutty flavour as well as many nutrients. The fiber of bran is not digested, but bulks up food, triggering feelings of fullness. Which explains why when eating a sandwich made of a hearty loaf of bread you’ll feel full sooner than the nutrient-void white varieties.
How does alcohol enhance food?
Wine, beer, cider and spirits are known for enhancing stews, sauces, and desserts not only from the actual alcohol they contain, but by adding sweetness from the drink’s sugars, sharpness from its acidity, and savoury notes from amino acids, which develop as they interact with the food. Remember to always gently simmer alcohol when cooking as the molecules are volatile and evaporate quickly.