Cooking has always been an art, but modern chefs are using science to create a whole new level of deliciousness. Chemistry in the commercial kitchen is becoming increasingly important as chefs learn how to manipulate different ingredients and flavours to achieve maximum flavour potential. From molecular gastronomy to creative use of fats and acids, chemistry is playing an ever-growing role in creating new flavour experiences.
We explore the role of chemistry in the commercial kitchen, how chefs use chemical reactions to create culinary masterpieces, and the scientific principles behind some popular cooking techniques.
One of the most significant developments in the culinary world in recent years is the rise of molecular gastronomy, which combines traditional cooking techniques with scientific methods to create innovative dishes.
Molecular gastronomy is a field of food science that explores the physical and chemical transformations that occur during cooking. This discipline uses scientific methods and techniques to create innovative dishes that challenge traditional cooking methods and push the boundaries of what is possible in the culinary world.
The term “molecular gastronomy” was first coined in 1992 by physicist Nicholas Kurti and French chemist Hervé This. The goal of this new approach to cooking was to understand the science behind food preparation and to use that knowledge to create new and exciting culinary experiences.
One of the hallmarks of molecular gastronomy is the use of unconventional techniques and ingredients. Chefs use scientific equipment, such as centrifuges, vacuum chambers, and liquid nitrogen, to create dishes that are visually stunning and have unique textures and flavours. A dish might be served in a cloud of dry ice or contain a gel that looks like a solid but melts in the mouth.
Prominent Chefs in Molecular Gastronomy
Chefs Heston Blumenthal, Ferran Adrià, Wylie Dufresne and Grant Achatz and author Harold Mcgee are some of the most prominent people associated with molecular gastronomy. These chefs have gained international recognition for their innovative approaches to cooking and have inspired a new generation of culinary professionals to explore the intersection of food and science.
Heston Blumenthal is known for his use of scientific techniques to create dishes that challenge our expectations of what food can be. Blumenthal uses liquid nitrogen, sous vide cooking, and other innovative methods to create dishes that are not only visually stunning but also taste amazing.
Wylie Dufresne has also made a name for himself by using food science to create innovative dishes. Dufresne’s use of unconventional ingredients and techniques has earned him a reputation as a culinary innovator.
Industrial Food Preparation
Industrial food preparation is another area where food science plays a crucial role. Industrial food manufacturers rely on food scientists to develop new products, improve existing ones, and ensure that they meet food safety and regulatory standards. These professionals use their knowledge of chemistry, microbiology, and food engineering to create products that are not only delicious but also safe and sustainable.
The Maillard Reaction
One of the most well-known examples of chemistry in the kitchen is the Maillard reaction. This reaction occurs when amino acids and reducing sugars are heated together, resulting in the formation of new compounds that give food its unique flavour and browned appearance.
The Maillard reaction is responsible for the golden-brown crust on a perfectly seared steak, the crispy exterior of a chip, and the caramelised surface of baked goods. Chefs use this reaction intentionally to create dishes with complex flavours and appealing textures.
Sous Vide Cooking
Sous vide cooking is a method that involves cooking food in a vacuum-sealed bag submerged in a water bath at a precise temperature. This technique was first used in the food industry to ensure consistent cooking of large batches of food.
The science behind sous vide cooking lies in the fact that cooking at a precise temperature ensures that the food is cooked evenly and retains its moisture. The vacuum-sealed bag also helps to keep the flavours and nutrients intact.
Emulsions are a mixture of two or more liquids that are normally immiscible, such as oil and water. In the kitchen, emulsions are used to create creamy sauces and dressings, such as mayonnaise and hollandaise sauce.
Liquids are held together by an emulsifier, such as egg yolks or mustard, which stabilises the mixture. When the emulsifier is added to the liquids and vigorously whisked, tiny droplets of one liquid are dispersed throughout the other, resulting in a smooth and creamy texture.
Foams are another popular technique used in the kitchen to create light and airy dishes such as mousses, whipped cream, and meringues. In the kitchen, foams are created by whipping air into a liquid, usually with the help of an emulsifier or a stabiliser.
Air bubbles created during the whipping process are trapped in the liquid by the stabiliser. This results in a stable foam that can hold its shape and adds texture and flavour to a dish.
In conclusion, food science plays a vital role in food preparation and cooking. From industrial food production to molecular gastronomy, food scientists and chefs are using their knowledge of chemistry, physics, and microbiology to create dishes that are not only delicious but also visually stunning. As food science continues to evolve, we can expect to see even more exciting developments in the culinary world.