We know for a fact that humans cannot survive long without food. Very often in our day to day busy lives we forget to give attention to this basic source of strength and energy. The result is that we understand very little about food, what happens when food is being cooked or what it does within our bodies.
To answer these two queries science is a handy tool as food and science are co-related at various levels. Science helps us find out what is in the food we eat and it helps us explore the fascinating journey of food from our mouth to the various body organs, doing meticulous work. But there is another very interesting, and if I may add exciting, frontier where science has intersected with food.
I am talking about molecular gastronomy. If you are students of science at any level then I do not need to explain the term but for the uninitiated let me elaborate a bit on this topic.
Molecular gastronomy studies the science behind cooking. What happens when food is being cooked? What is the impact of different temperatures on it? How does the addition of various ingredients bring out certain flavours? And much more.
The term was coined by four persons coming from varied fields such as cookery, physics and writing. Elizabeth Cawdry Thomas, an English teacher of cookery; Nicholas Kurti, an Oxford physicist; Harold McGee, an American food science writer and Herve This, a French physical chemist, conceived the term molecular gastronomy in 1992. They were instrumental in ensuring the evolution and the further development of molecular gastronomy as a discipline in its own right.
The term was first used as a title for a set of workshops dealing with and exploring the science behind traditional methods of cooking.
The workshop took place in Erice, Italy. In this conference, scientists and professional cooks participated to get to know the process that silently takes place during cooking.
In today’s world of sophistication and nuanced living molecular gastronomy has moved to an entirely different level where the term does not just refer to the understanding of the process of cooking but also to the look and thereby the entire experience of food.
Today this science is helping chefs improve food in terms of taste and also make it visually appealing. Molecular gastronomy is on the path of sensory exploration where it ensures that often all five senses are used to enhance the experience that is called eating.
Molecular gastronomy’s co-relation leaves many of us perplexed and why wouldn’t it be so! Cooking here is done with the help of processes like carbonation, and stuff that is usually associated with the science lab like liquid nitrogen, pipettes, vacuum sealers, foaming cylinders. Now these items can be found in the chef’s kitchen.
You might wonder what this science has done to our food. To answer simply I might say that it has egged many chefs to experiment with the food that we have known over centuries and turn it into something amazingly different — changing its form, shape and colour.
Today there are a few restaurants that cater to the experimenting enthusiast. The number of such kitchens around the world is low owing to obvious reasons like high cost of ingredients and the difficulty in procuring world-class produce.
Another reason is that this kind of work needs years of experience, precise knowledge, expensive equipment and most of all a sense of wonder and excitement, which not many people — chefs or consumers — can boast of .
But I am sure with time we will see more of this artistic interpretation of science, or should we say the science behind food.