Molecular gastronomy

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A classic example of molecular gastronomy is the investigation of the effect of specific temperatures on the yolk and white when cooking an egg. Many cookbooks provide the instructions of boiling eggs 3-6 minutes for soft yolks, 6-8 minutes for a medium yolk and so on. Molecular gastronomy reveals that the amount of time is less important to cooking the eggs than specific temperatures - which always yields the desired result.[1][2]

Molecular gastronomy is a scientific discipline involving the study of physical and chemical processes that occur in cooking.[3] It pertains to the mechanisms behind the transformation of ingredients in cooking and the social, artistic and technical components of culinary and gastronomic phenomena in general (from a scientific point of view).


[edit] Creation of the discipline

There are many branches of food science, all of which study different aspects of food such as safety, microbiology, preservation, chemistry, engineering, physics and the like. Though until the advent of molecular gastronomy, there was no formal scientific discipline dedicated to studying the processes in regular cooking as done in the home or in a restaurant. The aforementioned (perhaps with the exception of food safety) have mostly been concerned with industrial food production and while the disciplines may overlap with each other to varying degrees, they are considered separate areas of investigation.

Though many disparate examples of the scientific investigation of cooking exist throughout history, the creation of the discipline of molecular gastronomy was intended to bring together what had previously been fragmented and isolated investigation into the chemical and physical processes of cooking into an organized discipline within food science to address what the other disciplines within food science either do not cover, or cover in a manner intended for scientists rather than cooks.

[edit] Term origination

The term "Molecular and Physical Gastronomy" was coined in 1988 by Hungarian physicist Nicholas Kurti and French physical chemist Hervé This. It became the title for a set of workshops held in Erice, Italy (originally titled "Science and Gastronomy")[4] that brought together scientists and professional cooks for discussions on the science behind traditional cooking preparations. Eventually, the shortened term "Molecular Gastronomy" also became the name of the scientific discipline co-created by Kurti and This to be based on exploring the science behind traditional cooking methods.[5][6][7].

Kurti and This had been the co-directors of the "Molecular and Physical Gastronomy" meetings in Erice, along with the American food science writer Harold McGee[5], and had considered the creation of a formal discipline around the subjects discussed in the meetings. [8] After Kurti's death in 1998, the name of the Erice workshops was also changed by Hervé This to "The International Workshop on Molecular Gastronomy 'N. Kurti'". Hervé This remained the sole director of the subsequent workshops from 1999 through 2004 and continues his research in the field of Molecular Gastronomy today.

[edit] Fundamental objectives according to Hervé This

The objectives of molecular gastronomy, as defined by Hervé This are:

Current objectives:

Looking for the mechanisms of culinary transformations and processes (from a chemical and physical point of view) in three areas:[6][9]

  • 1. the social phenomena linked to culinary activity
  • 2. the artistic component of culinary activity
  • 3. the technical component of culinary activity

Original objectives:

The original fundamental objectives of molecular gastronomy were defined by This in his doctoral dissertation as:[9]

  • 1. Investigating culinary and gastronomical proverbs, sayings, and old wives' tales
  • 2. Exploring existing recipes
  • 3. Introducing new tools, ingredients and methods into the kitchen
  • 4. Inventing new dishes
  • 5. Using molecular gastronomy to help the general public understand the contribution of science to society

However, This later recognized points 3, 4 and 5 as being not entirely scientific endeavours (more application of technology and educational), and has since revised the primary objectives of molecular gastronomy.[3]

[edit] Examples of molecular gastronomy

Example areas of investigation:[10]

  • How ingredients are changed by different cooking methods
  • How all the senses play their own roles in our appreciation of food
  • The mechanisms of aroma release and the perception of taste and flavor
  • How and why we evolved our particular taste and flavor sense organs and our general food likes and dislikes
  • How cooking methods affect the eventual flavor and texture of food ingredients
  • How new cooking methods might produce improved results of texture and flavor
  • How our brains interpret the signals from all our senses to tell us the "flavor" of food
  • How our enjoyment of food is affected by other influences, our environment, our mood, how it is presented, who prepares it, etc.

Example myths debunked: [11][12]

  • You need to add salt to water when cooking green vegetables
  • Searing meat seals in the juices
  • The cooking time for roast meat depends on the weight
  • When cooking meat stock you must start with cold water

[edit] International meetings in Erice, Italy

Though she is rarely credited, the origins of the Erice workshops (originally entitled "Science and Gastronomy") can be traced back to a cooking teacher named Elizabeth Cawdry Thomas who studied at Le Cordon Bleu in London and ran a cooking school in Berkeley, CA. The one time wife of a physicist, Thomas had many friends in the scientific community and an interest in the science of cooking. In 1988 while attending a meeting at the Ettore Majorana Center for Scientific Culture in Erice, Thomas had a conversation with Professor Ugo Valdrè of the University of Bologna who agreed with her that the science of cooking was an undervalued subject and encouraged her to organize a workshop at the Ettore Majorana Center. Thomas eventually approached the director of the Ettore Majorana center, physicist Antonino Zichichi who liked the idea. Thomas and Valdrè approached Kurti to be the director of the workshop. By Kurti's invitation, noted food science writer Harold McGee and French Physical Chemist Hervé This became the co-organizers of the workshops, though McGee stepped down after the first meeting in 1992.[13]

Up until 2001, The International Workshop on Molecular Gastronomy "N. Kurti" (IWMG) was named the "International Workshops of Molecular and Physical Gastronomy" (IWMPG0). The first meeting was held in 1992 and the meetings have continued every few years there after until the most recent in 2004. Each meeting encompassed an overall theme broken down into multiple sessions over the course of a few days, including more than 12 sessions during the meeting in 2004.

The focus of the workshops each year were as follows:[14][15]

Examples of sessions within these meetings have included:[15][16]

  • Chemical Reactions in Cooking
  • Heat Conduction, Convection and Transfer
  • Physical aspects of food/liquid interaction
  • When liquid meets food at low temperature
  • Solubility problems, dispersion, texture/flavour relationship.
  • Stability of flavour

[edit] Nicholas Kurti and Hervé This

The Hungarian born physicist Nicholas Kurti (1908-1998) became Professor of Physics at Oxford in 1967, a post he held until his retirement in 1975. He was also visiting Professor at The City College of New York, the University of California, Berkeley, and Amherst College in Massachusetts. His hobby was cooking, and he was an enthusiastic advocate of applying scientific knowledge to culinary problems. He was one of the first television cooks in the UK, hosting a black and white television show in 1969 entitled "The Physicist in the Kitchen" where he demonstrated techniques such as using a syringe to inject hot mince pies with brandy in order to avoid disturbing the crust.[17] That same year, he held a presentation for the Royal Society of London (also entitled "The Physicist in the Kitchen") in which he is often quoted to have stated:

"I think it is a sad reflection on our civilization that while we can and do measure the temperature in the atmosphere of Venus we do not know what goes on inside our soufflés." [18]

During the presentation Kurti demonstrated making meringue in a vacuum chamber, the cooking of sausages by connecting them across a car battery, the digestion of protein by fresh pineapple juice, and a reverse baked alaska - hot inside, cold outside - cooked in a microwave oven.[15][18] Kurti was also an advocate of low temperature cooking, repeating 18th century experiments by the English scientist Benjamin Thompson by leaving a 2 kg lamb joint in an oven at 80 °C. After 8.5 hours, both the inside and outside temperature of the lamb joint were around 75 °C, and the meat was tender and juicy.[18] Together with his wife, Giana Kurti, Nicholas Kurti edited an anthology on food and science by fellows and foreign members of the Royal Society, "But the crackling is superb".

Hervé This started collecting "culinary precisions" (old kitchen wives' tales and cooking tricks) in the early 1980s and started testing these precisions to see which ones held up; his collection now numbers some 25,000. He also has received a PhD in Physical Chemistry of Materials for which he wrote his thesis on molecular and physical gastronomy, served as an adviser to the French minister of education, lectured internationally, and was invited to join the lab of Nobel Prize winning molecular chemist Jean-Marie Lehn.[19] [20] This has published several books in French, four of which have been translated into English, including "Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor", "Kitchen Mysteries: Revealing the Science of Cooking", "Cooking: The Quintessential Art" and "Building a Meal: From Molecular Gastronomy to Culinary Constructivism". He currently publishes a series of essays (in French) on and hosts free monthly seminars on molecular gastronomy at the INRA in France. He is giving free and public Seminars on Molecular gastronomy any month, and once a year, he is giving a public and free Course on Molecular Gastronomy. Hervé also authors a website and a pair of blogs on the subject in French and publishes monthly collaborations with French chef Pierre Gagnaire on Gagnaire's website. [21][22][23]

[edit] Precursors to molecular gastronomy

Sir Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford (1753 - 1814) was one of the early pioneers in the science of food & cooking.

The idea of using techniques developed in chemistry to study food is not a new one, for instance the discipline of food science has existed for many many years. Kurti and This acknowledged this fact and though they decided that a new, organized and specific discipline should be created within food science that investigated the processes in regular cooking (as food science was primarily concerned with the nutritional properties of food and developing methods to process food on an industrial scale), there are several notable examples throughout history of investigations into the science of everyday cooking recorded as far as back to 18th century.[24][25]

Professors Evelyn G. Halliday and Isabel T. Noble:

In 1943 the University of Chicago Press published a book entitled "Food Chemistry and Cookery" by the then University of Chicago Associate Professor of Home Economics Evelyn G. Halliday and University of Minnesota Associate Professor of Home Economics Isabel T Noble. In the foreword of the 346 page book the author’s state that, “The main purpose of this book is to give an understanding of the chemical principles upon which good practices in food preparation and preservation are based.” [26]

The book includes chapters such as "The Chemistry of Milk", "The Chemistry of Baking Powders and Their Use in Baking", "The Chemistry of Vegetable Cookery" and "Determination of Hydrogen Ion Concentration" and contains numerous illustrations of lab experiments including such things as a “Distillation Apparatus for Vegetable Samples” and a “Pipette for Determining the Relative Viscosity of Pectin Solutions”.[27] The professors had previously published “The Hows and Whys of Cooking” in 1928, also via the University of Chicago Press.[28]

Professor Belle Lowe of Iowa State College (1886-1961):

In 1932 a woman named Belle Lowe, then the professor of Food and Nutrition at Iowa State College, published a book entitled "Experimental Cookery: From The Chemical And Physical Standpoint" which became a standard textbook for home economics courses across the United States. Published by John Wiley & Sons, the book is an exhaustively researched look into the science of everyday cooking referencing hundreds of sources and including many experiments. At a length of over 600 pages with section titles such as “The Relation Of Cookery To Colloidal Chemistry”, “Coagulation Of Proteins”, “The Factors Affecting The Viscosity Of Cream And Ice Cream”, “Syneresis”, “Hydrolysis Of Collagen” and “Changes In Cooked Meat And The Cooking Of Meat”, the volume rivals or exceeds the scope of many other books on the subject, at a much earlier date.[29][30]

Belle Lowe was born near Utica, Missouri on February 7, 1886. She graduated from Chillicothe High School and then received a teaching certificate (1907) from the Kirksville State Normal School in Kirksville, Missouri. She also received a Ph. B. (1911) and an M.S. (1934) from the University of Chicago. In 1957, Lowe received an honorary Ph.D. from Iowa State College (University). In addition to “Experimental Cookery”, she published numerous articles on the subject of the science of cooking, she died in 1961. [31]

According to Hervé This:

In the second century BC, the anonymous author of a papyrus kept in London used a balance to determine whether fermented meat was lighter than fresh meat. Since then, many scientists have been interested in food and cooking. In particular, the preparation of meat stock—the aqueous solution obtained by thermal processing of animal tissues in water—has been of great interest. It was first mentioned in the fourth century BC by Apicius (André (ed), 1987), and recipes for stock preparation appear in classic texts (La Varenne, 1651; Menon, 1756; Carême & Plumerey, 1981) and most French culinary books. Chemists have been interested in meat stock preparation and, more generally, food preparation since the eighteenth century (Lémery, 1705; Geoffrey le Cadet, 1733; Cadet de Vaux, 1818; Darcet, 1830). Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier is perhaps the most famous among them—in 1783, he studied the processes of stock preparation by measuring density to evaluate quality (Lavoisier, 1783). In reporting the results of his experiments, Lavoisier wrote, "Whenever one considers the most familiar objects, the simplest things, it's impossible not to be surprised to see how our ideas are vague and uncertain, and how, as a consequence, it is important to fix them by experiments and facts" (author's translation). Of course, Justus von Liebig should not be forgotten in the history of culinary science (von Liebig, 1852) and stock was not his only concern. Another important figure was Benjamin Thompson, later knighted Count Rumford, who studied culinary transformations and made many proposals and inventions to improve them, for example by inventing a special coffee pot for better brewing. There are too many scientists who have contributed to the science of food preparation to list here. - Hervé This, 2006 [3][32]

Marie-Antoine Carême (1784-1833):

The concept of molecular gastronomy was perhaps presaged by Marie-Antoine Carême, one of the most famous French chefs, who said in the early 19th century that when making a food stock "the broth must come to a boil very slowly, otherwise the albumin coagulates, hardens; the water, not having time to penetrate the meat, prevents the gelatinous part of the osmazome from detaching itself."

[edit] Terminology confusion

The term molecular gastronomy was originally intended to refer only to the scientific investigation of cooking[33], though it has been adopted by a number of people and applied to cooking itself or to describe a style of cuisine.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the term started to be used to describe a new style of cooking in which some chefs began to explore new possibilities in the kitchen by embracing science, research, technological advances in equipment and various natural gums and hydrocolloids produced by the commercial food processing industry.[34][35][36] It has since been used to describe the food and cooking of a number of famous chefs, though many of them do not accept the term as a description of their style of cooking. [37] Other names for the style of cuisine practiced by these chefs have included "New Cuisine", "Progressive Cuisine", "Nueva Cocina", "Culinary Constructivism", "Modern Cuisine", "Avant-Garde Cuisine", "Experimental Cuisine", “Techno-Emotional Cuisine”, “Molecular Cuisine” and “Molecular Cooking”, though no singular name has ever been applied in consensus and the term molecular gastronomy continues to be used, in many cases, as a blanket term to refer to any and all of these things - particularly in the media.[38]

Chefs often associated with molecular gastronomy because of their embrace of science include: Pierre Gagnaire, Ferran Adrià, Jose Andres,Heston Blumenthal, Homaro Cantu, Wylie Dufresne, Grant Achatz, Sat Bains, Sean Wilkinson, Richard Blais, Kevin Sousa /Pittsburgh, Sean Brock, Marc Lepine /Ottawa, Will Goldfarb/NYC.

Perhaps frustrated with the common mis-classification of their food and cooking as "molecular gastronomy", several chefs often associated with the movement have since repudiated the term, releasing a joint statement in 2006 clarifying their approach to cooking. [39] Still, other modern chefs have embraced molecular gastronomy. An organization known as "The Experimental Cuisine Collective" in New York which holds monthly workshops at which Hervé This has been a featured speaker and whose website lists works by This on the resources page [40] has members including some of the most well known chefs in the city.[41] In July 2008, New York University biochemist Kent Kirshenbaum, one of the founders of the Experimental Cuisine Collective, gave a lecture at the New York Academy of Sciences explaining the philosophy of the group. The lecture was detailed in this podcast.

[edit] Other interpretations of the term

  • "The application of scientific principles to the understanding and improvement of domestic and gastronomic food preparation." - Peter Barham [42]
  • "The art and science of choosing, preparing and eating good food." - Thorvald Pedersen [43]
  • "The scientific study of deliciousness" - Harold McGee [44]

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Cooking For Eggheads - Discover Magazine
  2. ^ - Eggs
  3. ^ a b c Food for tomorrow? How the scientific discipline of molecular gastronomy could change the way we eat -
  4. ^ Harold McGee, Curious Cook: Modern Cooking, Science, and the Erice Workshops on Molecular and Physical Gastronomy
  5. ^ a b Harold McGee, Curious Cook: Modern Cooking, Science, and the Erice Workshops on Molecular and Physical Gastronomy
  6. ^ a b INRA France Abstract on Molecular Gastronomy
  7. ^ What's All This We Hear about Molecular Gastronomy? - Blackwell Synergy
  8. ^ What's All This We Hear about Molecular Gastronomy? - Blackwell Synergy
  9. ^ a b Definitions of Molecular Gastronomy -
  10. ^ Peter Barham on Molecular Gastronomy – Discovery Channel
  11. ^ The Man Who Unboiled an Egg – The Guardian
  12. ^ Kitchen Myths, Molecular Gastronomy – Discovery Channel
  13. ^ Harold McGee, Curious Cook: Modern Cooking, Science, and the Erice Workshops on Molecular and Physical Gastronomy
  14. ^ - Institutions
  15. ^ a b c Egullet - Notes on the International Workshop on Molecular Gastronomy 2004
  17. ^ How to Dunk a Doughnut: The Science Of Everyday Life - by Len Fisher, p.24
  18. ^ a b c History of Molecular Gastronomy -
  19. ^ The Father of Molecular Gastronomy Whips Up a New Formula - Wired Magazine
  20. ^ The Man Who Unboiled an Egg - Guardian Unlimited
  21. ^ Hervé This Blog
  22. ^ Hervé This Blog 2 | Gastronomie Moléculaire
  23. ^ Pierre Gagnaire Website - Art et Science
  25. ^ Food for tomorrow? How the scientific discipline of molecular gastronomy could change the way we eat - EMBO Reports
  26. ^ Full text of "Food Chemistry and Cookery" by Halliday and Noble (1943) at Cornell University Library
  27. ^ Table of Contents of "Food Chemistry and Cookery" by Halliday and Noble (1943) at Cornell University Library
  28. ^ Hows and Whys of Cooking (1928) by Halliday and Noble (1928)
  29. ^ Full text of "Experimental Cooking" by Professor Belle Lowe (1932) at
  30. ^ Full outline of "Experimental Cooking" by Professor Belle Lowe (1932)
  31. ^ Belle Lowe Biography and list of published articles - Iowa State Library
  32. ^ Hervé This Website - The History of Molecular Gastronomy
  33. ^ Food Technology Magazine Article by Herve This 12/2008
  34. ^ Molecular Gastronomy Resources- A La Cuisine!
  35. ^ Texturas - El Bulli
  36. ^ Le Sanctuaire Store - Category Molecular Gastronomy
  37. ^ Statement on the New Cookery - Guardian Observer
  38. ^ Google News search for Molecular Gastronomy
  39. ^ Statement on the New Cookery - Guardian Observer
  40. ^ Experimental Cuisine Collective Website
  41. ^ Experimental Cuisine Collective Article - Star Chefs
  42. ^ Discovery Channel - Molecular Gastronomy
  43. ^ Thorvald Pedersen - KVL
  44. ^ Harold McGee's contribution to 2004 KVL Workshop on Molecular Gastronomy in PDF

[edit] References

[edit] External links

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