The Science of Cooking

This isn’t your everyday science lecture.

This is so much more.

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It’s been quite some time since I have taken a science-based class. This doesn’t include the social sciences, like psychology and consumer behavior – I’m talking down and dirty, biology and chemistry. In high school, I rather enjoyed the lab based classes and various experiments. Creating brilliant colors by burning chemical strips was always a good time. Heck, even dissection had a place in my nerdy heart. After all, I had dreamt of being a zoologist back in the day when I was an awkward 11-year-old with fuzzy hair, endless daydreams and a longing to be a recognized woman role model à la Jane Goodall. Then somewhere along the way I realized just how difficult and math-intensive science really is and how you really have to put your whole heart in to a career in science or medicine. My heart has always gone in too many directions to focus on one path.

Anyway! Back to school for my Masters somehow led me back to high school. In relation to science, at any rate. In one of my current classes, Multi-sensory Communication, we touched upon the subject of molecular gastronomy. What began as a dry lecture soon incorporated videos and got me terribly interested in the science of food.

We tend to think about food as an art. Undoubtedly, beautiful presentation enhances flavor. While an excellent chef can make the same spaghetti platter taste multiple times better than the average Joe, at the end of the day it’s the presentation and the dining ambiance that will affect your perception of the food you consume. That’s a whole other kind of science, the social kind.

However, cooking is a science. I won’t go into the details I absorbed wide-eyed in class, but the explanation of how food is cooked, the interactions that take place, really is enlightening. This knowledge made me think “wow, recipes make sense.” This comes from someone who likes to improvise as much as possible. Learning the value of each process and why cooks choose one method of cooking over another is very, very interesting. I highly recommend looking up the details of “molecular gastronomy.” Learning the intricacies and science behind cooking makes me want to cook so much more. And those videos I mentioned before? Who would have thought that corn popping in slow motion was so beautiful? I thought to myself, “Popcorn is like flowers blooming… into my mouth :D”

Now on to the fun stuff!

Today’s lecture: cooking workshop: Mango Caviar served with cured ham

Not a fan of ikura (salmon roe), I felt queasy at the idea of making “caviar” out of mango juice. While melon caviar and ham is known culinary item, we had to improvise a little (finding melon juice isn’t exactly easy in Japan).

The weapons: a syringe, mesh strainer, whisk, two rectangular containers, one measuring cup, plates, tons of paper towels

The ingredients: mango juice, water, sodium alginate, calcium lactate, cured ham (to serve)

We began by mixing the calcium lactate with water in a large container. Whisk away!

Next, we poured the remaining water into the smaller container as a “rinse bath.”

Then it was juice time. We whisked the sodium alginate with the mango juice for what seemed like forever until it was fairly well mixed. We filled the syringe with the mixture and, holding the syringe parallel to the table, tried to make little droplets into the calcium lactate / water solution. The long needle made the droplets too small (let’s not be stingy with our caviar size!) so we plucked it out. We all took turns making the droplets, waiting a minute, and dropping them in the bath, until I became the designated caviar master and my two teammates worked on presentation – cured ham roses filled with mango caviar.

C’est fini!

The result? Well, it looked nice.. but the taste was certainly not for me. The tomato and balsamic vinegar caviar experiment conducted by another group was much, much tastier. The cranberry tapioca balls in Sprite? Not so good.

Overall, a terribly fun way to spend one and a half hours. School isn’t for squares anymore.

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