Category Archives: Pure Chemistry

Bonding with Food at a molecular level.

Gastronomy: Arts, Science, a new way of living?

Cooking is an art. A perfect macaroon requires a batter with the perfect proportion of ingredients. Whisking too vigorously or adding too little sugar leads to the failure of the macaroon.

Cooking is science. Radiation in the oven accelerates the movement of water molecules. With the high temperature, the water molecules on the surface leave quickly while the water molecules inside the macaroon evaporate slowly, resulting in a Macaroon with a crispy surface but soft filling.

Cooking is a way of living. Food is the primary source of gaining energy and keep us alive.

As technologies have developed sharply and as we have accumulated increasing amounts of experience in cooking, our methods of cooking have transformed. The purpose of processing food is not just making sure that food is edible or tasty anymore. People have started to focus on a variety of aspects of food. It has to have the perfect ingredients, perfect texture, perfect color, perfect flavors and perfect aromas. In other words, everything has to be perfect and balanced, even if it is just a simple dessert.

With help from researchers, more and more unknowns about food and cooking are being discovered. Gastronomy is the study of the relationship between food and culture; the art of preparing and serving rich or delicate and appetizing food; and the science of good eating. It is also a new money maker. Restaurants advertise their foods that use Molecular Gastronomy and profit from it. However, you don’t need to be a scientist or an advanced professional cook to make Gastronomy food! You don’t need fancy or professional equipment either. As long as you have a spoon, a syringe, a cup, and some ingredients, which you can easily buy online, you can practice molecular gastronomy too! The chemistry behind it is easy to understand too!

Colin McDonald/CNET

For example, when sodium alginate reacts with calcium chloride, calcium alginate is produced and precipitates. Alginate is a polysaccharide that only thickens liquid with the presence of ions like calcium. Alginates cross-link with each other in the presence of calcium to form a network, the sphere wall. So, why is sodium alginate is soluble while calcium alginate is not? It turns out that calcium has an oxidation state of +2, while sodium has an oxidation state of +1. Compared with Na+, calcium needs to form an extra bond, which spans two alginates. The sphere is thus formed. Sodium and chloride are the spectator ions in this chemical reaction.


With the displacement reaction, we can make caviar from chemicals. This technique now doesn’t only stay in the kitchen and on the food table anymore. People also utilize it in the “water bottle” industry. The popular edible water ball online is actually using this technique. The edible surface of the water ball is made from alginate too. See, science can be close to us and can be easy to understand. Sometimes the science behind the cool stuff we have watched online is not complicated. And Gastronomy, the study of the relationship of food and culture, is a subject that bring us closer to food, and does not create distance between food and us, as industrialization sometimes does.  It gives us a new way of living and a new style of living.

One of the other prospects of Gastronomy is re-discovering the taste of food and how our olfactory system works.  Molecules like those found in miracle berries can make us temporarily lose the ability to taste the sourness of the food.

After taking one tablet of the miracle berry, we tried the foods shown in the picture, including the lemons which normally give us an unbearable sour taste. Surprisingly, it turns out that this is the tastiest lemonade I’ve ever tried.  The lemons don’t have the extreme sour taste anymore. Instead, it gave me a rich sweetness with a little bit of competing sour taste. However, the used-to-be-tasty pickle was not so much anymore. The desirable sourness was gone, leaving all the old competing flavors as the main flavors we can taste now. There are other compounds that can affect our olfactory system differently, like making us not tasting the sweetness (as in gymnema sylvestre).

Overall, Gastronomy gives us a new perspective to use in looking at food and the science behind it. It is not simply a science or an art; it is a combination of science and art. It gives us the chance to use science to develop more art and a new way of eating.


1) McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. New York: Scribner, 2004. Print.

2)Oxford Dictionary

3) “Cross Linking Polymers” RSC Advancing the Chemistry. Web. 30 Apr, 2017.

4)Peters, Adele. “The Edible Water Bottle is How You Will Drink In The Future.” FastCompany. Web. 1 May, 2017.

4) Kowart, R. Kristen. Edible Water Bottle. The Spirited Science. Web. 30 Apr, 2017.

5)McDonald,Colin. “spherification” Cnet. Web.30 Apr,2017. 



Cookie Dough Caramel Swirl Ice Scream Sundae

Whats better than a cookie dough caramel swirl ice scream sundae?  One of my favorite desserts made with the right ingredients will give way to the rich cookie dough and the semi-sweet caramel in contrast with the light vanilla ice cream.

Ever wonder why butter makes a rich and succulent cookie dough meanwhile most cooking oils will make sweet and moist cookie dough?  Or why caramel might turn out a beautiful light brown color or a dark appalling brown?

Here is some scientific background to make such a comforting dessert.

Fats: what are these controversial yet necessary ingredients?  Fat is another way of indicating triglycerides.  Triglycerides contain three long chains known as fatty acids that are connected by glycerol.  These fatty acids are labeled as saturated (no double bonded carbons) or unsaturated (having double bonds).  The unsaturated fatty acids are able to have cis or trans stereochemistry seen in the diagram below.  The trans fatty acids are a result of hydrogenating oil to make it a solid only done by unnatural processes.  These trans fatty acids–and saturated fats–are able to line up better than the odd shapes of the cis fatty acids.  Most cooking oils that are liquids at room temperature, such as olive oil, canola oil, and hazelnut oil, are mainly composed of cis unsaturated fats.

So why would cookie dough with butter taste and feel much more appetizing than cookie dough with oil?

The answer is in the amount of unsaturation in the two fats.  Since butter has a majority of saturated fat, it is a solid at room temperature and will encapsulate the flour and sugar.  The sugar in the cookie dough is able to poke holes in the crystalline butter to cause encapsulation and aeration.  Since the butter is aerated it produces thicker and drier cookie dough.  It doesn’t have an overwhelming sweet taste because the butter is able to mask it with its own flavors.  The cooking oil has many natural cis fats, causing it to be a liquid.  Oil doesn’t have the crystalline structure so it won’t have the ability to hold the flour and sugar inside its structure. The oil made very moist and sweet cookie dough.  When I am looking to be comforted by cookie dough, I tend toward the rich and crumbly batch.

What better way to complement the rich flavor of the cookie dough with the sweet delicate taste of caramel?  Just make sure not to burn the caramel!!

Caramel’s main ingredients are sugar and cream.  These ingredients undergo chemical changes when heated and mixed. The sugar starts off as sucrose, a glucose and fructose molecule bonded at the 1,1 hydroxy positions seen below.  As heating continues caramelization occurs producing many products that add flavor and smell.  These products can range from sour to bitter to fruity.  If the temperature does not exceed 330oC or heated until burnt, these products will offer an amazing balance of tastes.  Some of these products are seen below.

This week we did an experiment where we made caramel to three levels of darkness to observe how this sucrose molecule breaks down. As sucrose is heated to around 330oF it undergoes caramelization generating the flavor and brown color. In our experiment, the third trial was exposed to the highest heat for the longest period of time causing the black glossy caramel on the left.  The caramelization process occurred past the point where bitter and sweet molecules are balanced.  This caramel was heated for so long that the carbohydrates were dehydrated leaving mainly carbon giving the burnt taste and smell.  This however doesn’t prohibit the Maillard reactions from occurring when the cream is added.  The Maillard reaction produces decomposition products from the carbohydrates and proteins in the cream. These products add more complex flavoring to the caramelization products.

The time sugar is heated is based on personal preference as long as it does not turn black, as in the photo to the left.  The darker caramel has more of a nutty flavor while the lighter caramel has a sweeter touch since there is more sugar left that did not react.

Keeping these concepts in mind, a comforting and delicious dessert can be prepared.  Now, the amount of cookie dough or caramel added to the ice cream is up to you. Last but not least is the ice cream.  Some slow churned old fashioned vanilla ice cream is my favorite way to supplement the sweet caramel and crumbly texture of the cookie dough.

Exploring the Cornell Agricultural Station

    I was rather excited to attend class for the week because we were going to get an inside look at the Cornell Agricultural Station just 5 minutes from HWS campus.  The facility not only works on the genetics of apples in their extensive orchards, but also provides a number of classes on wine making along with facilities to prepare a homemade recipe for commercial markets.

Continue reading

The Complexities of Batters and Doughs

When I was younger, every Sunday night my mom and dad would make a fabulous dinner. My mom would make her famous Anadama bread, while my dad would whip up a batch of his delicious blueberry muffins. My dad would mix all of his ingredients into a batter in a large bowl while my mom would knead her  ingredients into a ball of dough on the countertop. When this was done, my parents had to pass the responsibility of making their wonderful baked goods onto someone, or, rather something else, aka the oven. What exactly happened during the twelve minutes when my dad’s goopy batter turned into gorgeous and tasty blueberry muffins? What does that oven do to my mother’s dough that makes it mouth-watering chewy Anadama bread? What exactly happens when you bake anything?

Continue reading

Adventures in Cooking and Emulsions: How I Could Have Saved My Valentine’s Day Dinner

Usually, I start reading for class each weekend.  However,overValentine’s Day weekend, I prepared a classy French-style dinner for my significant other instead of starting my homework.  Little did I know, doing the reading ahead of time on emulsions and sauces would have really helped.

Continue reading

The Incredible Edible Egg!

Eggs a la Salvador

I crack an egg on the edge of my frying pan. The clear viscous liquid     and runny yellow yolk, that has already been broken, is dumped into a bowl. I    proceed to grab a metal fork and beat them loosely, until the entire concoction is about the same yellow color. It doesn’t take a lot. There is a piece of cracked shell in the mix, but I don’t mind. I pour the scrambled egg on to the frying pan, which has been on high heat for some time now. I mix the contents around on the frying pan so it cooks faster. Sure parts of the egg start turning brown, but that is the way I like it; plus, you can’t beat the smell. The brick of egg is flipped on to my plate: I sprinkle some salt, give it a squirt of ketchup, and off I go to devour   what I so proudly made.

Continue reading

The Scientific Cooking Methods

Say it’s summer. The day is an azure blue, the dandelions donating their seeds to the breeze, catching rays of sun as they float along happily. On the back patio, the grill is heating up and the meat is marinating. As someone sets the picnic table, you tuck the T-bone steaks into bed on the coals, at a slight diagonal for the perfect grill marks. They sizzle and pop, giving off a rich and robust aroma into the air. It makes your stomach start to sing in a low octave. The thought of a perfect meal on a perfect summer’s day is all that your mind can wrap itself around. But at the basis of it all is that cunning and surprising branch of science called chemistry. It is deeply embedded in why grilling meat tastes so good and why the broccoli that goes along with the meat will go dull if you don’t shock it. Chemistry weaves itself into the many ways you can cook food and each of these methods work in a different way and influence the tastes of the vast array of food that we create and consume.

Continue reading