Molecular gastronomy, a scientific discipline dedicated to observing and explaining the use of cooking ingredients, has taken the culinary arts to new heights. This scientific study involves critically observing the chemical transformation that occurs while food heats under pressure. Molecular gastronomy consists of social, creative, and technical aspects that stem from both culinary and gastronomy disciplines. This sub-discipline was first coined “molecular gastronomy” by Nicholas Kurti and Herve This in 1992. Not every chef agrees with the chosen term, with some preferring “culinary physics” or “experimental cuisine,” despite the same concepts being implied regardless of the title associated with the discipline.
Molecular gastronomy, one of the many branches of food science that observes the chemical transformation of ingredients while cooking, was first explored in Erice, Italy by pioneering physicists who wished to observe the dynamics behind traditional cooking methods. Molecular gastronomy differs from traditional food sciences, wherein the primary focus includes the preservation, safety, microbiology, chemistry, engineering, and physics behind cultivating and raising food. Herve This, a molecular gastronomy pioneer, defines the main objectives of this unique scientific discipline as “the observation and study of the social, creative, and technical components of culinary activity.” Some of the example areas of investigation may entail the process of changing ingredients through different cooking methods, how all the senses play a role of appreciating food, the dynamics behind aroma, taste, and flavor, how modern cooking methods affect the final product, and exactly how our brains interpret signals from our sensory perception of the foods we eat. This style of cooking was meant to explore the various methods of concocting meals through experimentation. Some popular techniques and tools used in this style of cooking may include: carbon dioxide, centrifuge, dehydrators, ice cream makers, liquid nitrogen, natural gums, enzymes, syringes, and hydrocolloids.
Nicholas Kurti, an Oxford physicist from the United Kingdom, was one of the primary advocates for applying scientific principles to the culinary arts. In fact, he demonstrated several cooking techniques unique to molecular gastronomy on the 1969 U.K. television show, “The Physicists in the Kitchen.” A proponent for low temperature cooking, Kurti repeated eighteenth century experiments originated by Benjamin Thompson, which summarily included roasting a lamb joint over a period of eight and half hours to find that the meat was juicy and tender to the touch. Additionally, Herve This contributed to the scientific concept known as molecular gastronomy through his thesis on physical and molecular gastronomy. Herve This joined the lab of Jean-Marie Lehn, a world-renown molecular chemist, and authored many books written in the French language that addressed the principles of molecular gastronomy. This currently writes essays and journal entries, plus hosts monthly seminars and workshops that teach new students the physics behind cooking. Other advocates and chefs that contribute to the scientific field of molecular gastronomy include: Grant Achatz, Will Goldfarb, Adam Melonas, Randy Rucker, Sat Bains, Richard Blais, Kevin Sousa, Heston Blumenthal, Ferran Adna, and many more.
Molecular gastronomy strives to explore the physics behind traditional cooking methods. It engulfs the practice of observing and explaining practical food application and its effects on our senses. Several advocates and academic professors have emerged to share their contributions among the molecular gastronomy community. In fact, some have dissented to present their own style of cooking separate from other food presentations; however, molecular gastronomy acts as a blanket term for all cooking styles that examine food under a scientific light. Despite its historical origins, molecular gastronomy remains a relatively new sub-discipline under the food sciences and will continue to evolve for decades to come. This evolution will likely lead to new innovations, techniques, and ultimately delicious dishes that will transform the human experience of enjoying the fine delicacies offered as cultural cuisines. Proponents can continue to follow the many breakthroughs that these physicists encounter on a continual basis through their many seminars and workshops offered for future pioneers in molecular gastronomy.
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