Kitchen chemistry again…

I’m probably going to be fairly quiet on my blog this week, because I have my head down reading and learning about the chemistry of food on a molecular level.  No, it isn’t molecular gastronomy, it’s a book called On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by a chap called Harold McGee, loaned to me by one of the scientists at work, and it’s all about the structure and chemical and molecular composition of everyday ingredients and how they work and interact with each other to produce the smells, tastes and textures we aim for in the kitchen – and some of the ones we don’t aim for.

So far, I’ve learned a lot about milk, including why my butter has a different texture to the stuff you buy at the shops (crystal structure is a bit too even, so it’s more brittle – no idea how to fix this, of course, but it’s interesting to know),  and why my icecream isn’t quite the same either (you just can’t freeze things quickly enough at home, so the ice crystals are larger), why yoghurt isn’t really as good for you as you think (those yoghurty bacteria do nothing whatsoever for your insides, even though it sounds like they should) and why cheese can smell like old socks (the same molecules thatare caused by the ‘controlled spoilage’ of cheese making are also found in moist, warm, sheltered areas of human skin.  Yum.).  Also, I have a basic understanding of the cheese making process and want to go and make mozzarella and cheddar now.  I am, in fact, attending a class on feta and ricotta making in August, but I may need to see if there are any places left in the other cheesemaking classes as well…

I’ve now moved on to the chapter on eggs, and can now tell you why hard boiled egg yolks have a grittier texture than the whites (the yolk has a granular structure, made of little structures of protein and fat, whereas the whites are a nice, smooth protein network), and am about to become obsessive about the freshness of my eggs.

Also, I have developed an overwhelming urge to eat eggs.  And cheese.  I’m quite suggestible that way.  God alone knows what will happen when I reach the section on sugar…

In addition to all this, I’m developing a good grasp of the history of dairying and chicken farming, and have been edified by a number of historical quotes on the subject of dairy and egg foods, not to mention medieval recipes which look startlingly similar to modern omelettes and custards.  The electron microscope photographs of molecules found in milk and eggs, however, leave me no more illuminated than I was before.

In short, this book is completely fascinating, and whether or not it ends up leading me in the direction of vegan marshmallows I suspect I’ll be spending a bit less time over the next few days cooking and writing about food because I will be too busy studying it.  There is so much to learn.

Expect further reports on the inner workings of your favourite foods in a few days…

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  1. Pingback: This is Not My Fault | Cate's Cates

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