Molecular gastronomy is “how the process of cooking changes the structure and taste of food”. Cooking is a craft, a technique. Gastronomy is a science of human nourishment; “whipped cream is not merely a simple combination of heavy cream and sugar, but a specific ratio of fat, water, and gas.” Hard-boiled egg (10 minutes in boiling water) is not the proper way to boil an egg as 100°C is far higher than the temperature at which egg whites and yolks coagulate. Boiling causes too many egg proteins to bind and form dense meshes, resulting in rubbery egg whites and sandy, greyish yolks. “Cooking eggs is really a question of temperature, not time,” says Herve This.
Not all egg proteins solidify at the same temperature; Ovotransferrin begins to set at around 61°C, Ovalbumin coagulates at 84°C, yolk proteins generally solidify when they approach 70°C. You can adjust the temperature depending on what you want. Thus, the white of “the 65-degree egg” is as delicately set and smooth as custard, and the yolk is still orange and soft. The yolk of “the 67-degree egg” starts thickening up; you can mould it. “The 70-degree egg” has a moistly set yolk and a very tender white.
“Cooking meat at high temperatures to seal in the juices” is not right, says This is one of the 25,000 irregularities pointed out by Herve This. He writes, “I think it is a sad reflection on our civilisation that while we can and do measure the temperature in the atmosphere of Venus, we do not know what goes on inside our soufflés.”
In the workshop on molecular gastronomy one may learn to achieve “melting tenderness in lamb” by understanding how heat diffuses in meat. One may come across topics like how the changes in ingredient characteristics, flavour and texture of food vary due to different cooking methods; role of senses in the appreciation of food; mechanisms of aroma release; biomechanics of chewing and swallowing foams and gels; the effects of microwaves on spongy foodstuff; the effect of heat on vegetable pigments, how other factors (like environment, mood, presentation, who prepared it) affect enjoyment of food, etc. Herve This’s scientific approach to cuisine can lead to all kinds of tasty new dishes.
Are you ready to equip your kitchen with thermocouples and gas chromatographs to get a better feel of inner ‘food’ happenings? Of course new formulas in the kitchen understands that that there is no better cook than your mother or grandmother. And the most important ingredient in cooking is love.
Executive Director, Birla Institute of Scientific Research, Jaipur
Vice President, Indian National Academy of Engineering