World Science Day Your starter pack to becoming culinary mad scientists

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When we think of the word “science,” memories of baking soda and vinegar volcanoes quickly come to mind. The volcano’s eruption is an acid-based reaction, whereby its two ingredients combine to yield carbon dioxide as one of its products. However, did you know this reaction is also used to keep cakes from going flat? Mohammed Al-Bakshy, a junior at MSU and devout food connoisseur, said that “every step of food production is a scientific process.” In honor of the upcoming World Science Day on Nov. 10, let’s take a moment to appreciate the wonders of food science and its many applications that will leave you mad scientists remembering that science is indeed cool.

BROWNing

When it comes to searing the perfect steak, there’s a fine line between over and undercooked.  

“The most common struggle with any piece of meat is getting that nice crust on it, since it requires you to be timely, responsive and very cautious,” said Al-Bakshy. 

Achieving a fine crust requires a good eye for what is called the Maillard reaction, or browning. The brown color appears from the reformation of amino acids and sugars into reflective rings during the cooking process. Browning is more than a sign of readiness; when the molecules are rearranged after the Maillard reaction, the flavor profile will be at its peak, and meats such as steak will give off that signature roasted scent.

CAVIARing

Thanks to the advancements in the molecular gastronomy field, caviar is more than a fancy name for salt-cured fish eggs. Now, it’s also a fancy name for spherification — the process of transforming fruits or vegetables into tiny jelly spheres similar in appearance to caviar. Getting that signature caviar look requires sodium alginate, a type of salt derived from brown algae, and calcium chloride for your experiment. The combination of the two ingredients creates a membrane perfect for encasing any type of liquid into caviar-like spheres. While the process itself does not yield a difference in flavor, the presentation is more than enough to shock your friends. Just try not to go crazy and turn your turkeys into caviar.

FREEZing

Ice cream is a delectable treat that is as fun to eat as it is to make. This dessert, at its most basic level, comes together from the emulsification of milk, cream, sugar and air. These ingredients are frozen and whipped to create the classic treat. It is important that the mixture is thoroughly mixed so that air bubbles can form. Whipping the ice cream batter spreads the intensity of its flavor since the fats and sugars add richness to the dessert. Additionally, whipping the mixture keeps the ice crystals at a fine level; this gives the ice cream structure, but it also results in a creamier product. Contrary to the name, we don’t really want ice in our ice cream. 

Food science is often an underlooked skill. 

“While I’m cooking I may think about the science of food without recognizing the science actually unfolding,” Rachel Nanzer, a senior at MSU, said.

Now that you know more of the various ways science is incorporated into the cooking process, let your creativity loose and experiment with a couple of your own dishes. Whether it’s a twist to your go-to dish or an entirely new creation of your own, be sure to have a few recipes tucked under your belt and ready for the array of feasts to come this month.