Molecular Gastronomy, What the Atom is It?

You may have read the title and wondered, what? Are we in science class? Well, sort of…

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This subject comes to us thanks to the Hungarian physicist Nicholas Kurti who, in his 1969 presentation The Physicist in the Kitchen, expressed, “I think it is a sad reflection on our civilization that while we can and do measure the temperature in the atmosphere of Venus we do not know what goes on within our soufflés.” The term as such appears in 1988, from Kurti and his colleague, chemist Hervé This from France, who published Molecular Gastronomy.

We owe this exploration of food to the curiosity and fascination of these two men, who wanted to understand and analyze the chemical processes of food when it cooks. Essentially, they turned their kitchens into laboratories. The objective of molecular gastronomy, and thus molecular cuisine, is to experiment with the components of an ingredient in order to modify its state and texture to offer a new and surprising experience to the diner. With some creativity, a variety of flavor combinations and presentations become possible.

So, what is molecular gastronomy?

Molecular gastronomy is the dream of an alchemist, with techniques that achieve several such outcomes – to freeze liquid or solid food immediately, convert liquids into solids, convert liquids or solids into powder, gels or jellies, spherification to enclose the liquid in a bubble of its own to look like caviar, sous-vide (sealing food in a vacuum bag and cooking for a long time at a low temperature, which gives it a better texture and more uniform cooking), turning food into foam, gasification, flash freezing, etc. These are but a handful of the techniques used to create molecular cuisine.

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A few examples of the fascinating results brought into being include edible ink and paper, aromatic accompaniment, apple and strawberry caviar, chocolate cherries, effervescent soft candy, virgin olive oil foam, strawberry spaghetti, foamed milk and yogurt, red fruit pearls, the list goes on. The possibilities for experimentation, experiences, and enjoyment remain endless.

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