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Molecular Gastronomy in Cooking

Although we often ignore the science behind cooking, getting a closer look is important – the sky’s the limit when it comes to cooking under the lens of molecular gastronomy. 

By John Salloum

Graphic By Mia Overbo

The last time you cooked or baked something, you were probably only concerned about the recipe you followed to create the dish you desired. We mainly focus on ingredients, what our guidelines tell us to do with them, and (of course) whether we are able to achieve our desired outcome of a delicious meal. What we rarely realize is the underlying science that comes with cooking. 

Specifically, we forget about the physical and chemical reactions that happen at every stage of the process. Molecular gastronomy is a branch of cooking that focuses on the science behind it. This science is responsible for some of the culinary world’s most mind-twisting creations. Bagels, bite-sized salads, and plates that turn desserts into a canvas for art are some examples of these creations. 

Molecular gastronomy focuses on the hard science of cooking, how ingredients react with each other, and how certain techniques can be used to achieve unique shapes and effects. You’ve likely encountered some of these techniques before but haven’t realized it yet. We will explore a few of them together. 

If you have tasted boba tea, then you have enjoyed something created by a technique called spherification. This method produces soft, squishy, pearl-like bubbles using calcium chloride and alginate to create a gel that becomes the sphere. This is how boba gets its tapioca bubbles, and some people even take it a step further to make balsamic vinaigrette pearls for salads.

Another example you may have encountered is gelification, a technique for transforming liquids and liquid foods into gels using agents such as agar or carrageenan. This technique is how jello is made, using gelatin to create the famous semi-solid substance. Recently, it has been used to make noodles, such as Korean glass noodles.

With these techniques, we can create some seriously cool dishes. Youtuber Michael Ligier has produced a few videos highlighting what can be made. In one of his most popular videos, he crafted a see-through bagel using a gel for the dough that, when baked, created a see-through bread biscuit. He then made vinaigrette boba using spherification. With some cream cheese and finely diced smoked salmon, he also concocted a bite-sized “bagel.” He even whipped up a bite-sized salad, using spheres of salad dressing and finely diced ingredients wrapped around a wonton wrapper. 

For those who enjoy science as much as they do cooking, molecular gastronomy is a beautiful combination of the two. As time passes, more and more techniques are being invented to further fuel the imagination of those who dare seek it, and these creations, born from the marriage of science and cooking, will surpass our wildest dreams. 


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