Synthesising Soufflés

Creating a stir through kitchen chemistry

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Over the past two centuries science has progressed by leaps and bounds. Yet, with all this expertise at our disposal, there has been little probing of the scientific basis of cooking. Fortunately, this oversight came to the attention of a French physical chemist 20 years ago. Hervé This and his colleagues created a new discipline called ‘Molecular Gastronomy’ and set out to find answers to the many questions we have long ignored.

Molecular Gastronomy: Artwork by Genevieve Edwards

Even today, cookery books include references to old wives tales that have since been explained by molecular gastronomy. A common example is the claim that raspberries should not be a put in copper or tin coated vessels – yet if you add metallic tin or copper to raspberries nothing happens. It is known from chemistry textbooks that anthocyanidins (pigments in many red, blue or purple fruits) can bind to metal ions. If a small amount of the ionic form of tin is added to raspberries rather than the metallic form, it causes them to turn dark purple and so look spoiled or toxic. Therefore it’s not the copper vessel itself, but the residual metallic ions in a dirty container that cause the colour change.

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TEDxCAM 2010

A month has passed since TEDxCAM 2010 and yet it as fresh in my memory as the last meal I had. My second TEDx event (after TEDx Warwick) proved to be many times better. It had more speakers, free food and was held in the Cambridge Union. It was a very professionally organised event for which I managed to get tickets only in the last week presumably because of over-subscription.

After a very foggy morning and a 3-hour train journey, I reached Cambridge feeling nippy. The fog was still lingering and all I could think about was reaching the venue on time. I paced myself through the tiny lanes to find the Cambridge Union (CU), and just like Oxford the walk from the train station to the union did not reveal much of the beauty of the town. The Union was located behind a very cute-looking church that was called, very unimaginatively, the ‘Round Church‘. I reached with about ten minutes in hand only to find a long queue of attendees trying to get inside the Union hall. After a brief wait and to my satisfaction, I found a great seat just behind Aubrey de Grey.

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