Analytical Cooking... What do you think?

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Analytical Cooking... What do you think?

Postby toshiro » Fri Aug 22, 2008 7:48 am UTC

I have had discussions with others on this subject, mostly people were disagreeing with me.

I like to (deliberately) disassemble recipes, cooking methods and such, into their smallest parts (or as I perceive them, anyway), and use those methods on other recipes, but also use material sciences and other engineering knowledge in creating food. I find that this yields (after suitable sets of experiments) superior food.
An example would be thinking about the relation surface-to-volume when cutting vegetables, to allow this or that effect to be used more extensively. Another would be the choosing of pasta according to sauces (I prefer not to use spaghetti with, say, tomato sauce, due to the inherent dangers of splattery. The best pasta for that, in my opinion, are fusilli, eliche or radiatori, since they have superior cappillary action and thus more sauce retention capacity. Spaghetti are better for sauces like carbonara or gorgonzola with cream). I also love Michael Chu's Cooking For Engineers.

Others told me that for them, cooking was more of an intuitive process, not involving an analytical mindset. Somehow, I believe that this intuition is just subconscious analyzation, but I could be wrong.

What do you think about this? Is this a case of déformation professionnelle?

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Re: Analytical Cooking... What do you think?

Postby baker's kilobyte » Fri Aug 22, 2008 1:21 pm UTC

toshiro wrote:I like to (deliberately) disassemble recipes, cooking methods and such, into their smallest parts (or as I perceive them, anyway), and use those methods on other recipes, but also use material sciences and other engineering knowledge in creating food.

<snip>

Others told me that for them, cooking was more of an intuitive process, not involving an analytical mindset. Somehow, I believe that this intuition is just subconscious analyzation, but I could be wrong.


You know, I've thought about this too. What I've found is that that phrase of yours that I've bolded is quite true. Often, the recipes I've found (or that have been passed down to me from my mother/grandmother) already show evidence of scientific analysis; it's just probably more casual than something a real scientist/engineer would do.

An example: Indian food is infamous for being spicy, but some people don't realize that we use a lot of dairy products in our cooking as well. My mum almost never cooks meat without yogourt, and even dishes like rice have yogourt mixes that we sprinkle on top. A lot of our drinks are milk or yogourt based. The list goes on. The reason for this love of dairy (as I learned in PSYCH 101 of all classes) is that dairy products counter the chemical reaction that happens when you eat spicy food, so you don't have to feel like your mouth is on fire every time you eat :D. I doubt that, all those years ago when these recipes were being formulated, someone gathered and analyzed scientific data to figure out which ingredients should be used together, yet at the same time, there is some scientific reasoning behind these recipes more than just, "This tastes good, let's do it."

This, of course, is only one example of the many I have encountered. If I typed out more, I'd never get back to work. ^-^"


Also: <3 Cooking for Engineers! :D

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Re: Analytical Cooking... What do you think?

Postby Bakemaster » Fri Aug 22, 2008 3:11 pm UTC

The way I heard it, fatty things basically counter spicy things. The combination of beer and hot wings is not only tasty, it's logically tasty.

My father used to call cooking "slop chemistry" (important note: he had a Ph.D. in chemistry) and so I grew up thinking of it that way. And really, the deeper you go into studying the culinary arts, the more the science is apparent. Trained, professional chefs know how different temperatures affect ingredients in storage and in cooking; they know which fruits and vegetables have enzymes that tenderize meat; they know how to adjust for altitude; and they know what "caramelization" is (although Firefox apparently doesn't).

Thinking about the shapes of ingredients is, I think, somewhat less common, especially among professionals without formal training or many years of experience, and among casual/amateur cooking enthusiasts. Pasta is a great example—there's a good reason for buying pasta shapes like ziti rigati and linguine fini, even though many people can't tell them from rigatoni and spaghetti. Salads are another. Anyone who has made or eaten a lot of salads at home and with friends has run into the salad that has mostly lettuce on top, and a sad mix of dressing and other ingredients on the bottom. Often it's something like carrots, celery, and radishes that were cut too small and just fall through the lettuce leaves. And while there's a definite argument for tomatoes cut in large chunks, sliced plum tomatoes really distribute themselves much better in most salads.
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Re: Analytical Cooking... What do you think?

Postby toshiro » Fri Aug 22, 2008 3:22 pm UTC

I've found the books by Hervé This especially inspiring. Although, in my case it was my father as well (an architect, incidentally) to teach me the basics in this regard.

But the books by the aformentioned cook/scientist really sparked my interest in why and how things work in the kitchen, and I've been walking through the (cooking) world with more awareness after I had read them.

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Re: Analytical Cooking... What do you think?

Postby nadreck » Fri Aug 22, 2008 9:04 pm UTC

toshiro wrote:I have had discussions with others on this subject, mostly people were disagreeing with me.

[big Snip]

Others told me that for them, cooking was more of an intuitive process, not involving an analytical mindset. Somehow, I believe that this intuition is just subconscious analyzation, but I could be wrong.

What do you think about this? Is this a case of déformation professionnelle?


Me, I analyze particularly if I am in a restaurant (or more rarely at someone elses table) and I taste something in a dish I really like, I want to find out what they do differently than I and then experiment with adapting what elements of their craft I think would mix best with mine. My vindaloo shrimp recipe evolved over a more than 10 year period until I had learned enough about Indian cooking and had found several versions of Indian Vindaloo that I liked and could deconstruct.

I am not a chemist, nor am I a any type of food preparation professional. Also sadly I am often overly reliant on an imperfect memory. Yet despite these limitations I apply as rigorous a method in cooking as I can (and probably as rigorous as I ever employed at systems analysis and software design where I also was overly reliant on an imperfect memory).

I like to think about things in an experimental and analytical process however I don't think that this necessarily precludes intuitive or inductive thinking, simply prepares to capture the results of the intuition/inductive reasoning better. I sometimes feel that the term intuitive gets used by people who just don't have as good a memory as me, or are not as confident in their memory as me (I figure I am over confident in the accuracy of my memory and that most people are quite the opposite).
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Re: Analytical Cooking... What do you think?

Postby wirehead » Fri Aug 22, 2008 10:16 pm UTC

I tend to think that the intuitive part of cooking has to do with your sense of smell.

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Re: Analytical Cooking... What do you think?

Postby Kendo_Bunny » Mon Aug 25, 2008 1:00 am UTC

Having studied for a little while to be a chef, it's a mix of the two. Cooking is pretty much the perfect blend of art and science- while your basic home cook will probably rely more on intuition than a chef in a big restaurant, they also know some of the scientific principles involved. A professional chef is much better versed in the science, but they also have to rely on intuition for creating recipes or displaying the food.

And intuitive cooking does base a lot on individual senses of smell. I have an excellent sense of smell, and that probably contributes the most to my cooking abilities.

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Re: Analytical Cooking... What do you think?

Postby Kizyr » Mon Aug 25, 2008 4:22 am UTC

toshiro wrote:I have had discussions with others on this subject, mostly people were disagreeing with me.
...
Others told me that for them, cooking was more of an intuitive process, not involving an analytical mindset. Somehow, I believe that this intuition is just subconscious analyzation, but I could be wrong.


I don't see why people would disagree with you. Cooking is partly intuition, but it also depends on knowing what the hell you're doing. You don't always need a particular recipe, but good cooking--and coming up with new recipes altogether--depends on knowing what ingredients go well together, how to bring the flavor out of certain ingredients, etc.

For example, when I try making a new recipe of tea, I don't just add in random ingredients with a particular kind. I add in some based on what I figure goes well with a specific kind of tea, or with the other ingredients I'm adding in. That's based partly on intuition, but largely on a lot of prior experimentation with figuring out what spices or other ingredients play well together.

Although, Kendo raised a good point... I figure out a good starting point based on smell. But all the 'intuition' in cooking is really conscious knowledge--people just don't think about it in engineering terms. KF
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Re: Analytical Cooking... What do you think?

Postby Random832 » Mon Aug 25, 2008 1:14 pm UTC

Bakemaster wrote:The way I heard it, fatty things basically counter spicy things. The combination of beer and hot wings is not only tasty, it's logically tasty.


I'm confused... hot wings are both fatty and spicy. Beer is neither.

Pasta is a great example—there's a good reason for buying pasta shapes like ziti rigati and linguine fini, even though many people can't tell them from rigatoni and spaghetti.


And what is that reason?

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Re: Analytical Cooking... What do you think?

Postby hermaj » Mon Aug 25, 2008 1:38 pm UTC

Random832 wrote:
Pasta is a great example—there's a good reason for buying pasta shapes like ziti rigati and linguine fini, even though many people can't tell them from rigatoni and spaghetti.


And what is that reason?


This is not a professional answer, just the experience of someone that loves cooking and does it pretty well. Feel free to jump in, Bakemaster.

Basically, it's the finished textures of different pastas, and the way the various shapes suit different dishes and sauces. For example, you'll get a different experience serving pasta bolognaise with spaghetti as you would serving it with conchiglie (pasta shells) - each pasta feels distinct in your mouth, and the conchiglie can handle a larger amount of bolognaise sauce as it gets into the hollows of the pasta. Some sauces do better with fettucine or tagliatelle than spaghetti because of the flat surfaces of the former as opposed to the rounded surface of spaghetti. Also, some textures compliment dishes more so than others - I make meatballs in quite a rustic style, with chunks of celery and carrot cooked in the sauce as well as the meatballs, and I find that good solid pastas like rigatoni and penne suit the dish much better than something fine and delicate like angel hair pasta would.

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Re: Analytical Cooking... What do you think?

Postby PatrickRsGhost » Mon Aug 25, 2008 2:48 pm UTC

Although I hardly understand half of it, I've always found cooking as observed as a science to be interesting. I guess that's why I like watching Alton Brown. He tells you how to cook something, so that appeals to that part, but he explains the why of it, otherwise known as the "Science" part, so that appeals to the science geek part as well.

In many ways, cooking is science, but with much tastier (in most cases) results.

As far as applying methods from one recipe to another, I've done it several times. I use the same technique, ingredients, and method for my pot roast in the slow cooker for beef stew.

One time when I made cinnamon rolls, I did something most recipes won't tell you to do, except maybe in some well-known bakery shop, or a shop that specializes in cinnamon rolls: I allowed the dough to rise for an hour in between each step of making the rolls, from kneading the dough, to rolling it out flat (before brushing butter and then sprinkling sugar, cinnamon, and raisins on it), rolling it up like a jelly roll, and then finally after cutting the rolls, before baking them. The entire process took almost an entire day (6 hours), but the end result was some of the fluffiest, yummiest, bestestest cinnamon rolls I had ever produced, or will produce.
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Re: Analytical Cooking... What do you think?

Postby Bakemaster » Mon Aug 25, 2008 5:43 pm UTC

Random832 wrote:I'm confused... hot wings are both fatty and spicy. Beer is neither.

Sorry, it's not fat in the beer that helps, it's alcohol. Capsaicin (the thing that makes peppers spicy) is soluble in alcohol, oils, and fats, but not in water. Yes, hot wings are both fatty and spicy, and if they were only spicy, the burn would be worse.

As for the pasta shapes, in addition to what Hermaj said, the ridges in ziti rigati and linguine fini allow them to "grip" thinner sauces, like a plain marinara, much better than regular ziti and spaghetti, where you might pick up a fork full of pasta only to have most of the sauce stay in the dish. The differently-sized and shaped nooks and crannies in a pasta shape indicate the sauces that they may go best with. For instance, farfalle (bowtie pasta) is great with sauces that have capers (or similar) because the ruffles and pinched areas are the right size to keep them from all falling to the bottom.
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Re: Analytical Cooking... What do you think?

Postby parkaboy » Tue Sep 02, 2008 8:56 pm UTC

I haven't broken it down extensively but I have tried the "if a goes well with b and c goes well with b then CLEARLY a will go well with c" method. Its been ok half the time.
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Re: Analytical Cooking... What do you think?

Postby Rinsaikeru » Sat Sep 06, 2008 5:11 am UTC

I'm a huge Alton Brown fan too, and I also occasionally use the http://www.cookingforengineers.com/ website.

Usually when I cook something new, I pull about 4 recipes for it and then pick the elements of each that I like best. I prefer finding the general way it's done by reading several methods for preparation. Also, usually in cooking you can play fast and loose with method because there isn't too much chemistry involved (like there is in baking).
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Re: Analytical Cooking... What do you think?

Postby Nath » Sat Feb 21, 2009 1:34 pm UTC

This is an ancient thread, but since there's already been some semi-related discussion:

What's the difference between cheap dry pasta and expensive dry pasta? I can Google the differences in the production process, but I'm not sure how that translates to the end product. I do vary the brands I buy, and I have noticed some differences*, but I don't know how much of it is confirmation bias.

Do you find different brands mostly interchangeable? What characteristics do you look for in dry pasta? What is it about the different production processes that causes these characteristics?

*Mainly, texture. To cook cheap pastas al dente, I leave the inside a little undercooked while the outside gets a bit overdone. Pricier brands seem to be more uniform.

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Re: Analytical Cooking... What do you think?

Postby Bakemaster » Sat Feb 21, 2009 8:28 pm UTC

I generally buy Barilla. It's not very expensive but it's not as cheap as Prince. I wait for it to go on sale. Cheaper brands, I find, are more likely to fall apart while cooking and to be less firm. Which only really matters with shaped pasta, not as much with spaghetti and straight pasta.
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Re: Analytical Cooking... What do you think?

Postby Nath » Sun Feb 22, 2009 6:55 am UTC

Bakemaster wrote:Cheaper brands, I find, are more likely to fall apart while cooking and to be less firm. Which only really matters with shaped pasta, not as much with spaghetti and straight pasta.

I haven't really had problems with pasta falling apart, perhaps because I like it a bit on the undercooked side. But what about flavour -- do you think there's a detectable difference?

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Re: Analytical Cooking... What do you think?

Postby Bakemaster » Mon Feb 23, 2009 2:45 am UTC

Not that I can tell. Supermarket pastas don't have much flavor in my experience. Unless I just don't know what to distinguish as the pasta's flavor. There's a shop called Dave's Fresh Pasta in my area that sells good, flavorful pasta, but it is kind of too expensive for me to shop there.
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Re: Analytical Cooking... What do you think?

Postby itsausername » Tue Mar 03, 2009 3:55 am UTC

I took a year of cooking in college before moving out on my own (wise choice :P) and we actually were taught that the vegetables must be cut to similar surface areas so they cook properly, and that if different vegetables of different densities were used to cut them appropriately. Of course my Chef didn't use those words exactly, but the science still applies. (No one ever borrowed my notes >.>)

He also taught us about the capsaicin and milk/fat/alcohol thing, and the chemical/biological reactions in cheese and yoghurt and other foods. And why the enzymes in green veggies turn gross with the lid on (the gas gets trapped and turns it brown, not good to look at, acids have a similar effect). I had a ton of fun in that class :) I would also never say that intuition had nothing to do with food though! It has to have some love in it to be truly tasty :)

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Re: Analytical Cooking... What do you think?

Postby Jinx » Tue Mar 03, 2009 5:58 am UTC

Nath wrote:This is an ancient thread, but since there's already been some semi-related discussion:

What's the difference between cheap dry pasta and expensive dry pasta?...

*Mainly, texture. To cook cheap pastas al dente, I leave the inside a little undercooked while the outside gets a bit overdone. Pricier brands seem to be more uniform.

Oh, oh, i know!

I actually learned this one from a trip one of our classes took to a grocery vendor. You're pretty close: in a loose quote of what he said, basically your more expensive dried pastas tend to be more forgiving if you err on the side of overcooking. Your cheaper stuff will generally be mushier, but the pricier stuff won't be ruined *quite* as easily.

I say if you have a brand you're familiar with cooking, and tastes good to you, stick with it. You really won't get much difference, otherwise.

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Re: Analytical Cooking... What do you think?

Postby aetherealize » Fri Mar 06, 2009 7:03 am UTC

I try to use this analytical cooking concept, to one degree or another, in all of my cooking. Of course, depending on how gung ho you are, you'll need some gear. I find my thermometer and scale to be valuable tools in the kitchen.
My first analytical experience:
My friend got me some gourmet coffee. When I used the proportions on the bag, I found it to be much too watery for my tastes. I experimented with different water/coffee/cream/sugar ratios over the next couple of weeks, and kept track of the data. Eventually, I made the perfect cup of coffee.
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Re: Analytical Cooking... What do you think?

Postby mercutio_stencil » Fri Feb 12, 2010 11:52 pm UTC

Bakemaster wrote:
Random832 wrote:I'm confused... hot wings are both fatty and spicy. Beer is neither.

Sorry, it's not fat in the beer that helps, it's alcohol. Capsaicin (the thing that makes peppers spicy) is soluble in alcohol, oils, and fats, but not in water. Yes, hot wings are both fatty and spicy, and if they were only spicy, the burn would be worse.


I didn't know beer had fat. It's not the alcohol either, capsaicin is only moderately more soluble in alcohol than water. The real reason beer works, or water, or most of the other cures, is the mix of sensations simple overwhelm the trigeminal nerve. The Trigeminal nerve is the one that pretty much lets you feel your mouth, and the carbon dioxide in beer triggers it strongly. Chips even work, but to a lesser degree, the crunchy texture is enough to distract your nerve from the pain.

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Re: Analytical Cooking... What do you think?

Postby voidPtr » Sat Feb 13, 2010 7:22 pm UTC

The whole wings and beer argument...

I didn't exactly do a researched thesis on this topic , but it strikes me that rather than the two being perfect scientifically matched foods that managed to be united with their lost other half in some dingy pub, there's a more reasonable conjecture.

Wings, before they became popular as bar food, were fatty by-products from the more desirable parts of a chicken. Chili in British/North American cuisine used to be (and in may ways, still is) a machismo thing rather than a flavour enhancer, and of course, the burning sensation makes people drink more.

Cheap, salty, fatty food that makes people drink more combined with a touch of machismo made a perfect bar snack (I don't know the price these days, but it wasn't too log ago when bars had a dozen wings for a dollar with a beverage purchase). Voila, the combination of beer and wings is cemented in our minds forever.

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Re: Analytical Cooking... What do you think?

Postby Bakemaster » Sat Feb 13, 2010 11:19 pm UTC

mercutio_stencil wrote:
Mr. Bakerstein wrote:
Random832 wrote:I'm confused... hot wings are both fatty and spicy. Beer is neither.

Sorry, it's not fat in the beer that helps, it's alcohol. Capsaicin (the thing that makes peppers spicy) is soluble in alcohol, oils, and fats, but not in water. Yes, hot wings are both fatty and spicy, and if they were only spicy, the burn would be worse.

I didn't know beer had fat. It's not the alcohol either, capsaicin is only moderately more soluble in alcohol than water. The real reason beer works, or water, or most of the other cures, is the mix of sensations simple overwhelm the trigeminal nerve. The Trigeminal nerve is the one that pretty much lets you feel your mouth, and the carbon dioxide in beer triggers it strongly. Chips even work, but to a lesser degree, the crunchy texture is enough to distract your nerve from the pain.

Beer doesn't have fat, just alcohol. I don't think it's quite accurate to say that "capsaicin is only moderately more soluble in alcohol than water" as it's downright *insoluble* in cold water. And if you've ever tried cold water, you might have noticed that after you've taken a drink and swallowed, it stops providing any relief at all—and it actually spreads the burn all around your mouth and throat, which can make things worse. But it is true that most beers are too low in alcohol content to be particularly effective. I didn't know about this nervous system stuff, that's very interesting.
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Re: Analytical Cooking... What do you think?

Postby PAstrychef » Mon Feb 15, 2010 3:09 am UTC

Using an analytical approach to cooking is the basis of being a real cook. You can follow recipes all you like, but you have to be able to look at a bunch of ingredients and know both what you want from them and how to get it all by yourself before I think you can say you know cooking.
The difference between a line cook and a chef is not just time in the kitchen-a chef is thinking about the food, playing with its attributes and seeing what techniques she can use to bring out some and transform others. A line cook revels in seeing how many plates they can push out, all properly cooked, in the tightest amount of time.
So looking at a dish and trying to break down how it was made is a great way to approach cooking.
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Re: Analytical Cooking... What do you think?

Postby BlueNight » Mon Feb 15, 2010 6:22 pm UTC

I've attempted analyses of tastes and compositions. Here are my results:

Tomatoes, eggs, and vinegar taste good together in combination. This includes mayonnaise and ketchup on meats, salads containing eggs and tomatoes (vinegar dressing optional), diced tomatoes in omelettes, hardboiled eggs dipped in ketchup, tomato slices in tuna fish sandwiches, and salsa on fried eggs.

There exists a pasta-soup continuum, which includes soup, pasta in soup, and sauces on pasta.

Foods have a primary shaping ingredient. For sandwiches and wraps, it's the bread. Casseroles are shaped like their pans, and hold a brick-like form, as do breads and bread slices. For pasta, the shape is usually a pile held loosely together by gravity. (This is also true of drinks.)
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Re: Analytical Cooking... What do you think?

Postby mercutio_stencil » Sat Feb 20, 2010 6:23 pm UTC

Bakemaster wrote:
mercutio_stencil wrote:
Mr. Bakerstein wrote:
Random832 wrote:I'm confused... hot wings are both fatty and spicy. Beer is neither.

Sorry, it's not fat in the beer that helps, it's alcohol. Capsaicin (the thing that makes peppers spicy) is soluble in alcohol, oils, and fats, but not in water. Yes, hot wings are both fatty and spicy, and if they were only spicy, the burn would be worse.

I didn't know beer had fat. It's not the alcohol either, capsaicin is only moderately more soluble in alcohol than water. The real reason beer works, or water, or most of the other cures, is the mix of sensations simple overwhelm the trigeminal nerve. The Trigeminal nerve is the one that pretty much lets you feel your mouth, and the carbon dioxide in beer triggers it strongly. Chips even work, but to a lesser degree, the crunchy texture is enough to distract your nerve from the pain.

Beer doesn't have fat, just alcohol. I don't think it's quite accurate to say that "capsaicin is only moderately more soluble in alcohol than water" as it's downright *insoluble* in cold water. And if you've ever tried cold water, you might have noticed that after you've taken a drink and swallowed, it stops providing any relief at all—and it actually spreads the burn all around your mouth and throat, which can make things worse. But it is true that most beers are too low in alcohol content to be particularly effective. I didn't know about this nervous system stuff, that's very interesting.


Now that's a bit of a peeve of mine. If Capsaicin really is insoluble in cold water (Which it is)
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Think about what happens when you mix oil and water, the oil beads up into tiny little spheres so as to minimize contact with the water. The same thing should happen with water and capsaicin, not this whole 'spreading out' thing.

Regardless, by the time you feel the pain, it's binding to receptors on your tongue, and the damage has been done.

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Re: Analytical Cooking... What do you think?

Postby Bakemaster » Sat Feb 20, 2010 10:41 pm UTC

Oil is insoluble in water. Put a bit of oil in the bottom of a jar. Add a cup of water and swish it around a bit. Is there now oil on the sides of the jar? Q.E.D.
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Re: Analytical Cooking... What do you think?

Postby Sprocket » Mon Nov 22, 2010 5:36 pm UTC

I just found this blog. It's purty teh sex.
bonding with food…the chemistry of delicious!
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Lagbert
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Re: Analytical Cooking... What do you think?

Postby Lagbert » Thu Jan 20, 2011 4:14 am UTC

I totally agree with applying engineering knowledge to food preparation. Metallurgical concepts applied to confections yield excellent results. For example, the texture of fudge is controlled by how fast you cool it just like heat treating and or annealing steel.

I made my first from scratch angle food cake a few months ago. In doing so I learned the acid (baking powder) and the sugar added to the egg whites create the chemical reactions that cause the eggs to foam and peak when beaten. I have since applied this information to waffle making with excellent results. By using eggs whites instead of eggs and beating them with butter milk and sugar until they peak and then folding in the rest of the ingredients, a superior light and fluffy waffle with a crispy exterior is born.

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Telchar
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Re: Analytical Cooking... What do you think?

Postby Telchar » Thu Jan 20, 2011 5:44 pm UTC

I've found most carbonated drinks only exacerbate the "hot" flavor. My guess is it's the acid but my limited chemistry background prevents me from figuring it out.
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