Chef Rajesh Gupta Chef instructor Culinary Academy Of india
Michael Faraday once said - “It is not enough to know the principles; one needs to know how to manipulate them”, and this phrase, in a simple essence, describes what molecular gastronomy is all about. When I first came across the term ‘molecular gastronomy’, I remember it sounding more like a science project than a culinary technique. Understanding the field by the two words - ‘molecular’ refers to the chemical composition of food, whereas ‘gastronomy’ highlights the food philosophy.
But where did molecular gastronomy come from?
It all starts with the early man. Early in the evolution of humankind, food was only a source of nutrition and energy. Cooking techniques and traditions focused on making food more palatable and digestible. As we evolved, so did our kitchens and our approach to food production. Today, chef’s and professional kitchens address more than the palatability and digestibility of food. Food has also evolved to become a social movement, and much like any arts movement, innovation and creativity are at the forefront of modern food preparation.
First coined in 1988 by Nicholas Kurti (Professor of Physics, Oxford University) and Hervé This (Physical Chemist and Cookbook Author), Molecular Gastronomy looked at studying how cooking and adding heat change the physical and chemical composition of food. A novel idea which explains the science behind basic culinary principles, and then aims at manipulating it, this new culinary style is known as molecular cooking and items cooked this way fall under the new category of molecular cuisine.
One such misconception cleared as a result of Kurti and Hervé has to do with the stickiness of pasta. Common practice claims adding oil to water before cooking the pasta prevents it from sticking together. This was proven false using molecular gastronomy. It is actually the acid component that prevents the stickiness. Oil does not mix with water, never has and it never will… but adding a few drops of acid before dropping in the pasta will ensure zero stickiness.
Popular molecular foods include miniature apples made of meat, olive oil caviar, transparent ravioli, vegetable spaghetti, instant ice cream, fruit jelly caviar and solid cocktails to name a few. But doing this is no easy task. It requires a list of specialized equipment and culinary technology such as liquid nitrogen, pipettes, edible gels, blow torches, syringes, pH meters, food dehydrators, vacuum machines and more.
The major techniques within molecular gastronomy include:
Gelification - A technique where a gelling agent is used. Common agents used to create a gel include methylcellulose, agar-agar and cappa.
Emulsification - Using emulsifiers like soy lecithin and xanthan gum creates a different textures, and is a popular way to alter the chemistry of food items.
Transglutaminase – A “meat glue” protein binder technique which is used to stick two meat surfaces together wherein these two pieces do not separate during the process of cooking.
Foam, Air and Espuma- A technique through which stabilised air bubbles are incorporated into liquids and made into a foam with the help of carbon-di-oxide and an ISI whip.
Spherification- Done using alginate and calcium-based products to make small spheres. These tiny sphere then burst with flavour when they come in contact with your tongue.
Smoking- Traditionally used as a preservation technique, now smoking is used to introduce new flavour after cooking. This is done using a smoker and flavoured wood chips.
Antigriddle- A technique of making frozen candies instantly by placing foods on to top of a freezing griddle.
It must be taken into account that molecular gastronomy does have its own set of pros and cons. On the pros side, food ingredients and dishes retain all their flavours and most techniques do not require flour. Even fried foods don’t make it into the molecular kitchen. But juicy fruits, further compressed to enhance their taste, color and texture, definitely do. The only con I can think of is the need for specialised equipment and premium, niche ingredients which can be hard to procure and use without professional training.
I’d like to conclude this piece by saying that understanding the science behind cooking, ingredient use and preparation techniques opens the doors for the chefs to be more innovative and creative with their food. This “new-ness” is an integral part of a chef’s identity, and as such, modern chefs cannot ignore this food phenomenon and learning molecular gastronomy techniques will only grow your culinary repertoire.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 BrandCai
Ankit Mathur on November 07, 2020:
Informative and nicely written
Sanjay Kasamaneni on November 04, 2020:
I am passed out of CAI from Costa Culinary. I can say CAI is very good college and also very well known Brand in Cruise Lines. I have learned a lot from CAI and I saw this Molecular Gastronomy Practical done by Akshay Sir and Rajesh Sir......really it was an eye opener. They have all the equipment and materials for this subject in the college in India no Hotel will have this type of facilities'.Students are lucky to study in CAI
Vineet Vinny on November 03, 2020:
Only college to have all molecular gastronomy and sous vide cooking equipment's and also they provide all the materials to learn this cokking.VERY GOOD BRAND CAI.