jeudi 20 février 2014

Again, questions and answers, and again, a confusion between science and cooking !

Today, I received a long questionary from an English student, and I took some time to answer (primarily for the first questions; then I missed time).

Here it is :

  1. How would you explain the term ‘molecular gastronomy ‘to high school students who have no background knowledge of the term?
First molecular gastronomy is a part of sciences of nature. Which means that we are trying to make scientific discoveries, such as oxygen, inertia, quantum mechanics, or Higgs boson.
Of course, in the case of molecular gastronomy, there is no hope to discover the Higgs boson, because we are focusing on an energy scale which is between van der Waals forces and 400 °C (OK, this should be in terms of joules, but it is because I want to explain, as you said “for student”).
What can we discover ? For example, when we study carrot stocks, we are focusing on the particular mechanisms through which plant tissues can exchange with their environment, when cell walls are disrupted.
More generally, in this direction, I am interested on how compounds are exchanged between colloidal systems and their environment. Are there classes of exchanges ? How to compare them ?
Or, in another research line, I am interested in how chemical compounds present in food are changed during culinary processes, in particular in aqueous medium at 100°C for long times (hours). Indeed, this is a big issue, as food thermally treated has its inside at 100 °C maximum, and cooking times can be long. Imagine that organic compounds are transformed into others: this would be organic chemistry in water, from edible compounds, i.e. more or less “green chemistry”.
Finally, you see: in this field, no cooking ! Only physical chemistry, and the more fundamental the better (for me).
Of course there are many other possibilities. As I showed that cooking has technical, art and social component, studies can be done in these three fields.

  1. What are your thoughts of using molecular gastronomy as a teaching tool for high school students?
Indeed it was always my idea that cooking should not be taught as recipes, as recipes make the cook like a machine. I proposed to reintroduce culinary lessons at school, but only in relationship with science, and with knowledge in particular. For example, in France children at school learn how to make liters and liters of whipped egg white from only one egg white. The world record, to my knowledge, is 40 liters.
There are many benefits in having molecular gastronomy (under this name, or not named) in the educational system, at any level, from school up to university. In particular, people can cook. Then they can be happy to learn science and other matters... because they can see how useful it is. Then they can learn the difference between technique, technology, science, art...

  1. Do you think learning chemistry through contextual learning is more beneficial than just learning by writing facts and theories?
Yes I do think so, and this tested idea is at the foundation of a modification of the curriculum in France, again.
But about teaching, I am very cautious, because the best educational method can be bad when poorly used, whereas the worst method can become wonderful in wonderful hands. Indeed, teaching is technique, art, and social link (a very long story that I cannot develop here).

  1. What are the benefits of understanding the basics of chemistry?
All your life includes chemistry, or more precisely the result of chemistry : cosmetics, drugs, food, painting, varnishes... If some people fear pesticides, this is because they don't understand what compounds are. And they don't understand that grilling meat is making more more dangerous compounds than pesticides! You cannot vote for laws if you don't understand chemistry, at the XXIrst century. But again, this could make a whole chapter!
  1. Is molecular gastronomy completely safe for your health? How would you explain this to people who don’t have background knowledge in molecular gastronomy and simply overlook it as unhealthy/unsafe?
Here I see that you confuse molecular gastronomy and molecular cooking. Please see the text about that. Science is safe for your health, because it is knowledge, not food !
About molecular cooking (not molecular gastronomy), if people fear it, it's because they don't know the definition of molecular cooking : cooking with new tools.
But now there is a new chapter in the history: note by note cooking. And them people will perhaps fear it. Please look at the text about note by note cooking, in order to see :
-why people will fear it
- why I don't care about people fearing it (they will need it!).

  1. Are molecular gastronomy foods something that young children could consume?
“Molecular gastronomy food “ cannot exist ! Remember that molecular gastronomy is science, not food !
If you discuss molecular cooking dishes, then it depends on what it contains. Please never fall in generalities. For example, do you know that children should not eat “saucisson”, because of nitrites ?
And this is traditional food. Not molecular cooking.
By the way, why don't you ask also “are traditional food something that young children could consume?” ;-)
  1. Can pure compounds be produced and eaten in molecular gastronomy recipes?
Again, no molecular gastronomy recipes. You probably think of note by note cooking. The book in English about this will be published in NYC in October.

  1. What are some prime examples of molecular gastronomy recipes that utilise the changing of states of matter?
The same as for traditional food. When you make a gel, there is a transformation. When fat melts, there is a liquefaction, etc. Just look at a culinary book.
  1. What are some examples of catalysts in molecular gastronomy? How do they work?
Again, the confusion. But if you consider molecular cooking, it is the same as for traditional cooking. But for note by note cooking, there will be possibilities of many advances in this regard.

  1. Could endothermic and exothermic reactions be explained to young children through molecular gastronomy? What are some examples of these reactions within food?
Of course, but there, I would need more time than I have now.

  1. Can we use molecular gastronomy to explain the different tastes of foods e.g. acids/bases? What are some foods that can be explained through their PH levels?
Yes. There are many. Please see my podcasted courses on AgroParisTech, and my various books. Sorrry, most of it is in French.

  1. What are some very simple reactions that can be explained to high school students through food? For example reactions that a student would be able to write out the formula and identify the product and reactant.
I feel that I can explain any reaction to anybody. The question is how deep?
  1. Is Stoichiometry important in molecular gastronomy? What are some examples of stoichiometry in molecular gastronomy?

  1. How could the chemical calculation of concentration be taught through Molecular Gastronomy?
If you look to the “Cours en ligne” of AgroParisTech, in the part “physical chemistry for formulation” or in the FIPDes part, you will see many courses in English, at the university level. The same content could be taucht in high schools.

  1. What are some examples of precipitation reactions within foods/molecular cuisine?
Same as before

  1. What types of reactions are most common in molecular gastronomy? What are some examples of these?
Same as before

  1. Are gels classified as a solid or liquid why? How would you explain this to young students?
About gels, look to my AgroParisTech course en ligne, as said above.

  1. What are some examples where acids and bases are manipulated in molecular gastronomy?
  2. What are some simple kitchen myths that have been proven wrong? What method was used to prove these myths as false?
Please see my article “Comparative molecular gastromy” in the Japanese Journal of Cookery science.

  1. How does different PH levels effect food?
Same as before

  1. Can hydrated compounds be explained through the dehydration of food?
Sorry but I don't understand the question

  1. Can the molecular formula be determined for food? e.g. what is the molecular formula of a strawberry? How is it found?
I don't understand the question. Do you mean DSF ? If so, did you the courses about that, and the articles ?

  1. What is chemically happening in the process of spherfication?
See articles on that.

  1. When maltodextin is added to fat, what is chemically happening?
Everywhere on the net.

  1. What properties of soy lectin, xanthan Gum and sodium citrate that make them emulsifiers?
Again, see my courses.

  1. How does Agar Agar gell work/ why does it have the properties it has?
Everywhere on the net

  1. How does sodium Alginate gell work/ why does it have the properties it has?
Everywhere on the net

  1. What are the most interesting chemicals have you worked with/ studied through molecular gastronomy? What is it that you found interesting?
Water ! If protons are labile (as seen with NMR, it means that the “are not” in the molecule, so that the H2O molecule does not exist, as a fixed unit. This is one very interesting and simple case, let's say prototype, for many other ideas in physical chemistry.

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