Microwaves: A Modern Miracle for Busy Cooks

Author: L. A. Briggs // Category: ,
Posted January 30, 2011 at 10:07 PM

I have always wondered how microwave ovens work. I’m sure many of you all have as well. How exactly does a frozen meal become steaming hot after cooking in a microwave for only five minutes when it would normally take hours for it to even that at room temperature? Why does the microwave not work when there is metal in it?

I found the answer to these questions and many more on how stuff works and eHow. Regardless, of how it works, the microwave has significantly changed the face of home cooking since it was first introduced into homes in 1967. Food can now be cooked within a few minutes rather than hours in a conventional oven. It has brought about a whole new category of food, microwaveable meals and snacks, that would not have been produced without the technology to cook it. Society has adapted to the needs of its consumers.

Many people in this day and age don’t really know how to really cook. All they really know is how to put something in the microwave, hit a button or two, and have the technology do all the work. This is why I take great pleasure in cooking homemade meals from scratch. Granted, I too use the microwave on occasion, but I do still know how to cook my own meals using more conventional methods too. Now I’m not saying it is a bad thing that people don’t or can’t cook; I’m just commenting on how technology changes the face of every day life.

This video shows an experiment that has been conducted by many people. I first saw this video in one of my classes as a fun video related to a chemical process or concept. I don’t know all of the science behind it, but the video is pretty entertaining. Please DO NOT do this at home as it is extremely dangerous, but do enjoy.

Caramel: A delicious science experiment!

Author: L. A. Briggs // Category: ,
Posted January 26, 2011 at 10:45 PM

Have you ever wondered how caramel is made? Or how you can turn simple table sugar into a gooey treat? Well, the process is actually quite simple, but there is much more going on than meets the eye.

Caramel begins with the heating of table sugar (sucrose) until the sugar turns from a white color to a golden brown color. This process is called caramelization. Sucrose has a double ring structure composed of one five-membered ring bonded to a six-membered ring. When the molecule is heated, water is released in a process called dehydration and the molecule breaks into two new sugars: glucose and fructose. As the mixture continues to heat, these new molecules react with each other and form hundreds of new ring structure compounds called aromatics, which results in a range of flavors.

There are two different types of caramelization of sugar: wet and dry. Wet involves sugar being dissolved in water and heated. As the water evaporates as the mixture is heated, the solution becomes supersaturated with sugar, which will cause the sugar to want to re-crystallize. It is very important that at this point that the mixture not be stirred or contaminated since doing so would result in the mixture quickly solidifying. On the other hand, in the dry process the sugar is heated by itself until it liquefies, which is possible because sugar is partially made up of water. This method is much more difficult since the sugar has to be heated slowly in order to melt the sugar rather than burn it, and often times special equipment is needed to create caramel this way. The most common method is the wet method.

There are many different stages that the caramelizing sugar solution goes through as it is being heated. These different stages are typically characterized by the solution’s reaction when dropped into cold water. The progression from one stage to another occurs when the temperature has exceeded the general temperature range for the current stage, upon which time the solution takes on the characteristics of the new stage. These stages progress only in one direction, meaning that progression from one stage to another is irreversible.

Following the caramelization of the sugar mixture, cream and/or butter is often added to give the caramel its creamy texture. The fat found in both cream and butter causes the molecules of sugar to be suspended in a gel-like matrix that is semi-solid. The greater the amount of fat in the mixture the softer the caramel. For harder caramel, less fat is added in order to have the mixture maintain its shape relatively easy.

The process used to get to the end product is a very simple one despite all the chemical reactions that are occurring throughout the entire process, the end result is always worth the effort. Now it is time for our mouth's to have a party with a piece of this gooey confection!

Welcome to Culinary Chemistry!

Author: L. A. Briggs // Category:
Posted January 25, 2011 at 1:29 AM

Hello and welcome to Culinary Chemistry!

These posts are aimed at providing insight into the chemistry, science and technology behind both the food itself and the tools used within the kitchen. My intention is to examine an aspect of culinary art on a nearly daily basis and to detail the science that is involved with each aspect. As am aspiring biochemical engineer, I am well versed in the language of science and food, and will hopefully be able to shed some light on the subject.

In addition to the science, I will be sharing delicious recipes that I have found in my culinary adventures over the past few years. In many cases, I will be modifying these recipes as needed to make clarifications on instructions and methods so that the recipes are easier to understand. Over the course of this blog, I will strive to seek the answers to many of the commonly wondered about topics, as well as many topics that many people may not have even wondered about.

Feel free to comment on any posts. I welcome requests about topics or questions that you would like explained or answered. Please, however, keep your comments civil. Unruly comments will be deleted.