Molecular cooking is a relatively new trend in the culinary world. It is a type of cuisine that involves the use of science to create and manipulate flavors. This can be done by using ingredients that have been specifically designed for molecular cooking, or by using techniques that change the structure of food molecules. In this guide, we will discuss what molecular cooking is, and give you a complete tutorial on how to get started!
An In-Depth Look At Molecular Cooking
Also known as molecular gastronomy, this method of cooking takes the fundamental concepts of chemistry to create dishes that expand the traditions of normal food. It is a science as much as it is a cooking method.
It is preparing food through methods that focus on the physical and chemical reactions between food ingredients and the method they are prepared with.
The term comes from a Hungarian physicist and French chemist - Nicholas Kurti & Herve. After it caught on it was being taught in culinary schools around the globe.
Examples of molecular gastronomy are food items like pasta made from vegetables, and fruits made to taste like meats or something completely different. While molecular cooking & gastronomy is much more than these basic examples, these are some of the simplest methods.
Some more in-depth examples that you may know of are:
- Creme brulee
- Foam foods
- Ice creams
- Salad dressings
8 Common Techniques Used in Molecular Cooking/Gastronomy
- Sous Vide - This cooking technique includes low-temperature cooking that allows for a precisely controlled final product. The food cooks in a water bath with a sealed bag, meaning the food retains its moisture and flavor. This can be used to create extremely delicious final products for good cuts of meat and much more.
- Glueing - This refers to the enzyme transglutaminase, which is a protein that helps speed up other protein reactions between 2 substances or ingredients. This helps the 2 substances bind and stick to each other. This will typically be seen in foods like yogurt and tofu.
- Dehydrating - When you dehydrate a food you remove all of the moisture from the food - this is seen in foods like beef jerky and dried fruits. This practice has been around for generations, molecular gastronomists implement this method to create unique culinary dishes and experiences.
- Foaming and Emulsification - If you mix food with an emulsifier such as soy lecithin and nitrous oxide, the substances mix and turn the product into what is known as an emulsion. This is a great method for making sauces and other related ingredients.
- Carbonation - A method we are all familiar with, infusing liquids with carbon dioxide to create a fizzy experience. It adds a great texture to certain desserts and of course - beverages like soda and alcohol.
- Thickening - The thickening process uses a polysaccharide thickening agent such as xanthan gum and starches. This improves texture and is great for many dishes like soups and gumbos.
- Flash-Freezing - Exposing your food to very low temperatures with low temperatures or liquid nitrogen with enough time to just freeze the outside and preserve the inside. Other freezing methods can mess up the insides of foods because of crystal formation.
- Spherification - To sum it up, this uses an algae-derived polysaccharide that can turn foods into chewy orbs, such as tapioca pearls used in boba tea and something resembling caviar.
- Sweeteners - Sweeteners are a great way to add flavor to food without adding extra calories or sugar. They are key to certain dishes where too much could hurt the dish, and allow you to control the flavor.
- Edible Stones - Edible stones are a classic molecular gastronomy dish. They are in a category some call "culinary deception". They make for a delightful presentation because they can remain at the table setting until instructed to eat them.
Molecular Gastronomy Tools
Now we're going to go over common tools used for molecular cooking.
- Blenders - Turning your ingredients into purees. A good blender allows you to create unique ingredients to spice up your desserts and dishes.
- pH Meter - The acidity of your food matters, especially when trying to create something specific. If you are aiming for spherification, the pH level needs to sit above 3.6.
- Immersion Blender - These are fantastic for creating foams or adding gelling agents into fragile liquids.
- Smoking Gun - Adding smoke to your food adds depth and a unique flavor that is hard to achieve without a gun. You can use a variety of different materials to add an extra element to numerous dishes and drinks.
- Food Dehydrator - This allows you to dry out foods at different temperatures and incorporate new flavors & textures into your foods.
- Dry Ice - Use it for ice creams, visually appealing cocktails, or scented smoke to your dishes.
- Blow Torch - Super useful for finishing off dishes that are very temperature sensitive. You can heat up specific ingredients and portions of the dish to create an amazing dining experience.
- Gelling Agents - Not only can they be used in spherification, but you can also use them to make hot gels, foam, and more.
Every Molecular Gastronomy Technique & Method Is Different
We could write an entire book on the different techniques and methods used in molecular gastronomy. Keep in mind these have such a wide variety of applications, that it can take years to master even one of these methods. Take your time, be patient, and always be willing to learn new ways to make your dishes.
There is no "one size fits all" for molecular cooking, and it's important to learn about the science behind these techniques in order to truly understand the cooking process.
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