The science behind the art
Down To Earth|February 16, 2021
Cooking is an art, most would say. However, at its root, cooking is a form of chemical engineering, writes Krish Ashok in his recent book, Masala Lab: The Science of Indian Cooking. Understanding the science behind food preparation can arm the chef with techniques to augment flavours. Here’s a crash course on the physics and chemistry of food.
VIBHA VARSHNEY


ALDEHYDES OF CORIANDER

Some people do not like to garnish their food with chopped coriander leaves—this is because aldehydes in the herb taste like soap to those with certain sensitive genes. However, such people can consume coriander chutneys because enzymatic reactions break down the problematic chemical during preparation. This shows that keeping one aspect of the ingredient front and centre can sometimes make the dish unpalatable. One way to overcome this is ensuring its ingredients are not individually detectable but are rather enhanced as a whole with seasoning. For example, a pinch of salt can enhance the sweetness of kheer and mute the sourness of raita. Perhaps this is why humans consume salt in almost every dish. However, processed food manufacturers avoid iodised salt because it leaves a metallic taste when cooked at high temperatures. For such dishes, pink or black salt should be used.

SALT WATER FOR SOFT, FLAVOURFUL MEAT

The secret to cooking meat well is to keep it soft. For this, the best way is to let it sit in saltwater for some time. This prevents the loss of water from the muscle. Spices can also be added to the brine to infuse more flavour. This is a better way of tenderising the meat than marination, as the latter merely forms a layer of flavour over the tissue. The second step is to cook the meat at temperatures well below the boiling point (below 65 o C), to ensure that the proteins bind loosely and retain moisture.

DAMAGED WHEAT PROTEIN KEY TO SOFT ROTIS

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