Kitchen Chemistry

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Fine cooking has been an art form for centuries, lorded over by temperamental chefs and marked by an ever-shifting palate of tastes, but it turns out it’s a hard science, too. Whether it’s silky hollandaise sauce you’re after, or perfectly roasted pork, a smattering of high school chemistry and physics can make you the Madame Curie of Cuisine.

Cooking isn’t just about new flavor combinations and eye-catching presentation; it’s also about heat, protein structure, acid-base reactions. It turns out you CAN overcook water for tea, and it’s probably because the water becomes less acidic the more you boil it. If your cakes fall flat, you might be tempted to add more leavening, but a chemist would tell you that could be just the WRONG thing to do. A little science can explain why onions make you cry, how to cook cabbage without the sulphury smell, or why over-steamed green beans turn brown.
(Hosted by Christopher Lydon)


Chris Kimball, editor in chief of “Cooks Illustrated.”