Synthetic chemists make a living by mixing together materials in the right ratios at the right temperature for the right amount of time.
This description makes the correlation between chemistry and cooking obvious, at least for those of us who have done synthetic chemistry. For those in the greater public, there have been a few recent efforts to draw attention to this connection.
One is the recent ACS webinar “Kitchen Chemistry: Combining Chemistry and Culinary Delights for the Holiday” on December 9th.
A more mainstream example is the show “Good Eats” with Alton Brown on the Food Network.
In programs like this we see fundamental concepts like density taught through simple suggestions like measuring sugar by weight rather than volume. The video below is an example of Alton Brown loosely referencing chemistry to explain why onions make you cry, as well as techniques for preventing it.
I would have enjoyed seeing a few chemical structures in his explanation. For those who agree, here is the stepwise reaction:
While on the subject of cooking, I’d also like to explore an anecdote I’ve heard from more than one professor: when no longer doing wet work, their interest in cooking increased.
It has been six months since I made the transition from predominantly synthetic chemistry to pure spectroscopy and I can honestly say that, in spite of my wife’s greatest hopes, my disinterest in cooking remains.
Regardless, I have noticed that my knowledge of chemistry and my finely tuned stirring, pouring, measuring and other mechanical skills are helpful when I do. My experience in lab has also led to tendencies that may border on the obsessive compulsive – and I am not the only one. For example, over the years I have noticed that:
- I check the meniscus while measuring out a volume of milk.
- I wash my hands obsessively.
- After drinking a glass of orange juice, I feel the need to rinse the bottom of the glass with water and then drink the diluted solution in order to quantitatively transfer the juice to my stomach.
- After five years of washing glassware on a daily basis I absolutely loathe doing dishes.
- I have witnessed a friend (an organic chemist) finish a glass of water, pour and swirl a small amount of soda in the bottom, dump it down the sink and then fill the freshly washed glass with soda to drink.
I have no doubt that other chemists have lab-based quirks in (and out) of the kitchen. What are yours?