Food Science Facts: 5 Fascinating Findings That Will Change the Way You Cook
Food science is a fascinating field. It studies everything from the efficacy of eco-friendly PFOA and PTFE-free cookware to the use of music to enhance flavor. Although most people tend to believe food is food—after all, a fruit or vegetable always tastes like a fruit or vegetable regardless of how it’s prepared—food science shows that’s not entirely true.
Instead, the physical, chemical, and biological aspects of food and food preparation affect flavor, quality, safety, nutrition, and more. With that insight in mind, let’s take a look at five findings that will change the way you see food—and the way you cook:
1. Milk reduces spiciness
Most kinds of spiciness—such as the type you experience when eating chilies—are caused by an oil-based molecule called capsaicin. If the spice is too much, a simple way to cut it back is to drink some milk or eat some ice cream or yogurt.
All those milk-based products contain a protein called “casein.” Once ingested, the fat-heavy casein latches on to the oil-heavy capsaicin, washing away all that unpleasantness. Although most people opt to chug a bunch of water, it doesn’t do much because it lacks casein.
2. Sound affects taste
Although it may sound odd, sound affects the taste of food. Specifically, music affects your experience of what you eat. In fact, a growing number of innovative chefs are using “sonic seasoning” to tease more flavor from their dishes (or trick guests into perceiving the dishes as having more flavor).
That being said, not all sounds work. Loud sounds tend to dampen an eater’s ability to taste salty, sweet, and sour flavors. Despite these limitations, British Airways has experimented with sonic seasoning to try and enhance the dining experience of long-haul passengers.
3. Kids don’t like bitter foods for good reasons
Whether it’s candy or pineapples, kids are well known for their love of sweet-tasting foods. Of course, many are also fine with salty, sour, and umami foods. One flavor they don’t like? Bitter. Rarely are young ones running into the kitchen to grab some broccoli, dark chocolate, or arugula.
Although many parents would like to change that habit, it turns out there’s a good evolutionary reason for it. Kids’ skepticism toward bitter foods keeps them from accidentally ingesting poisons, which are often bitter. Over time, however, the gene regulating that aversion to bitter food changes. Hence, plenty of adults enjoy dark chocolate and black coffee.
4. Not all calories are made equal
It’s commonly believed that the amount of calories in a carrot, apple, slice of bread, or any other kind of food stays the same regardless of how you eat it. It doesn’t. It’s a bit more nuanced than that. In fact, raw foods deliver fewer calories to your system than cooked foods.
The reason traces back to the process of cooking. When you heat foods, it makes them easier to digest. When you sit at the table to eat the food, your body uses less energy to metabolize it all. So, on balance, your body gets more calories from cooked meals.
5. No two sourdoughs are the same
Just as no two calories are the same, no two sourdough starters are the same. Sure, both will include a mix of water, flour, and microbes that ferment over time. However, the specifics of that fermentation will vary. Even if you mix everything up in one batch, split it into two containers, and let them ferment, the resulting taste won’t be the same.
Whether you’re a newbie or an experienced chef, keep the findings above in mind to enhance your preparation and enjoyment of food.