Collaborations between cooks and chemists push the boundaries of taste

Note to journalists: Please report that this research was presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society.

NEW ORLEANS, April 8, 2013 — After walking hand-in-hand as partners for centuries, cooking and chemistry now are sprinting ahead in a collaboration that is producing new taste sensations and unimaginable delights for the palate. That’s the word from a renowned expert on chemistry and cooking who spoke here today at the 245th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society.

“Modernist or experimental cooking is the interface between the kitchen and the laboratory,” said Harold McGee, Ph.D. “It is a partnership in which chefs collaborate with chemists, food scientists and sensory psychologists to produce new culinary experiences, as well as to understand and refine the appeal of traditional foods.” Imagine fruit juices transformed into powders or solid morsels that pop in the mouth like caviar, innovations like cocoa made into a jelly or tomato ketchup ice cream, and unconventional parings like coriander and strawberries based on shared aroma ingredients.

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McGee pointed out that cooking is practical chemistry, perhaps the first form of chemistry that humans explored, and the chemistry that billions of people around the world unknowingly use every day. His presentation was part of a symposium honoring Shirley O. Corriher, winner of the 2012 ACS James T. Grady-James H. Stack Award for Interpreting Chemistry for the Public.

Other presentations in the symposium included:

  • Sara J. Risch, Communicating chemistry to science writers through food
  • Kenneth Chang, What I learned about cooking as a science writer
  • Shirley O. Corriher, Touch of grace: Joys of cooking wise
  • Sally Mitchell, Ph.D.,Chemistry and cooking: A look at solution chemistry
  • Archibald Corriher, Research and editing for a food chemistry cookbook

In his talk, McGee described the evolution of the long relationship between cuisine and science, from early attempts to understand the principles of traditional cooking to modern efforts at pushing the envelope of what is possible in the kitchen. In between, scientific societies came up with new kitchen gadgets, and academic scientists figured out how to preserve foods reliably and safely in cans. McGee is author of the book On Food & Cooking: The Science & Lore of the Kitchen, now in its second edition, and has been called “the most important person alive writing about food.”

One of the oldest and most prestigious accolades in science communication, the award dates to 1955 and consists of $3,000, a gold medallion and a bronze replica of the medallion. ACS named the award for James T. Grady and James H. Stack, former managers of the ACS News Service. Publisher of the Weekly PressPac, the News Service was established in 1919, making ACS one of the first scientific societies with a dedicated function of communicating and explaining science to the public. The News Service is in the ACS Office of Public Affairs.

ACS selected Corriher for her work in bringing home the power and pleasure of chemistry through her highly popular books, articles and dynamic presentations on the chemistry of cooking. For more than 30 years, Corriher has served as an unofficial “ambassador of chemistry,” delighting readers and audiences across the country.

A biochemist by training, Corriher is the author of two highly respected books: CookWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking, winner of a James Beard Foundation award, and BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking. Cookwise is a popular “go-to” book for chemistry classes, test kitchens and home cooks across the country. Also known as a “food sleuth,” Corriher has been approached by chefs, food writers and even Julia Child to find solutions to difficult conundrums encountered in the kitchen.

She has written numerous articles for newspapers, magazines and technical journals, and has appeared many times on the television show Good Eats with Alton Brown on The Food Network. In 2001, Bon Appetit magazine named her Best Cooking Teacher of the Year. Corriher also serves on the ACS Committee on Public Relations and Communications.

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â  deconstructed coffeeâ
Collaborations between chefs and chemists make
possible dishes like this “deconstructed coffee.”