1 Feb 2009

Has the term "Molecular gastronomy" lost it's content?

The term Molecular gastronomy has been debated quite heavily the few last years, and several prominent chefs and writers have denounced the term. What's in a name?

An interesting post on the development and applications of molecular gastronomy (MG), both as a term, but also as a phenomenon at Martin's khymos. Most of the relevant links are found in that post as well. Also, many of the comments are relevant and interesting, making the post more complete.

Has MG reached a point of matureness in the sense that it might have some real impact on peoples cooking in general? As mentioned in Martin's post, it has already to a certain extent, such as sous-vide cooking. However, some of the more spectacular applications (foams, alginate spheres etc.) combined with misuse of the term in media has resulted in the term being discredited. In my opinion, the name is not the main thing (although its ok to avoid misunderstandings and establish a common ground languagewise as well). I'll continue using the term until a better alternative gets the main foothold.

"Iberico on window pane". Photo: Naturlegvis/Erlend Krumsvik

However, I'd be somewhat surprised if we don't see more of the results from MG/research reaching a general public soon. Hopefully, some of the "less spectacular" but more "relevant" or "useful" knowledge might hit the domestic kitchens in not too long. The real test for me is: is this knowledge so relevant to the everyday citizen that I should teach this to my preservice teacher students attending our Food & health courses? A few examples from the top of my head:
  • Alginate/hydrocolloid spheres (specifically)? No
  • Sous vide cooking? Yes if the focus lies on the method rather than specialty equipment
  • Application of knowledge about maillard reactions? Yes/probably
  • Application of knowledge about umami taste? Probably
  • Dispersions in food and everyday life (two posts)? Yes
Among the more recent and interesting examples is the 2007 Mottram et al. (incl. Heston Blumenthal) article on tomato pulp being more rich on umami taste than the flesh (short RSC chemistryworld article free of charge). When dealing with tomatoes, many cookbooks and recipes tell you to remove the pulp and use the flesh of the tomato only. However, Mottram's results indicate that the pulp and seeds carry lots of wonderful umami taste, and hence it'd be a shame to throw that away. Heston Blumenthal demonstrates this in one of his BBC In search of perfection episodes, more specifically making tomato sauce in "The perfect hamburger" episode. Also, tomato sauce figures among the freely available Blumenthal BBC videos.

Many cookbook recipes might be rewritten just slightly to incorporate this knowledge, giving more flavourful dishes. Furthermore, this knowledge is something that the domestic cook might adopt rather easily. I'd be really happy to see something like this making it into the domestic kitchens around. In that case, MG (or whatever one prefers to call it) does indeed have had an impact.

References (not comprehensive)

Ubbink, J. et al.: "Molecular gastronomy: a food fad or science supporting innovative cuisine?", Trends in Food Science & Technology, 2008, 19, 372-382

Ubbink, J. et al.: "Molecular Gastronomy: A Food Fad or an Interface for Science-based Cooking?", Food Biophysics, 2008, 3, 1557-1866

Martin Lersch (khymos) on definitions of Molecular gastronomy

Kroger, M: "Editorial: What's All This We Hear about Molecular Gastronomy?", Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 2006, 5, 48 - 50.

This, H. :"Molecular gastronomy", Angewandte Chemie, 2002,
41, 83-88.

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