26 Jun 2009

Culinary precisions, part 3:3. Students as "culinary mythbusters"

Among the challenges in science education are creating quality inquiry-based teaching methods as well as promoting students' argumentation skills. Both these topics might be seen as parts of what goes as "the nature of science". In this last post of three, I argue that statements about food and cooking might be an excellent starting point for learning argumentation as well as inquiry, as well as content knowledge, while dealing with real-life problems with meaningful purposes.

In part 1, I suggest that there might be a good idea to collect statements about food and cooking (culinary precisions) in an open database, whereas part 2 argues for the use of argumentation patterns in the analysis of such statements. For explanation of the term "culinary precisions", see part 1.

Background; challenges in science education

There is abundant literature, as well as political signals, that point to the need for development of fresh approaches to science education, not the least because of an alarmingly low interest in science and mathematics. Furthermore, the last years have seen a need to shift towards a science education in which "the nature of science" is taught as well as content knowledge; students at all levels should gain experience with scientific inquiry, argumentation etc. There are of course numerous ways this challenge might be taken on.

One problem when it comes to inquiry and argumentation is to find experiments, topics and investigations which are open-ended real-life problems. It's not very exciting to do "inquiry" if you know that the teacher has got the answer in his/her drawer. But what if the thing you were analysing, discussing and experimenting was a real problem? And even more, that others, such as a scientist or the general public, would be interested in the result you came up with? Such scenarios do exist (such as sustain.no, which in fact is a database), but I feel pretty confident that there is need for a range of such approaches, covering various topics.

25 Jun 2009

Culinary precisions, part 2:3. Analysing statements about food and cooking

Statements on what to do, how to do it, and occasionally why to do so, are abundant in the world of food and cooking. This is the second post of three, and deals with a rationale for analysing such statements. The third post will deal with the potential of using this for educational purposes, both in science and food disciplines.

In the first post, I wished for, and tried to give good reasons for building a database of statements on food and cooking (culinary precisions). For an introduction and definition of culinary precisions, see part 1.

The two other posts:
Culinary precision = claim
A culinary presicion is a statement about something related to food or cooking, such as
  • "sprinkle lemon juice on sliced apples/pears, and the fruit will not go brown"
  • "you should avoid piercing meat as the juice will flow out resulting in a drier piece of meat"
  • "you should cut off the ends of a roast before putting it in the oven"
  • "when canning fruit in glass jars, the jar must be stored upside down"
Some precisions contain reason(s) for why one should follow them, others give a consequence that might occur if you don't follow the advice given. During a course on argumentation in science education, I realised that culinary precisions might indeed be considered to be claims. Occasionally, these claims have some data or warrants to explain why you should follow the advice given, and sometimes they don't (first case: "if you do A, B will happen", second case: "do this"). Hence, we are in the domain of arguments.

A system for analysing statements, claims and arguments
For analysis, understanding and testing such culinary precisions, it'd be good to have some coherent system or scheme to fit it into. Argumentation theory has struggled with the analysis of claims and arguments all the way back to Aristotle (and probably earlier). However, the "traditional" (syllogistic / syllogism) way of analysing an argument does only work for a certain type of arguments, and often fail to incorporate all aspects of real-life problems and discussions. Hence, other perspectives on logical arguments have appeared. Among these is the one presented by philosopher Stephen Toulmin. The Toulmin argumentation pattern is a way of organising, analysing and visualising practical real-life arguments, and is often shown in a diagram:

Toulmin's argumentation pattern (click for larger image)

24 Jun 2009

Culinary precisions, part 1:3. Collecting statements about food and cooking

Is it really true that you shouldn't rinse, but rather brush, mushrooms? Should a steak be seared to keep the juices inside? The world of food is full of statements on how to do things, many of which are rooted in tradition. When tradition and science meet, interesting things might happen. This is the first post of three on the topic. This first part argues for an open database of such statements, including analysis. The second will deal with a rationale for analysing such statements using argumentation patterns. In the third post, I discuss the potential of using this for educational purposes, both in science and food disciplines.

The two other posts:

A short introduction for newcomers: Dealing with statements on food and cooking is among the major objectives of molecular gastronomy (MG for short, a term and field which enjoys quite a lot of debate, both in terms of its name and also because it is a field in it's infancy. There is a debate running in various channels, but discussing MG in general is not the topic in this post). As defined by Hervé This, such statements are called culinary precisions. You might just as well say "old wives' tales", "culinary proverbs", "cooking rules/advice", "know-how", "adages" or "maxims". I have no strong preferences on what words to use for this, but thus far I think "culinary precisions" does the trick and will adhere to that.

There are a few publications speaking of culinary precisions (such as these four). To my knowledge most publications are focussed on speaking of this phenomenon rather than doing a real analysis. For several reasons, this would be very interesting to follow up. I've found only one collection on the www, by Hervé This, which is in French (unfortunately I don't speak French and have to rely on automated translations). However, this collection lacks the analysis aspect.

The INRA web page of culinary precisions (English google transl.)

11 Jun 2009

Cooking pit revisited - temperature logging

Spring and summer time equals cooking pit time. This time we did some more serious temperature measurements, showing interesting results. A brief report follows...

Every May/June we take our food culture students out for some primitive cooking, ref. the previous post Primitive food, heat transfer and a day out. This time we did some more serious temperature logging with the help of Type K 4-Port Temperature Sensor connected to a Pasco datalogger.* This enabled us to monitor temperatures automatically at four different places in the cooking pit at one time:
  • inside of the pit, at the bottom
  • inside of the pit, at the top
  • inside the trout cooking
  • 10-15 cm outside the pit, ca. 25 cm deep (to monitor the heat loss through the soil)
Temperature plot. Click for large version

Most noteworthy is the temperature difference between the bottom and top, since the food and rocks are laid in layers. This is very interesting in terms of where to place food the next time we'll use this method. One might also exploit this to cook different foods in the same pit (i.e. meat and chicken or fish); place the meat at the bottom and place the fish directly on top of the meat. Also, note that the fish, being wrapped in foil, levels off at 110 °C. I guess this is due to the large water content in a closed package. Hence, this isn't the method if you aim at sous-vide type results. The flavour and texture is however still very good, not at all mushy.

This time we dug two pits
  • Pit 1: lamb's leg and potatoes, somewhat less than 3 hr cooking time
  • Pit 2: Trout and chicken, 1 hr 10 min. cooking time (see temp. plot)

Data logger with 4-port K-type sensor. More pictures in previous post

We're on our way to publish a web based teaching plan on this topic, including historical, physical science, and food related information at www.naturfag.no/mat (Norwegian national school science web pages) and www.natursekken.no. All in Norwegian (but google and babelfish make increasingly good translations). I'll post a note when it's out.

Wandsnider, L. "The Roasted and the Boiled: Food Composition and Heat Treatment with Special Emphasis on Pit-Hearth Cooking." J. Anthr. Arch. 1997, 16, 1-48. (This ref. is most relevant for indigenous American traditional pit-hearth cooking, using rather different foods. For Scandinavian prehistoric methods, see the previous post and coming teaching plan)

www.naturfag.no/mat, English translation
www.natursekken.no, English translation

* The K type thermocouples measure a range of -200 - 1000 °C! Although the probe sleeves are limited to 482 °C, this is sufficient for use inside the pit