14 Dec 2011

The Kitchen Stories project - Interdisciplinary network of culinary claims

The text below is an attempt at drawing up a new programme/collaboration/network for exploring claims about food and cooking. Hereby, we make an effort to start a new international and interdisciplinary network to explore such claims from various angles. If you are a researcher (from any field), teacher at any level, chef or something else and find this interesting, read on and feel free to contact us. The programme is drawn out by researchers from Finland (here and here) and myself.

Is it true that you mustn't rinse, but rather brush, mushrooms? Should a steak be seared to keep the juices inside? Can you prevent fruit salad from turning brown by sprinkling it with lemon juice? Such apparently mundane questions have been source of inspiration for food geeks at least since “The Curious cook” by Harold McGee (1990) was published, but most likely much earlier. A closer analysis of such questions reveal an abundance of intriguing, surprisingly complex and unexplored questions which might be vehicles for education and even subject for research within natural and social sciences.

The world of food and cooking is full of statements on how to do things and occasionally why one should adhere to these advices. Many are rooted in tradition or are created today by us all and sometimes appear to us like modern urban stories. Some are rooted in long experience of kitchen professionals or home cooks, and some even in science. When tradition and science meet interesting things might happen. In some cases the phenomenon in question (see examples in the introduction) is well described within one field of science but is less so in another discipline, laying questions open for research. Secondly, such culinary claims, which we have termed “Kitchen stories”, provide valuable opportunities in education at various levels (see below). Thirdly, interesting questions might be revealed by laypeople, craftsmen (chefs, artisans) or even school children which in turn could end up as relevant research topics to be studied within various sciences. Finally, such kitchen stories are valuable parts of our cultural heritage and provide rich research material for scientific fields such as cultural history and sociology (see figure).

Ongoing efforts
Thus far, we have seen several efforts toward the study of such culinary claims within food science (molecular gastronomy, MG) and since publication of Curious Cook several publications do mention such claims as part of the programme of molecular gastronomy (This, 2009; Vega and Ubbink, 2008).1 Examples of scientific studies on culinary claims are research on beef stock cooking from the University of Copenhagen (Snitkjær et al., 2010; Snitkjær et al., 2011) and INRA Paris (This et al., 2004). Another example is whether it is a good idea (for the flavour of the dish) to separate the peel and seeds from the flesh before using tomatoes (Oruna-Concha et al., 2007). Even though some such claims have been studied within MG/food science we are not aware of studies starting from such claims within other disciplines such as ethnology, food history, sociology etc.2 Following up one of the examples above, one might thus ask
  • What claims about making beef stock do we find around the world?
  • Are the various versions of one claim similar or qualitatively different?
  • Do they exist in some countries/areas, being absent in others? How are they distributed geographically and in time?
  • etc.
Since producing, cooking and eating/enjoying food is among the most influential phenomena throughout human history such claims should be relevant and important questions to research. Furthermore, a large proportion of such knowledge is rooted in tradition and we are thus in a hurry to collect/record it because much of it lies in the hands and minds of people only. We should not trust that our modern, globalised and urbanised society will hand down this knowledge to the coming generations in like manner as done in past times. Also, examples exist of the potential in using such claims in various levels of education. In France efforts have been carried out in schools, such as “Ateliers expérimentaux du gout” and “Programme "Dictons et plats patrimoniaux"”.3 Also we are underway, through educational research in Finland (Västinsalo and Aksela, 2011) and Norway (Fooladi, 2010), to unveil what potential this might have in science and home economics education.

A collection of possible research topics/questions is given in the appendix. Our opinion is that this should be a dynamic and expanding list, adding new questions and perspectives along the way.

Prospects and invitation
We believe that this project might involve, perhaps even integrate, a manifold of disciplines as well as various research methodologies/paradigms. As shown in the figure, the phenomenon “culinary claims” forms the centrepiece, allowing the various disciplines to maintain their distinctive features, but also to let them meet in a common point of interest. Our goal is to build an international collection of kitchen stories and culinary claims to be developed and benefitted by researchers of different fields (a French collection exists4). We would also like to build a network for researchers, teachers, schools, practitioners and others with a common interest in this topic. Currently no funds are available, but several national applications are in. If you are interested in joining this network, let us know. At this point, we have not set any limits to who might join in, regardless of profession. Further, if you are aware of similar type of efforts, we’d be happy to learn about them.

Some collections are available on the web, e.g. http://kitchen-myths.com and they appear to be tool to raise interest of public to natural sciences. However, many such efforts often have a rather one-sided perspective in which science carries “the truth” which is used to “debunk the fallacies of tradition”. We believe in a meeting ground for both science and tradition where both can contribute to the other on more equal terms.
We do not, however, claim that such research does not exist, and would be delighted to see such research.
We are not aware of whether these efforts have been followed by educational research.

Fooladi, E. (2010). “Kitchen stories” - Assertions about food and cooking as a framework for teaching argumentation. Paper presented at the XIV IOSTE Symposium, Bled, Slovenia. www.ioste14.org/publications

McGee, H. (1990). The Curious Cook - Taking the lid off kitchen facts and fallacies. San Francisco: North Point Press.

Oruna-Concha, M. J., Methven, L., Blumenthal, H., Young, C., and Mottram, D. S. (2007). Differences in Glutamic Acid and 5'-ribonucleotide Contents Between Flesh and Pulp of Tomatoes and the Relationship with Umami Taste. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 55(14), 5776-5780.

Snitkjær, P., Frøst, M. B., Skibsted, L. H., and Risbo, J. (2010). Flavour development during beef stock reduction. Food Chemistry, 122(3), 645-655.

Snitkjær, P., Risbo, J., Skibsted, L. H., Ebeler, S., Heymann, H., Harmon, K., and Frøst, M. B. (2011). Beef stock reduction with red wine - Effects of preparation method and wine characteristics. Food Chemistry, 126(1), 183-196. doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2010.10.096

This, H. (2009). Molecular Gastronomy, a Scientific Look at Cooking. Accounts of Chemical Research, 42(5), 575-583.

This, H., Meric, R., and Cazor, A. (2004). Lavoisier and Meat Stock. Comptes Rendus Chimie, 9, 1510-1515.

Vega, C., and Ubbink, J. (2008). Molecular Gastronomy: A Food Fad or Science Supporting Innovative Cuisine? Trends in Food Science and Technology, 19(7), 372-382.

Västinsalo, J., and Aksela, M. (2011). Using kitchen stories as starting point for chemical education in high school. Paper presented at the ESERA 2011, Lyon, France.

Appendix – possible research questions/topics within the Kitchen stories framework

A list of possible research questions is collected below. We are happy to expand the list with research questions/topics suggested by collaborators or others.

Keywords: Education
  • How can kitchen stories be used as the starting point for laboratory activities?
  • Which chemical contents can be approached through kitchen stories?
  • How can kitchen stories be used as approach to teach argumentation and inquiry?
  • How students’ thinking skills can be affected when using kitchen stories as a starting point for chemical education?
  • How students’ interest towards chemistry can be affected when using kitchen stories as a starting point for chemical education?
Keywords: Chemistry, physics, food history, culinary school education/training
  • Research projects on different scientific phenomena behind selected myth such as “The actual reason for flambéing is to add the flavour of the liqueur to the foods, without adding the alcohol.”
Keywords: Ethnology, ethnography, history
  • Distribution of culinary claims by geography
  • Distribution of culinary claims in time
Keywords: Science theory, education, argumentation, epistemology, history
  • What argumentative patterns/traits can be found in kitchen stories and how do these patterns play out according to region/country, type of source, time in history etc.
  • What sort(s) of knowledge do cooking claims represent? And how does this relate to epistemic practices of culture, tradition and science?
Keywords: Communication, technology, dissemination, education
  • How can kitchen stories be collected, structured, organised (and published?) using digital/web based tools for common benefit?


  1. Please count me in on this project! I would definitely like to be part of a network of cooks and scientists investigating these questions. I have also been working with Naveen Sinha (of Harvard’s Science and Cooking course) and the fine folks at Science Fare on some ideas to tie together food, science, and education. I won’t speak for all of them, but I would guess there will be some interest.


  2. Denis Dubiard25 December, 2011

    well just been surfing the net.
    and I found you

    I am a professional chef with 30 years of experiences and practice in trends and other stuffs

    it is an interesting subject.
    I am kine in history too and explored the Moleculare cookery through the century as it is not new to modern trends of present days.

    as such evolution of human being or other Animals in ways of living and nourishing.

    an example is the values of foods or ingredients used to make Stock. like for just one example the seasoning herbal Thym and its chemical containts. or just a small Cloves, or a garlic.

    anyway why it is an important suject that one.

    I am classicaly trained but explore other subject in physics for example as such been trained to create Sauces to be tastful of all manners possible. and the laws that implicate to create such things are important to follow.

    then after many years in the fields of kitchens. I have encountered small events that sometime ruin a dish but do not ruin it like. as you creat an accident that engendered a success. (example in wine making of the most incredible failure but became a success. Champagne) ever since through the century the making of the champagne became a success after an accident in the making.

    then in science and chemistry and the obvious subject of soup making.
    in many years people reject the subject of Primordial soup from the early start of life.
    which is a bit of problem if it is dismissed totaly. as Sun our own star do have the power of cooking elements from various fields and grounds.

    like I have noticed when I am making a stock like I have pointed out to a young man which I had encountered few years ago. how facinating it can be and when you look closly at the surfaces and at the stock when it is cooked to the perfect speed you can observe and place into Abstact the Earth Atmosphere. and observe the weathe patterns, such as Cyclonic and else sometime tornadoes or etc.... depending on the speed generated.
    as well other events
    then the questions when employing seasoning are the values and the making like a stew or stock becoming in abstract a Tea. then infusion may be equal to fusion on DNA a question never answered as noone eve seen a fusion of such items we can just assumed and imagine or observe reactions like effects of Allergies.
    I think I should stop their.

    but ask a question how do we join if we are asked on the project.

  3. Denis Dubiard25 December, 2011

    a thesis of mine in study and mixing
    a different type of recipe or thesis
    an abstract placed upon laws of physic and Atomics (Mr Bohr)

    the thesis of the Consomme
    the thesis concentrate upon How can we make a Murky stock to a clear soup like a consomme.

    Murky stock been the primordial soup
    the clear well the living environment. (the abstract)

    how to make consomme?
    with minerals and techniques of cookery.

    and it is primordial in the technique once the clarification or lets put the creation of the topping (the Ozone layer)
    A small hole. should be made to allow some extractions and some addition such as the final seasoning salt and pepper which its placed upon the topping and with a laddle you poor the liquid upon the toppig to allow filtration. etc...

    many ways of doing a clarification by adding ingredients to accentuate the clarification of the murcky stock but the technique to make such a soup as to be followed imperativement or you fail the process.

    and the heat to keep the cooking process as to be observe with great details. or during cooking the topping falls or breaks, and the consomme is too cloudy can't be serve and some flavours will not be their.

    well a view after many years about 10 years and over to have combine an abstract from a real soup.
    after observing many events such Aurora's Borealis or Austrealis.
    and finding a man and some of its laws of physic's Monsieur Bohr

  4. Denis Dubiard26 December, 2011


    here are some images from casini space craft.

    an aurora from saturn!.

    as most planet do have aurora's here is a question upon cooking question.

    magnetic field Ah!
    important upon the cooking of impurities to a level that man kind have difficulties to comprehend. as impurities got to be cook to purities.
    what a magnetic field can do in the process of chemicals?

    what is the effect of a large solar oven!?
    and what is a solar Oven?

    implicaion upon the size of Sun.
    filtration by minerals and quarks with activities upon nucleus and molecular sizes of molecules!?

    do you want to know about more questions?

    onething is sure a process of cooing is on!.
    a sun can not burn without regenarating itself the chemicals and atomic way to be able to burn for a certain time it has to find its feed (in the abstract) or fuel to cary on burning or overload!.

    as sun been a mineral in activity and with magnetic activities it can not be desmissed as a living entity! part a Galaxy which could classed as a living entity!.

  5. Denis Dubiard27 December, 2011

    it seams that my Cassini comment upon the Consomme has been desmissed!.
    but then it something to look upon into detail!.
    because of how a consomme can be achieve to perfection!.

    primery rule the cloudy stock got to be cold and into clarification crush ice has to be aded. and the egg whites got to be biten to froth before adding it to the larification mix.

    a following myth which is not a myth. long time ago when making such a oup they were adding the egg shell upon the clarification to add more minerals upon it!
    (Did and done it and it works!)
    the result is as such but sadly the clerification after use can not be eaten anoungst the staff after creating the soup! the clear Potage!.

    as in many country house or places during the years the clarifications of such items from Beff in particular was recycled for feed to staff!.

    well Cassini and Saturn Aurora's not good for Science then and the thesis too!


    Humm made a mistake to interfeer with you.

  6. I'd be thrilled to participate. I'm teach history at a high school in Philadelphia, PA and am also in the process of completing a culinary degree for baking/pastry. I've already been interested in creating a class that would look at the history/science of cooking and having my students do research and gather information from their communities.

    Please let me know any more specifics about your project and about how you are hoping for people to contribute.


  7. All commenters,

    thanks for your interest. If you're interested in joining, could you please send me an e-mail at ef (at) hivolda.no and I'll include you in the mailing list.

    Erik (fooducation)


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