Raw fish-based dishes, like sushi and ceviche, are quite popular. With home cooks becoming more adventurous and preparing these dishes in their own kitchens, it’s important to know the answer to the question: Is raw fish actually safe to eat? And if so, when? Not to dissuade you from consuming raw fish, but Harold McGee said it best when he wrote: “All uncooked fresh fish pose the risk of carrying a number of microbes and parasites that can cause food poisoning or infection.
It’s really tempting to reduce the sugar in a cake recipe. The average vanilla layer cake recipe is made with at least one cup of granulated sugar. A whole cup of sugar to make two layers of vanilla cake does seem like a lot, but that sugar does more than just sweeten the cake layers. Here are the most important ways sugar impacts your cakes.
Yeast — whether from packets, jars, or cakes sold at stores, or even from a starter you’ve prepared at home — is essential to bread making. And yes, it is alive, even if it is sold dried. Yeasts are small, single-celled organisms that feed off of simple sugars, breaking them down into carbon dioxide, alcohol (ethanol, specifically), flavor molecules, and energy. The process is referred to as fermentation.
Ever notice that some fatty foods reheated in the microwave seem to heat up much faster and hotter than other foods? What gives? Recall that microwaves act mainly on water in food, causing the water molecules to vibrate and rotate, which heats up your food. Microwaves also affect fats and sugars, but to a much lesser extent than water. So fats should actually take longer to heat up because they are less affected by microwave radiation.
I’m pretty sure that Pop Rocks ranked quite high as one of the most entertaining candies of your childhood. A fizzy, popping feeling of tiny bubbles exploding, accompanied by their signature crackling sound when they hit your tongue – even your friends could hear them pop and fizz every time you opened your mouth. But where does the “pop” in Pop Rocks come from?
Remember when it seemed like just about everyone was sharing videos of bottled soda eruptions caused by Mentos candy? Even David Letterman featured it at some point — he had guests come on the show to set off 122 bottles of Diet Coke on a street in New York City. There was a lot of hype over this phenomenon, but few discussed why a bottle of soda erupts when you drop a Mentos candy in it. Let’s look at the science behind the Mentos-soda geyser.
Besides the obvious fruit and sugar, most jam recipes also include lemon juice in the list of ingredients. That lemon juice isn’t just there for flavor; it actually plays a very important role. Here’s why we have to add lemon juice when we make jam. I know, I’ve said that before, haven’t I? But in food science, pH plays a key role, so it really is a matter of pH when you are making jam.
There are times when you decide to buy buttermilk, and then there are times when you just don’t feel like committing to purchasing a whole quart when your recipe only calls for half a cup. You opt to make it at home — by adding vinegar to milk — but it never gets quite as thick as the buttermilk you buy at the grocery store. If you’ve ever questioned whether or not this shortcut makes a difference, here’s what you need to know.
A commonly used homemade substitute for buttermilk is made by mixing an acid with milk (usually a tablespoon of vinegar for every cup of milk). When you’ve done this at home, you’ve probably noticed that the milk curdles and becomes lumpy over time. If you’ve ever wondered why acids curdle milk, I’ve got the answer.
Whether you eat the in-flight meal or pack your own favorite snacks, food tastes pretty bland when you munch on it at 10,000 feet. Here’s why. The science of taste and smell is complex, but in general, both senses require humidity to function optimally, and those senses are key to your eating experience. Depending on the flight’s altitude, the humidity levels can drop below 15 percent, which is less humid than a desert.
It seems like such a hassle when a recipe calls for buttering (or greasing) and then flouring a cake pan. And when the author also mentions lining the pan with parchment, that’s yet another step to add to the list of things that need to be done to get that cake in the oven. Are all these precautions really necessary? In short, whether or not you have to grease (or grease and flour) your cake pan really depends on the recipe you are making.
Most of us get away with making meringues and egg white foams in clean, stainless steel bowls, yet chefs insist copper is better, and have done so for hundreds of years. Is there a scientific reason behind using copper bowls to whip egg whites? As you beat those whites, the whipping action of your whisk forces the tangled and tightly clumped proteins in the egg whites to unfold and loosen up from each other.
There are those home cooks and chefs that insist on brining before cooking a big roast chicken, turkey, and other meats, and then there are those who don’t bother because they think it’s not worth the extra steps and hassle. But what does brining a piece of meat actually do? Brine is a salt solution made by mixing salt and water, usually about 5 to 8 percent salt by weight.
Honey is one of those ingredients that nearly all of us consider a pantry staple. We use it liberally to sweeten anything from a cup of tea to a dressing for a chicken rice bowl. Bees play a crucial role in making honey, including an enzyme-catalyzed chemical reaction, so let’s explore how bees transform nectar into honey. Flowers produce a sweet nectar to attract pollinating insects, such as honey bees.
Salt is an essential ingredient in both cooking and baking, added to enhance tastes, suppress bitterness, and preserve foods. Most recipes call for table salt, while others recommend sea salt, but is there actually a difference between the two? Yes, you read that right. All salt is sodium chloride (NaCl), and it all comes from seawater — even table salt. Table salt is typically mined from salt deposits, remnants of older bodies of seawater that have since dried up and are long gone.
Most of us are addicted to caffeine. We drink it every morning out of habit, but also to give us a much-needed boost to get us going or to help us face the day. Caffeine is a stimulant targeting the central nervous system and it does a really good job of combating drowsiness and helping us feel more awake. However, past a certain time in the day, many of us avoid caffeine for fear it may lead to a sleepless, restless night, so we turn to decaf.
Gluten is a word in action these days, popping up on labels at the grocery store, in the news, and all over the Internet. Many of us have even chosen to eliminate gluten from our diets — but I have to ask: Do you really know what gluten is? Here’s a guide to the science of gluten and what that little word actually means. A bread dough that is just mixed, and that you haven’t kneaded at all, looks completely different after you’ve slaved over it for 10 minutes.
There is so much controversy surrounding genetic modification of foods, from where the genes come from, to whether the genetic modifications can be transferred to other organisms, to whether producers should label genetically modified foods to alert consumers, and so on. Controversy aside, I think it’s important to understand the science behind genetic modification of foods, starting with one of the latest milestones: An apple that doesn’t brown.
We’ve all come across those incredible soda commercials on television and in magazines, where the ice cubes are perfectly and completely clear in a pristine glass of ice-cold fizzy pop, but at home, it seems next to impossible to make perfectly clear ice. Here’s chemistry’s answer to why your ice usually freezes cloudy, not clear.
Most of us have more than one baking sheet, and probably almost none of them match because we tend to build up our arsenal of bakeware over the course of several years. They come in varying shades of silver, gray, and even black, which can be confusing when you want to bake a sheet cake or roast a pan of Brussels sprouts. When should you opt for a lighter or a darker pan, and why?
Are you making a traditional lasagna filled with layers of creamy béchamel? Maybe you are cooking a quick beef and Chinese broccoli stir-fry for dinner with a sauce that’s loaded with ginger and garlic? Or perhaps you’re considering making a sweet, thick vanilla pastry cream to fill a fruit tart this weekend? In most cases, the secret to a thick sauce (or filling) that coats food evenly is starch, whether plain flour, cornstarch, tapioca starch, or even arrowroot starch.
There’s nothing better than a homemade tomato sauce, but nothing worse than having to clean splashes of tomato off the backsplash or the wall behind the stove. So, what makes tomato sauce so explosive? Tomato sauce is a thick fruit mixture made up of water and also chunks of crushed tomato fruit and/or purée with all the natural sugars, acids, fiber, pectin, etc. from the fruit.
Microwave ovens seem almost magical because they can heat leftovers in just a couple of minutes (in seconds, even), when a conventional oven would take 20 minutes or more. But the technology that goes into microwave ovens isn’t actually magic, but science, practically applied and intelligently designed. Here’s how they work. The microwave oven is made from a few key pieces: Transformer: This converts the electricity from the wall socket to a higher voltage.
It seems like just about every baking recipe includes the line “Preheat the oven to 350ºF.” But what makes that temperature so special, in baking? What’s happening at 350°F, scientifically speaking — and is it really a one-size-fits-all temperature for your baked goods? Let’s heat up the oven and find out. Baking at 350ºF seems to be more of a convention and a default than anything else.
Induction cooking, although not so new anymore, is one of those things that still seems to intimidate a lot of home cooks. If you’re in the market for a new range, you may shy away from one with an induction cooktop because you’re not exactly sure how it works or whether or not your current collection of pots and pans will be compatible. The truth is, it’s not all that complicated! And if your pots and pans are magnetic, you can keep using them.
Baking a lasagna? A pie? A roast? When you are choosing a pan to bake or roast your food, the pan you reach for shouldn’t just be the first one you can grab, regardless of the material, because some materials great for certain situations and terrible for others. Most of us gravitate towards metal baking sheets when we are baking a batch of cookies, but glass dishes for lasagnas and casseroles.
Have you ever heard that alcohol doesn’t freeze, and wondered why? Well, it’s actually a common misconception that alcohol doesn’t freeze. Alcohol does freeze, just not at the temperatures that home freezers are kept at. Here’s what it takes to freeze alcohol solid. Ethanol, the alcohol found in beer, wine, and liquors, has a melting point of -114ºC (-173ºF).