Do you ever wonder, "How does a chef use chemistry in the kitchen?" Cooking is really more of a science than an art. Chefs rely on several chemical reactions to get the food we eat to look great and taste delicious. A good chef will have a healthy understanding of chemistry that will contribute to every dish served.
- The Maillard reaction. When chefs prepare foods, such as meat, bread or onions, in certain ways, the foods develop a brown, crispy exterior. The browning is a result of the Maillard reaction, named for a chemist, Louis-Camille Maillard. The reaction is one way chefs use chemistry. Food browns when the sugars and proteins present in them combine. The browning can improve the taste of food or, in some cases, make food unappealing. Successful chefs have figured out how to use the Maillard reaction to produce food you will want to eat.
- Leavening. In elementary school, you may have done an experiment where you made a volcano erupt by mixing vinegar and baking soda. Chefs use that simple chemistry experiment in the kitchen daily to make cakes, cookies and quick breads rise. Combining a base and an acid in a recipe is known as leavening. To give foods lift, chefs add baking powder, lemon juice or cream of tartar along with baking soda to recipes.
- Emulsifying. When a chef prepares a salad dressing, he mixes oil and vinegar together. One thing the chef must overcome is the fact that oil and vinegar do not want to be mixed together. Oil is less dense than the vinegar, so it would rather sit on top of the vinegar than mix in with it. A chef uses chemistry here to emulsify the oil and vinegar and incorporate the two together. Chefs can emulsify ingredients by rapidly mixing them together, using either a blender or food processor. Some chefs prefer to add an emulsifier to the mix, which helps the oil and vinegar blend together. Common emulsifiers include egg yolks, lecithin and mayonnaise.