The Science of Cooking

Published on March 8, 2023 | Updated on July 17, 2024 | by Allen Bixby

Exploring the science of cooking, from how heat affects food to why salt makes things taste better.

If you’re a foodie, you know that there’s more to cooking than just throwing some ingredients together and a meal is made. There is an artistic aspect, along with a science to it -and we’re not just talking about following a recipe.  Whether you’re a seasoned chef or just getting started in the kitchen, understanding the science behind cooking can help you create amazing dishes that will impress your friends and family.

What is the science of cooking?

Scientist Checking food

The science of cooking combines knowledge from science, technology, and culinary arts to ensure both creative and delicious results. Chefs use cooking science to manipulate food molecules that form final dishes. Culinary schools teach courses about the science of cooking which offers valuable insight for chefs and aspiring cooks alike. Whether you know it or not, most of what happens in the kitchen is a result of science, and we are not talking about the science ‘experiment’ sitting for a couple moths in the back corner of your fridge in some Tupperware.

Knowing the science behind the culinary process helps you unlock a world of possibilities when it comes to flavor experimentation and recipe creation!

How can science help you in the kitchen?

Girls checking biochemical reactions in food

Understanding the science of cooking can revolutionize how you approach cooking in the kitchen.

It will both help make cooking easier, and also give you the knowledge that there is a reason why certain methods work better than others. This will go beyond knowing the types of cooking techniques and into what foods pair best together and what are the biochemical reactions of food when exposed to different cooking temperatures. Once applied in your cooking, these same concepts taught by culinary schools and chefs alike, will solidify your foundation for creating each remarkable dish with confidence.

Common techniques used by chefs and restaurants based on science

Chef cooking at resturant

Chefs and restaurants are right now using scientific techniques to unlock the full potential of the ingredients they work with.

Techniques such as sous vide, deglazing, emulsifying, and modernist cuisine all have their roots in food science, providing simple yet powerful tools for creating great tasting dishes.

Sous vide is a popular form of slow-cooking that helps to retain flavor through the use of precise temperatures over specific period of time.

Deglazing uses liquid to dissolve and release the browned bits of meat or vegetables left on a pan so that they can stay in the dish for maximum flavors. Emulsifying combines fat and liquids together to create stable results like mayonnaise or hollandaise sauce. By introducing air particles suspended in a mixture through whisking or blending, you create lighter dishes and sauces.

Modernist cuisine uses tools like high-pressure infusion cooks or liquid nitrogen to prepare food using methods not used in traditional cooking.

Learning these techniques provide chefs with an additional edge when it comes to crafting delicious meals, and you can use them at home as well. See more on how you can experiment with various chemical reactions when cooking to bring more flavor into your everyday home cooking.

What topics are taught in culinary school that relate to the science of cooking?

Girls cooking at culinary school

Good culinary schools will provide aspiring chefs with a comprehensive education in the art and science of cooking.

A major focus is on the science that underlies classic and modern techniques, enabling them to produce delicious and aesthetically pleasing dishes. This includes understanding of ingredients’ physical and chemical properties in order to maximize flavor, texture, color, seasoning, and presentation. They learn how different cooking processes work, studying topics like the Maillard Reaction and why food browns when heat is applied.

They become adept at using equipment including ovens, pots and pans, knives, mixers, blenders and more, many of which are putting the science into action. In addition to these practical skills, they learn the artistic side and an appreciation for flavors combinations, often from cultural diversity, through their studies of regional cuisines around the world.

Using the ‘science of cooking’ to improve your own cooking skills at home?

Girl cooking at home

Home cooks have much to gain from understanding the science behind cooking.

After all, culinary schools and experienced chefs use scientific principles to create delectable dishes, so why should you miss out on this type of knowledge? A little bit of science knowledge explains how heat transfer with techniques such as sautéing, caramelizing, and deep frying, all make such tasty food.

With the right background information and a good understanding of basic kitchen chemistry, even novice cooks can learn how simple adjustments to technique or subtle changes in ingredients or processes can make all the difference in their cooking. Unlocking the secrets of the science of cooking will show home chefs that they don’t need a professional kitchen or elaborate recipes to make delicious meals.

Our message to you

Learning the science of cooking will greatly improve your cooking repertoire.

Whether you’re aiming to become a Restaurant Chef or just want to upgrade your home kitchen game, understanding what is happening when you follow the basics and applying this knowledge will help you successfully execute dishes like a pro and make for an enjoyable experience in the kitchen. Add to this your own personal taste, what do you like and why?

Like the scientific process, do not be afraid to experiment.

As Mark Twain famously said “We are all ignorant; just about different things”. In other words. There is always something new to learn. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to continue expanding your knowledge for your journey of great home cooking -From NTO, happy experimenting!

About the Author Allen Bixby

A retired restaurateur, not quite ready to stop playing in the kitchen.

I have had the pleasure of watching amazing high end chefs, and classic American style diner cooking, creating a very diverse background with food. Add both parents teaching English, watching Julia Childs and Graham Kerr as a child, and learning to bake bread from my Finnish great grandma, and you get a decent recipe for a knowledgeable voice to write about food.

From recipe design to equipment testing, there is a broad spectrum of entertaining aspects of food and how we do what we do every day to feed our loved ones!

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