What is food chemistry?

A chrlorophyll molecule, this is what makes plants green.

You want to know what food chemistry is? Food chemistry is fun :-)! Yes, food chemistry was one of those courses at university that got me really excited. That’s why this month is food chemistry month. To kick that off, I’ll answer the title of this post, ‘what is food chemistry’?

Besides the fact that food chemistry is just really fun and interesting, it’s also something you can see all around you! The colours of fruits and vegetables, the raising of your muffins in the oven, the browning of meat, the smell of chocolate, the spiciness of peppers, the sourness of a lemon or your butter turned rancid, all food chemistry. So after last month’s fruit & vegetable science month, it’s now time for chemistry month!

In high school you’ve probably had a chemistry class. Remember what chemistry was about? Chemistry studies molecules and their behaviour and reactions. Chemistry focusses a lot of transformations of the molecules or on the analysis and detection of these molecules.


Let’s take one step back and zoom in on molecules. A molecule is a so called chemical structure and is build up of atoms. Remember the periodic table? The periodic table contains all different atoms that are known to humans. All molecules are built up out of at least one type of atom, but can also be a combination of various atoms.

sucrose molecule
This is sucrose, regular sugar.

Molecules again can undergo reactions with one another. This can lead to the formation of new or different molecules. Whether or not a reaction occurs can for instance depend on the temperature or whether there is light. Food is a great place to study food chemistry because first of all, food contains a lot of fascinating molecules. Second of all, during cooking and even during storage, these molecules will react and form new molecules.

You have probably been the witness of the Maillard reaction (causes browning of bread for instance), caramelization (you know, what happens when making a caramel) or enzymatic browning (ever cut an apple and left it on the counter?). Food chemistry happens all around you when you do anything with food.

A glucose molecule.

In this month I’ll have a series of posts on food chemistry, hoping to excite you further for this fascinating science of food.


The molecules shown on this website are from Wikipedia.

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