Hi there food blogger, aspirational food blogger or simply anyone else! Love to cook, eat and share this with others? But do you also have those failures in the kitchen where you just really don’t know what happened? Tried to make slow cooker meat with a steak, which turned out dry and tough? Tried making those perfect pancake photos, but kept on having bananas browning on top of the stack? Keep on having readers ask questions about ingredient substitutions or whether they can use another oven temperature but not sure about the answers?
Then you’re at the right place, at the right time! In this blog post you can find just that information to get you started right away! You’ll discover that there’s a whole bunch of science behind our food and cooking, that it’s not as scary or complex as it may sound and that it can be very helpful to you. After reading this post and its links, you should be able to help your readers (and yourself!) in their cooking journeys!
Why know food science as a food blogger?
Well, because food science is super interesting? Ok, maybe not everyone likes science as much as I do, maybe math, biology, physics and chemistry were subjects at school you tried to avoid. But even without liking those subjects, you can still have a lot of fun and benefit of food science as I recently heard on one of my favorite podcasts.
I am an avid listener of podcasts. One of my favorite is the Food Blogger Pro podcast. It doesn’t necessarily focus on food, but on food blogging. Some time ago they had Delores Custer on the show. Delores is a food stylist and has seen the market develop from paper magazines towards more and more internet focused. She talks about how valuable her food chemistry and food science courses have been for her in developing and styling her recipes. It made her a better chef and stylist, knowing what to do when the food didn’t yet look perfect.
But I’m not into the technical stuff…
A lot of food bloggers like cooking and photography, but might not like the sciency part as much. However, that shouldn’t be a problem at all! Science can be as sciency as you want.
Science is everywhere around you, it’s the bread that turns brown in the oven, the eggs that become firm upon frying, etc. You can decide to dive into the hard core chemistry, but you can also go for the little tid bits of knowledge, that will help you explain food within having to be able to understand molecular formulas, atoms or physical equations!
That’s exactly what we’ll do here.
Some basic food science examples
Let’s bring all of this to life for you! We’ll walk you through 5 examples of how a basic understanding of food science will help you with your blog!.
Baking soda & Buttermilk
There are two commonly used leavening agents used in baking: baking soda and baking powder. They can be used together, in varying ratios or one by one. If you’re developing recipes you might take inspiration from another recipe and use whichever is used there or whichever you normally use for that type of muffin/cookie/pancake. But what’s the difference?
Well, the simple story is that baking powder is baking soda with some acid in it. Baking soda is just baking soda. For baking soda to work though and form the gas bubbles you’re looking for some sort of acid has to be used. So, you’ll commonly see baking soda used with buttermilk or lemon juice. These are both sour and thus will initiate the baking soda reactions!
Are you one of those food bloggers who actually likes the technical details? No worries, I wrote a far more detailed post on the topic!: Chemistry of leavening agents & Muffins
Science & Making Indian Paneer
Like Indian food? Then you’ve probably seen recipes coming by that use paneer. Panner with spinash is one of my personal favorites. Paneer is actually a type of cheese and it’s not the Dutch kind of cheese that has to ripen for weeks, no it’s a cheese that can be made in a manner of hours! It’s not hard to do at all. But again, once you know a little bit about the science, you’ll be able to tweak that recipe in such a way that you’re readers/followers are going to love it even more!
So how is paneer made? It’s simple, heat up some milk, add some lemon juice or vinegar and let it do its works. Soon after you’ll see the milk becoming clear and clumps of cheese forming inside the liquid. What happens here you ask? Well, the acid causes certain proteins in milk to group together in big clusters, taking along the fat. If you don’t add enough acid these proteins cannot group together well enough. However, if you add too much these proteins will cluster so much the cheese will get tougher and what’s more, it will start tasting sour. You need an acid to initiate this reaction, so don’t try adding sugar or a sweet berry juice. On the other hand, using lime juice will probably work just fine. Now that you know it’s an acid you need, you can start experimenting!
Wondering which proteins start to group together and why they actually group together? Nice! And you’re lucky ;-), I’ve written a whole post on the topic! Homemade Cheese Science (1) & Indian paneer
Investigating yeast in bread making
Love bread making as much as I do? I think it’s great, always gives you a jummy jummy breakfast/lunch/dinner and just tastes so much better than store bought bread. But I’m 100% sure that at least one of you breads has failed some way of the other. It can turn out dense, be undercooked, burnt or just doesn’t have a nice flavour. There are a bunch of reasons why that may be, but let’s start with a simple one: keeping your yeast alive!
When making bread your yeast is so important for getting a nice and airy bread. Yeast produces gas and create an airy bread. However, if you manage to kill off your yeast somehow it won’t work. That does require us to zoom back a little. Yes, yeast is a living micro organism and requires food (generally speaking sugars) to live. When it lives it produces carbon dioxide, a gas. It’s this gas that makes your bread rise and create airy pockets. When rising your bread you’d want the yeast to be as comfortable as possible to create a lot of air bubbles. So, don’t heat your dough or any other liquid in the dough up to more than 40C. Above this temperature a lot of yeasts will die. Also, don’t leave your dough in extreme heat (e.g. an oven) or cold, it will either kill the yeast or bring it into sleeping mode, causing it to not really make any bubbles!
Nuts, fats and chopping
One of my favorite lunches? A freshly baked slice of bread with goat’s cheese, honey, slices of cucumber and, toasted walnuts!
For a lot other recipes you might need to chop up some nuts and knowing just a little about those nuts will help you along there. Nuts contain a lot of fats and these fats are solid at room temperature, this is what gives them their crunch. However, when you heat nuts, the fats in the nut will become soft. So when you’re eating warm nuts they will have a lot less crunch. However, this has one big benefit! Because of the soft nuts they become a lot easier to chop!
Preventing pesto from turning brown
One of the most interesting aspects of food is the colour. If a pancake is blue, we don’t like it as much anymore and if a juice is red, we’re more likely to say it’s strawberry flavoured than orange. Colour is so important for our perception of food, not only how likeable, but also whether it’s still good and safe to eat!
Unfortunately, colour often changes into a less appealing one, without anything actually being wrong with the food…
That’s typically the case with fruit that turns brown or meat that is not as red as you’d like for instance. If you ever made your own pesto you know that also tends to turn brown easily. So, last but not least: how to prevent that from happening (and why)!
The browning of your fruits but also the pesto is due to a process called enzymatic browning. Enzymes in this case catalyze chemical reactions which cause browning to occur. In order to do this, they need access to oxygen. Preventing this browning can be done by destructing the enzymes, slowing them down or limiting the availability of oxygen!
So if you want your pesto to stay brown for longer you could heat it, but for a pesto that gernerally has quite a negative effect on taste. Heat destroys the enzymes. Slowing them down can be down by storing the pesto in the fridge, or making the pesto more acidic. The enzymes don’t work as well in an acid environment. Last but not least, a simple trick is to add a thin layer of oil on top of the pesto. This will prevent oxygen from coming in, thus slows down browning! What’s more, it also keeps yeasts away.
Food blogger, I hope this has helped you take your first steps in the world of food science. Please, do let me know if you’d like further tips, have questions or are wondering how to continue your food science journey. If anything, have a look at the food science basics course we offer!