Ever wondered why your broccoli changes color when it cooks? Or why your muffin recipe flopped? Exactly how does a recipe work? If you’ve been thinking about this, you’re starting to think like a food scientist!
Food science aims to understand food from a scientific perspective. It’s not so much focused on health and nutrition, but instead look at the manner in which food is made, and why it is done that way. Food science involves the study of all the processes related to food harvesting, storage, packaging, preparation, and consumption.
A food scientist studying apples, might look at the following:
- Why an apple turns brown (enzymatic browning)
- Why apples go soft when cooked (breaking down of cellular structures)
- How to scale up apple pie production.
Physics, Chemistry & (Micro)Biology of Food
In school you’re taught the main sciences (physics, chemistry & biology). We use all these sciences in food science!
- Food chemistry, studying the molecules in food and how they react (e.g. caramelization);
- Food (micro)biology, focusing on the microorganisms in our food;
- Food physics, looking into the physical properties of food (e.g. foams and frozen foods)
Examples of Food Science
The apple example at the top of this page is just one example of applied food science. Let’s look at a few other examples:
- Example 1: French fries + mayonnaise
- A typical example of food physics is mayonnaise, which is an oil-in-water emulsion. Under normal circumstances, oil and water do not mix, but thanks to a physical phenomenon, they blend together perfectly in a mayonnaise.
- The fact that you’re able to store a pot of mayonnaise at room temperature (before opening), has a lot to do with food microbiology.
- Making french fries is food chemistry – starches react and your fries turn brown due to the Maillard reaction.
- Example 2: Carrot cake
- The colors of carrot are pure food chemistry. They are made up by complex molecules.
- Baking the carrot cake will activate leavening agents (baking powder and baking soda), another example of food chemistry.
- After some days of storage of the carrot cake, molds may grow on it – which brings us back to food microbiology.
- If you then decide to whip up some cream to top off your carrot cake, you end up in the field of food physics!
Who Can Use Food Science?
So many people use food science on a daily basis (knowingly or unknowingly). Here are a few examples of how food science might answer the questions those individuals have:
- A small-scale food manufacturer: “I don’t have a lot of food science expertise in my team, but I think it might help me to solve some challenges we have.” “I want to scale up from my kitchen into a real food production environment.”
- A chef or cook: “I would like to understand my recipes better so I can improve them.”
- Teacher: “I would like to use food to explain science.”
- Student, (aspiring) scientist: “I’m hoping food will help me understand science.”
Going through our courses may help you explain the basic concepts.
You will often find study programs being called ‘Food Science & Technology’, thus mentioning both food science and technology. On this blog the vast majority of posts cover food science. Nevertheless, we write on food technology as well, especially in the posts dedicated to food manufacturers. Food technology is closely linked to food science. Food science studies the food itself, whereas food technology focusses on the processes and technologies required to make the foods. Food technology will often be oriented more towards factories or industrial production of food.
An Example of Food Technology
It’s interesting to know that you need a certain temperature to make caramel and why. But when you want to make 1000kg of caramel, you cannot use a simple stovetop anymore. When making caramel at home, it’s no problem to cool your caramel. You can simply do this by placing them on your countertop or in the fridge. However, doing the same for 1000kg of caramel will require some serious rethinking. That is when food technology kicks in!
Studying Food Science
You can study food science in school, university or college, but of course, you can always start in your kitchen or in the supermarket. Most products on the market have had food scientists involved somehow. Think about conservation of products (pickling, freezing, drying, pasteurizing, etc.) or packaging (vacuum packaging, green bottles for olive oil, multi-layer juice packaging, etc.). Food science is involved in all of these! I hope that by reading my website you get a good answer to the question ‘What Is Food Science’?