bowl of fruit and yogurt

What is Food Science?

Home ยป What is Food Science?

So, you’ve landed on a website dedicated to food science. But, you don’t know what food science is? You’re not alone, a lot of people don’t know the field even exists.

Food science is all around you though. It’s the science behind the food (and drink) we consume on a daily basis. Food scientists know how these foods are (best) made, what can go wrong and how to make them in a healthy, efficient way. Food scientists may think about things such as:

  • Why does the green color of broccoli change during cooking? (It’s the chlorophyll!)
  • How long can we store this carrot cake for? (It depends…)
  • Why did your muffin expand and then collapse in the oven? (Probably the baking soda or baking powder.)
  • What packaging should we use to store these freshly roasted coffee beans? (Definitely one with a little hole inside to release gases.)
  • Why shouldn’t you store ripe fruits next to a bunch of bananas? (It’s ethylene at work!)
  • How can I produce 1000 loaves of my home-style bread recipe? (Scaling up recipes is a challenge!)

Food Scientists experiment with food

Yes, that’s right, unlike most kids, we food scientists get to experiment with food all the time. Trying different settings of an oven, changing out ingredients, all to better understand how the food works. Doing experiments when making food is key to being a food scientist.

A more formal definition of food science

So simply said, food science is the science of food. But that’s still pretty generic. To become more specific, we’ve gathered a few definitions from the web for you:

Food Science is (โ€ฆ) used to describe the application of scientific principles to create and maintain a wholesome food supply.

https://foodscience.ucdavis.edu/about/what-food-science

Food science is the application of basic science and engineering principles to the creation and maintenance of a safe, abundant and wholesome food supply.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/food-science

Food science draws from many disciplines, including biology, chemical engineering, and biochemistry to better understand food processes and improve food products for the general public.

https://www.ift.org/career-development/learn-about-food-science

Food Science is a multi-disciplinary field involving chemistry, biochemistry, nutrition, microbiology and engineering to give one the scientific knowledge to solve real problems associated with the many facets of the food system.

https://www.mcgill.ca/foodscience/what-food-science

Notice two recurring themes in all of these definitions:

  1. Food Science is a multi-disciplinary field of science applied to food
  2. With the aim to create a wholesome food supply (from farm to table)

Food Science Disciplines

So food science is a multi-disciplinary field. You might be wondering which disciplines are involved? Well, many! To name just a few:

fried eggs with added liquids

Food Chemistry

Food is full of chemistry and this chemistry plays an important role when storing and preparing food! Food chemists study this extensively. They determine which molecules are present in food. They study their role and how they might react and change over time.

It’s a broad and fascinating field of applied chemistry.

Pouring sugar syrup in a bowl to observe flow behaviour

Food Physics

You can also study the physics of foods! Food physicists may study how foods flow, break, stretch, squeeze, dissolve, and more. The impact of temperature and processes is very interesting for food physicists.

Foams, emulsions, gels, these are all studied by food physicists.

mold on green chutney

Food Microbiology

Microorganisms grow in and on our food. Sometimes, we want them to be there – there wouldn’t be cheese, beer, wine, and many breads, without microorganisms. Other times, we don’t since some can make us sick.

Food microbiologists study the microorganisms in our food. It’s a crucial field for being able to make safe and reliable food.

cider fermentation tanks

Food Engineering

Making 1 liter of apple cider, poses very different challenges than making 1000 liters of that same apple cider.

This is where the engineers come in. Scaling up food production in a safe, but also reliable manner is very important. On a large scale, cooling, heating, transporting, storing, etc. needs to be done in a different way than at a small scale.

What about nutrition & health?

Glad you asked! It’s common for people to think that food scientists are (also) dieticians and nutritionists. And whereas food scientists definitely know the basics of those fields, we’re not dieticians. So we can’t tell you what you should eat. But, we can tell you how what you eat was made, why it’s packaged the way it is, etc. ๐Ÿ˜„.

On FoodCrumbles.com we do not write about nutrition and health. It’s not a core competency of a food scientist and requires a specific set of expertise!

What about farming?

Great question as well! Whereas this website does contain a few articles on farming, it’s not the core business of a food scientist. Generally speaking, a food scientist’s job starts once the ingredients have been harvested.

Food science is multidisciplinary

Every food scientist has a basic understanding of the chemistry, (micro)biology, physics, and engineering of our food. But it really starts to get interesting when you combine all these different fields. As such, there are many, many sub-fields within the world of food science. Just a few examples:

Fields within food science

An example: Science of the humble apple

Foods aren’t simple. On the contrary, they’re surprisingly complex! All sorts of molecules interact. Structures change all the time. And, to make things more complicated, a lot of foods are alive!

As such, even the science of a humble apple can keep a food scientist busy for their whole career!

Just a few ideas of the topics they could study:

What do food scientists do?

But why study the science of all those foods? What’s the use? Let’s look at some examples of what a food scientist may do!

grated cheese

Determine shelf life

For food to be safe to eat, you need to define for how long you can keep it. Food scientists help determine this ‘shelf life’.

An example: grated cheese. You’d need to know which microorganisms grow on the cheese. Whether the color or flavor changes during storage, etc. Which packaging material is most suitable. Then, you can recommend a shelf life!

different prep methods for making dulce de leche

Problem solving in factories

When things go wrong when making food, especially on a large scale, food scientists can come in to troubleshoot!

Why did the caramel not turn brown? Why is the consistency off?

Once you understand the science of your food and its processes, you can start looking for answers.

roast chicken

Ensure Food Safety

We wouldn’t want people to become sick when eating food! Food scientists help ensure food is safe to eat.

Knowing which microorganisms might be in a food, or which chemical contaminants can be a hazard is crucial here.

New Product Development

Making tasty, stable, safe, healthy food is a challenge right up a food scientist’s alley! To develop a new product you need to be creative, but also understand how the ingredients work and interact and know how to manufacture this at scale!

reverse osmosis for maple syrup

Make large quantities

Making 1000 vs 1 liter of maple syrup requires different equipment and processes. This is where food scientists can come in, using their food engineering skills!

Why learn more about food science?

Everyone can learn more about the science of your food. If you work in food manufacturing, all the applications above are relevant. But also if you don’t work in food, there are plenty of good reasons to better understand how your food works!

  • As a chef/cook:”I would like to understand my recipes better so I can improve them.”
  • As a (science) teacher: “I would like to use every day food to explain science.”
  • As a student, (aspiring) scientist: “I’m hoping food will help me understand science.”
  • As a chef/cook: “I would like to develop my own recipes & processes!”
  • As a aspiring food entrepreneur: “I would like to scale up my food product.

How to learn more about food science

The first and easiest option: make food and do experiments with it (read our guide here).

The second option: browse around the FoodCrumbles website to learn more about a wide range of topics.

Or, take a short course that doesn’t break the bank. Our food science courses provide you with a more structured and in-depth approach to learning about your food.

Just getting started?

If you’re just getting started, you might want to start with our (free) Introduction to Food Science course.

introduction to food science

Truly passionate about the field? Well, then you might want to consider studying food science at a university. There are many great programs out there!

Whichever route you take, hopefully FoodCrumbles can help you out!