sponge cake texture

Food Science

What is it?

Why would you study or use it?

If the term 'food science' is completely new to you, don't worry! Here we'll explain you everything:

What is food science?

Ever wondered why your broccoli changes colour when it cooks? Ever wondered why your muffins didn’t work out? Or just curious to know why a recipe works? If so, you've been thinking about exactly that what a food scientist thinks about.

Food science aims to understand food from a science perspective, not focused on health & nutrition but instead looking at how food is made & prepared and why it’s done that way. Food science involves studying all sorts of processes involved in food, during harvesting, storage, packaging, preparation and consumption.
Some examples when studying apples:

Physics, chemistry & (micro)biology of food

In school you’re taught the main sciences (physics, chemistry & biology), when looking into food science these same disciplines return:

  • Food chemistry, studying the molecules in food and how they react (for example: caramelization)
  • Food (micro)biology, focusing more on the microorganisms in our food than on the actual growing of the plant
  • Food physics, looking into the physical properties of food (for example: foams, frozen or gaseous foods)

Examples of food science

The apple example at the top of this page is just one example of applying food science around us. Let’s look at a few other examples:
  1. Example 1: French fries + mayonaise
    • Mayonnaise is typical example of food physics being an oil-in-water emulsion. These normally split but mayonnaise does not, thanks to a physical phenomenon.
    • 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.
    • Frying french fries is food chemistry, starches react and your fries turns brown due to the Maillard reaction
  2. Example 2: Carrot cake
    • The colours of carrot are pure food chemistry. They are made up by complex molecules.
    • Baking the carrot cake will activate leavening agents (baking powder & baking soda), chemistry again.
    • After some days of storage of the carrot cake, moulds may grow on it: 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 (can) use food science. Just a few examples of who and how it can help:
  • 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 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, student, (aspiring) scientist: "I would like to use food to explain science." "I'm hoping food will help me understand science."
  • Going through our courses may help you explain the basic concepts. Otherwise, have a look at our fundamental posts:

    Food Technology

    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 covers food science. Nevertheless, we write on food technology as well, especially in the posts dedicated to food manufacturers. Food technology is linked closely 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 think of packaging (vacuum packaging, green bottles for olive oil, multi layer juice drinks packs, 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’?