The Science of Good Cooking

Jack Bishop and Dan Souza (America's Test Kitchen)
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Public Lecture 10 (2012)
Key Lesson: The Scientific Method. How can knowing basic scientific principles lead to more success in the kitchen?
Jack Bishop and Dan Souza, from America's Test Kitchen, demonstrate basic science lessons that can be applied to home cooking.




Overview of the Science

Jack Bishop and Dan Souza showed several examples of the role of multiple science topics in a single food. In each case, they isolated specific steps in the recipe and tested out different variations:

Fermentation: microbes produce acid and other flavorful molecules as the digest the sugars in a food.
Below are examples of fermented foods from around the world:
Below is an example of the role of yeast in leavening:

Yeast produce carbon dioxide through chemical reactions; this process happens slower at cooler temperatures. At higher temperatures, the reactions are faster, but the cells run out of food and die, as shown in The Science of Good Cooking:

Equation of the Week

How can we calculate the growth of the number of bacteria over time, assuming no contraints on their growth:

The number of bacteria as a function of time, N(t), depends on the starting population N0 and a time constant, k:

$$ N(t) = N_0 e^{kt} $$

The time constant, k, is related to the doubling time τ by:

$$ k = \frac{\ln(2)}{\tau} $$

From the graph below, you can see how after a few hours, for a doubling time of 20 minutes, the population increases in size by a factor of several thousand:

Beyond the Lecture

You can read more about Cook's Illustrated The Science of Good Cooking here.