Over the past decades there has been a plethora of new books written about food and science, starting with On Food and Cooking, then more recently Modernist Cuisine, Cooking for Geeks, and The Science of Good Cooking, among others. However, all of these books lack the quantitative framework necessary for a college science curriculum. This textbook fills in the gaps, to show how a visual and quantitative way of thinking can be applied to a wide range of culinary examples, as a way to teach concepts in the physical sciences.

This course supplements other food and science books by offering a quantitative and visual way of understanding the basic physical and chemical transformations that occur to food during cooking.

There is a wealth of information about food and cooking available. This book will give you a quantitative and visual framework for seeing underlying patterns, by making fundamental scientific concepts more vivid.
What can I learn from this site?

This set of lessons is designed to teach a more a scientific way of approaching recipes, by asking what parameters, such as time and temperature, can be varied and discovering the effect these have on the final product.

What's not one this site?

The science of flavor and perception is fascinating, but can't be easily translated to cartoons and graphs. There are many thousands of chemicals, which interact with a unique set of receptors and neural pathways in each person consuming them.

  • Calculate the answers to algebraic equations, after symbolic manipulation of the variables. Algebra is the mathematical equivalent of knife skills in the kitchen.
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    Molecules in Food: Food can be explained by the interactions between the atoms within molecules, or between the molecules in food.

    Cooking was invented to improve the nutritional quality of food; the differences between cooking techniques for different foods is best explained in terms of the interactions between the molecules within the food.


    Energy in Cooking: All cooking involves changing the temperature or manipulating the bonds between molecules.

    Humans are the only species to use heat, acids, or salt to cook food; this allowed us to evolve larger brains and spend a much smaller fraction of each day chewing food, according to Harvard primatologist Richard Wrangham.


    Phase Transitions: When energy is added during cooking, food can change in other ways that getting hotter; these changes are precisely the reasons why we cook food.

    Phase diagrams can visually represent qualitative changes in the interactions between molecules, ranging from simple (e.g. boiling water) to complex (baking a cake).


    Texture: The way that food feels in your mouth, independent of its taste, can be explained in terms of the bonds holding the molecules together.

    Mouthfeel is one of the most complicated subjects in food science, but we can start to quantify it with some simple measurements.

    One of the most common measurements is to apply a force using a weight or other method, as shown below in the example from The Science of Good Cooking. The fat in the butter disrupts the protein network from the eggs, which makes it less elastic and unable to support much weight:


    Diffusion: The rate of many culinary processes, such as cooking and brining, is limited by diffusion, in which the distance travelled is proportional to the square root of time.

    Timing is one of the essential aspects of good cooking, and the approximate times needed for different culinary techniques can be estimated based on the diffusion constant of water.


    Gelation: One way to change the texture of food is by adding polymers; at low concentrations these can thicken a liquid and at high concentrations they can link together to form a solid.

    Many foods are solid, yet they are mostly made of water; how is this possible? Gelation is one way that a smaller number of long polymers can hold liquid water into a solid.


    Flow: An important aspect of the consistency and mouthfeel of many liquid foods is how easily they flow.

    The consistency of sauces and beverages can be quantified by their viscosity; additives are typically used to achieve the desired viscosity of a food.


    Emulsions: Another way to change the texture of food is by adding droplets or bubbles; at low concentrations they can thicken a liquid and at high concentrations they can pack together to form a solid.

    Understanding emlsions is crucial for achieving accuracy in the consistency of sauces or baked goods.


    Chemical reactions: the atoms in the basic molecules of food can rearrange to produce more flavorful compounds.

    So far we have looked at transformations that rearrange the molecules within a food; however, to produce new flavors, the atoms themselves must be rearranged. Chemical reactions are also responsible for producing carbon dioxide gas for leavening.


    Fermentation: microbes produce acid and other flavorful molecules as the digest the sugars in a food.

    Many cooking techniques are designed to kill any potentially harmful microbes; fermented food promote beneficial bacteria, so that the dangerous ones are eliminated.

    This is an early prototype developed by Naveen Sinha and is still under development. If you have any feedback, send him an e-mail.

    This website was made possible thanks to the efforts of numerous people including: Prof. David Weitz, Prof. Michael Brenner, Prof. Amy Rowat, Prof. Otger Campas, Christina Andujar, Daniel Rosenberg, Ferran Adria, Pere Castelles, Héloïse Vilaseca, Harold McGee, John McGee, Pia Sörensen, Aileen Li, Jason Doo, Geoff Lukas, Johnny Siever, Eli Feldman, Lily Robles and Julia Frenkle-Kunelius, Dan Souza, Rolando Robledo, Phil Desenne and the PITF Program, and many others.