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Math & Science in Cooking


The following was an email I sent to a student in response to this question:
“I am doing a presentation involving math as it relates to cooking and baking. I know science is involved with the chemistry of reactions of ingredients etc., how can that chemistry be classified as math?”

Knowing the right proportions (math) of baking powder, baking soda, and acid to used in quick breads.

The chemistry of the browning action on meats (and other foods) is a function of the particular temperature at which browning takes place - temperature calculation is math. The length of time it takes to reach this temperature and how long it must be held is a math calculation.

How much flour and how much oil to combine to make a roux, and how much flour roux will it take to thicken a given amount of liquid?

You have no flour to thicken your gravy, how much cornstarch will it take to thicken the same amount of gravy?

When making a Hollandaise sauce, why does it form an emulsion (math - how much oil will how many egg yolks hold in the emulsion), and why and how does lemon juice (an acid) effect the formation and stability of this emulsion, and what percentage of acid to use?

An egg yolk will hold about 4 ounces of oil (butter) in an emulsion. How long can this stay together at a particular temperature? How long can it safely be held at differing temperatures before potential bacteria growth can become dangerous?

A recipe calls for 6 medium eggs, you only have a dozen jumbo or small eggs - what is the weight difference in egg sizes so you can figure out how may to use?

What is the ideal temperature for whipping cream? Whipping egg whites? And how long will it take at a particular temperature, and will it be more or less stable if whipped at any particular temperature? One set of variables will produce maximum volume, but a different set will produce a longer lasting product that can be held overnight without excessive 'weeping'.

Why does low temperature, long cooking time produce more tender meat than high temperature cooking? It's a function of the proportions of 2 different types of fat, and the conflicting temperatures each becomes soft and edible, rather than hard and inedible.

High temp short time milk pasteurization, low temp longer time pasteurization - calculate how long to hold at a particular temperature to reduce the bacteria count to desired results. And calculate the effect on the size of the fat globules in these differing methods of pasteurization for cream so you have a product that will accommodate a cook's need to have the cream thicken when reduced by cooking.

What proportions of wheat flour and rye flour and yeast are needed to produce a pumpernickel bread that will rise properly?

How much aluminum or copper will leach out of cooking utensils, and how long will it take under differing temperatures, and how much is safe for human consumption, over what length of time?

Figure out how long it is safe to hold raw eggs at any given temperature.

What minimum percentage of fat is needed to have a hamburger that has good taste.

What is the 'smoke' temperature of a particular oil, and how will mixing oils effect this?

How much oil (of differing types) do I need to add to raise the 'smoke' point enough so I can stir fry with butter at high temperature (butter has a low smoke point)?

Frying oil deteriorates from heat and the water and sugar content of the product cooked in it. What is the ideal frying temperature for differing oils and different product mixes.

I hope you find some of the above useful.
Chef James   of the Food Reference Website.




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