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Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavour

06 April 2006
Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavour

As I become more interested in the mechanics of culinary practices, a certain three-letter word has become very important for me. "Why?" is the key to learning and unlocks doors to improving techniques.

So when I saw that scientist Hervé This had written a new book on the science and lore of the kitchen I was keen to get a copy. This is one of the founding fathers of molecular gastronomy - he's the first person to actually hold a doctorate in the subject and has worked with, among others, French master chef Pierre Gagnaire.

The book does not contain any recipes, and pictures are noticeable by their absence. The book needs neither, as its content alone will stimulate and excite you if you are interested in food. And, anyway, it answers far more questions about cooking than the recipes in conventional cookbooks.

The book is broken down into three sections, each with a series of sub-chapters. The first main subject, "Secrets of the kitchen", looks at cooking processes and what happens to ingredients when they undergo these; for instance, the chemical reactions that are triggered by different methods of heat transfer - searing steak in a pan, say - and the changes in flavour and molecular structure of the ingredients that result.

The second area that is covered is the physiology of flavour, which takes in the perception of food flavours received by the brain from the palate. Take salt: This does an experiment in which he gives people seasoned and unseasoned soups. Without seasoning, his guinea pigs had difficulty identifying the dominant soup flavours.

The third section of the book carries case studies on individual ingredients; for instance, bread, yeast, foie gras and Spanish hams.

The book is very good at explaining complex ideas in a digestible way. I found it a brilliant piece of work, and if you are intrigued by the science of food, then you simply must buy it.

Marc Wilkinson, chef-proprietor, Restaurant Fraîche, Oxton, Cheshire

Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavour
Hervé This
Columbia University Press, £20
ISBN 0-231-13312-X

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