Kitchen Chemistry 105: Ending On A Low Note


Here are some of the interesting facts I came across during my recent study of kitchen chemistry.  My source material is Simon Quellen Field’s Culinary Reactions, and Kitchen Mysteries by Herve This.


I often overhear my friends talking about “fueling-up on carbs.”  They might be surprised to learn that Fats contain more fuel than carbohydrates.  Actually, it is the high-powered fuel content of Fats that is behind the bad reputation they have among figure-watching folk.

If getting enough to eat is relatively easy for you, and your level of exercise relatively low, then the extra fuel of Fats will not get used, and you’ll get a backlog of stored fuel… in other words, you’ll get “fat.”

Fuel-in must equal fuel-out for the human body to remain in its beautiful equilibrium.


The Omega-3 Fats that are so highly extolled now-days are polyunsaturated fats that the human body needs to run properly.  The name “Omega-3” comes from the fact that the THIRD Carbon atom from the END (“omega”) of the fatty acid chain forming Omega-3 contains a double-bond between two Carbons.

So, great… Omega 3 is a polyunsaturated Fat.  But, you may ask, what exactly IS a “polyunsaturated” Fat?  First, let’s talk about what a “saturated” Fat is…

The sort of Fats people especially disparage are “saturated” Fats.  If a Fat is saturated, than the Carbon atoms of the Fat are as full of, or “saturated” with, Hydrogen atoms as they can be.  Relatedly, this means there are no Carbon-Carbon double bonds in polyunsaturated Fats.

A “mono-unsaturated fat” has one (“mono”) Carbon-Carbon double bond.  “Poly-unsaturated” simply means there are multiple Carbon double-bonds (“poly” meaning “numerous” or “many”).


High Fructose Corn Syrup is made in a two-step process:  1) take cornstarch, add enzymes, and you get corn syrup… 2) take corn syrup and add some different enzymes, enzymes that convert much of the glucose in corn syrup into fructose, and you have High Fructose Corn Syrup.

Why go to this trouble?  Perhaps the number one reason is government subsidies for domestically grown corn.  This makes corn a very cheap ingredient.  But this only explains why corn has been chosen as the sugar-cane substitute of choice…  Why does it undergo the specific processing that it does, including changing glucose into fructose?  Because the glucose sugars of corn do not taste as sweet to our taste-buds as fructose.  After processing, high fructose corn syrup is over half fructose and tastes as sweet to our tongues as table sugar.


Back in the days when the root of the marshmallow plant was used as a cough suppressant, people– often desperate parents, I’m sure– tried different ways to make the bitter root more palatable. One method used was to mix the root with whipped egg whites and syrup.  Over time, the formula was industrialized to become today’s fluffy sweet treat made from cooked sugar syrup that is whipped into a cool, softened gelatin.  I doubt there’s any marshmallow plant in the stuff at all anymore.


Gluten is a protein found in the flour made from wheat… It is NOT — apparently– found in the wheat itself.  The Gluten is formed when water is added to wheat-flour, causing enzymes to activate and convert the precursor proteins of Gluten into Gluten, itself.

Special “cake flour” is grown and processed specifically so that it contains less Gluten.  This is because Gluten sticks together in big sheets of protein, making cakes less fluffy and light.  “All-Purpose” Flour can be used for either breads or cakes.

Humans used yeast for centuries without knowing that it was ALIVE.  We didn’t discover that little fact until microscopes came along.


Why do we sometimes come across the term “sifted flour“?  Because in the old days when people would go the mill to have their wheat ground, they would often return with a flour that was full of bits of millstone and other impurities.

A word to the wise:  Don’t think you can always scale-up recipes to make larger batches and all will be fine.  For instance, you might increase the volume of your combined ingredients by four-times the original recipe measurements.  But if you just use a taller pot and heat the food on the same stove-top eye, than you have not proportionally increased the amount of surface area receiving heat.  This can have an adverse effect on how the ingredients mix together.  So be careful when upsizing recipes:  heated surface areas do not increase in lock-step with the internal volumes to be cooked.

Why do we stir?  Stirring and mixing bring into contact more non-same molecules in the mixture… This gives the molecules a better chance of combining quickly.  Without stirring, same-same molecules have a tendency to bunch together in unmixed lumps.

Here’s on to file under:  “Why didn’t I think of that?!”…  If you don’t want that smoke smell on the food you’re cooking over a fire, then cook the food BESIDE the flame, not over it.

Add pepper late or even last to cooked foods:  cooking pepper makes it acrid.  Same goes for parsley.

“Double-Acting” Baking Soda is processed so that some of it starts working at room temperature, but the rest of it waits to kick-in until it is heated.

Beans and flatulence:  beans have a sugar containing “Galactose”… humans have no enzyme capable of metabolizing Galactose.  So it passes into the large intestine where our intestinal hitchhikers (like E. Coli and other gut microorganisms) go to work on it, producing gases as a by-product.

I’ll end on that “low note.”  (a crude, multi-sided pun!  Score!!)


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