You’re a scientist, and you didn’t even know it!

Science is awesome, and it helps us understand every single thing that happens around us, whether it is the sunrise and sunset, or the colours of water and the sky. However, did you know that you too have been performing a fair amount of science experiments in the comfort of your kitchen?

Take a look at these experiments and see for yourself how many of these do you frequently perform in your food lab, aka your kitchen!

Acoustics and steam

There is so much going on inside a corn kernel than one can never comprehend it just by watching the rather simple-looking popping process. A corn kernel holds a tiny drop of water inside its hull (the surrounding hard shell), and this water turns into steam when subjected to heat. The steam builds pressure inside and breaks the kernel, causing the expansion of starchy interior into puffy white flakes. The sound, you ask? The kernel cavity acts as an acoustic resonator during the steam escape, leading to an audible pop.
Popcorn and kernels


Pouring of non-Newtonian fluids

Have you ever been irritated when the ketchup in the bottle just doesn’t flow from the bottle despite all the thumps you give it? Well, turns out it had nothing to do with you at all! Ketchup is a non-Newtonian fluid, or to be specific a shear-thinning fluid, which means its viscosity decreases with increasing shear stress. In simple words, the ‘flowability’ of your ketchup changes with the shear stress, which is why it suddenly pours so freely once it starts.
Ketchup


Caramelisation of onions

This is probably the most frequent procedure that takes place in every kitchen, but do you have a deeper understanding of what is actually happening when you fry those onions for your curry? Well, next time you head to prepare a curry in your kitchen, tell people that you are headed to your lab to perform a “non-enzymatic browning reaction to oxidise sugars and turn them brown” and enjoy the look on their face.
Onions


Maillard reaction

Ever wondered where the beautiful brown crust of your hot dog came from? Or, how did your french fries acquire that golden crust of awesomeness? Well, the answer is the Maillard reaction, which is a reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars to give food a browned colour, crispy texture and well, that delicious flavour.
Baked goods


Breakdown of phytic acid

So you have a sudden mood swing and badly want to eat rajma, only to get a negative response from your mom because rajma requires some soaking period? While there are a number of ways around to instantly cook beans without soaking, you must know that the soaking process is not just a simpleton’s trick to reduce cooking time. Soaking of grains and beans leads to the breakdown of phytic acid, which locks up all the essential nutrients and is found in the bran and germ portion of the seed. Soaking activates phytase, an enzyme that breaks down phytic acid to allow for better absorption of nutrients.
Soaked-rice


Curdling

While a nicely prepared bowl of curd is everyone’s favourite, you must know that you just performed protein denaturation in your kitchen! When milk is acidified (or its pH is reduced), the free-floating protein molecules (casein) that earlier repelled one another now begin to attract one another to form clumps. Those clumps are what you essentially see when the milk in your kitchen decides to surprise you by getting curdled!
Curdling-of-milk


Stable emulsification

The world would not have been a happy place without mayonnaise! We enjoy it with burgers, nachos, fries, salads and so on, and then there are the true lovers who slather it on parathas and rotis as well. However, have you ever realised that your favourite dip is an example of a stable emulsion of oil and water, held together by an emulsifier, namely egg yolk? So next time you have some mayo, appreciate that you are just enjoying an edible emulsion, or to be clearer a liquid-liquid colloid.
Mayonnaise


Germination

Sprout salad is one of the must-eat things in every such person’s checklist who wants to improve their protein intake and their health. However, do you realise that while you left those wet beans in the bowl for the night, you initiated the process of germination, which is basically the process in which a plant grows from a seed. Want more evidence? Try leaving a few moong sprouts for a few days only to see tender leaves appear with time!
Sprouts


Formation of paneer

Paneer is one the most commonly enjoyed food items in Indian households. The science behind its making takes the process of curdling to the next level. While there is the coagulation of proteins (casein) due to acidification of milk, this is usually followed by separation of milk into solid curds and liquid whey. The curds are cooked for a while to allow for better separation and are then pressed to remove as much whey as possible. This is followed by rinsing the whey and adding salt for flavour, and voilà, your cottage cheese is ready!
Paneer


Frying of spices

No matter which curry we’re planning to prepare, the ubiquitous process of roasting or frying spices is always the first step. However, did you ever wonder what actually happens inside your pan when you are happily roasting some cumin for your curry? While dry roasting allows the volatile aromatics of the spices to cook off, as the compounds of the spice combine to give deeper and earthier flavours, frying the spices in oil enhances the aromatic oils of the spice to make the flavour bolder.
Spices

If you are just as intrigued as we are, get more materials for further experiments and observe how science shapes everything around us. Happy Science Day, folks!

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