Pickling, salting, smoking and canning are techniques that have been around for ages to preserve foods. For many, the process of preserving food is a necessity; for others, it’s a tradition that’s been passed down from generation to generation. Although the majority of practitioners would probably call themselves something other than a scientist, there is definitely a science (and art) behind the process of food preservation.
What do you think are among the most important food discoveries that involved chemistry? What chemistry principles are at play? How would you explain your response to a non-scientist?
(You know the responses to this thread could be a great conversation starter at that upcoming holiday party )
In no particular order:
1. Maillard reaction and Strecker degradation. The flavor of chocolate, coffee, and grilled steaks
2. The elucidation to thermal processing in the preservation of food. Beginning with Pasteur and Appert (the Rosalind Franklin of his day?)
3. The concepts of water activity, molecular mobility of water, and glass transition. Lots of folks involved here, but a reasonable tip if the had goes to Ted Labuza, and Levin and Slade. Better understanding of the physical, chemical, biochemical, and microbiological stability of food, as well as the interaction of water and the energy status of the food system.
4. Saran wrap - The 2,000 year old man (Mel Brooks)
5. Development of pure microbiological cultures for the production of fermented foods (spirits, meats, dairy products, vegetable, etc.)
6. Refrigeration and Freezing - Clarence Birdseye et al.
7. The microwave oven - bless Perch Spencer and the chocolate bar in his pocket.
How is this for a start?
All very important and surprisingly broad fields of chemistry! And some still mysterious chemical complexities in these areas remain to be elucidated. The theory of the T1 and T2 series taste receptors by the genomic work of Max, Margolskee and others, and the AH-B theory from structure activity of tastants by Shallenberger, Acree, and many others is another emerging area in chemistry that may bring dramatic changes to the way we eat. Monell Institute and Senomyx have come a long way in understanding the chemistry at the interface of human sensation.