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The viewpoint of Thomas Vilgis

Molecular Gastronomy and its “free open journal” : a new era
as viewed by Thomas A. Vilgis

Molecular gastronomy is, already given by its technical term naturally a multi-disciplinary subject, as many topics in “soft matter science”. Of course food is soft matter ; otherwise we would not be able to bite it, to work with it in the mouth, to process it between tongue and palate and to swallow it. And if food is hard matter and belongs to solid state physics of crystals, such as salts or chocolate, nature was kind enough to produce foods, such as cacao fat, milk fat or coconut fat with melting temperatures that can be handled with our body temperatures.

Molecular gastronomy is multiscale

When food becomes cooked, we change its sensorial and mechanical properties. It gets softer or harder depending on the nature of the food. The exact transformation depends on its molecular composition on nanoscales. In other word, cooking manipulates food on molecular and nanoscales, but we detect such changes in the mouth. The exact prediction and connections between microscopic, macroscopic, and sensory properties is one of the relevant challenges. The entire process from food production, food processing in kitchens, labs or factories determines what we do with it in the mouth and how we detect it. Small changes in the molecular parameters determine between “like” and “dislike”, between pleasure and disgust.

Molecular gastronomy contains molecular perception

Gastronomy makes use of a complicated interplay with taste, astringency and aroma compounds - in the context of texture. Indeed what we smell, what we taste are small molecules or ions. We smell aroma compounds, we taste ions (e.g. salts) and polar water soluble molecules (e.g. sugars, phenols) when they reach the corresponding receptors on the tongue or in the nose. The conscious use of the different molecular components is part of molecular gastronomy. However, the different components trigger chemical and mechanical senses on different time and length scales. What we call “taste” is the differentiated and cumulated/integrated effect of the effect of the different molecules.

Molecular gastronomy is multidisciplinary

There is perhaps no other science branch which joins so many science disciplines. Molecular gastronomy is more than just considering molecules during cooking of food processing, more than molecular cooking, more than food and aroma paring, more than chemistry, biology and physics, more than cultural and social sciences. Molecular gastronomy needs to define the coupling and the interplay between these areas. Texture research without discussing the corresponding aroma release does not make much sense. Taste delivery without the precise characterization of the state of matter is useless. The discussion of the odor activity of aroma compounds without the boundary conditions of solubility in the food under consideration appears purely academic. And last but not least, discussing sensory properties of food without its cultural and social background does not reach people. Molecular gastronomy was, is, and will be a scientific discipline on its own.

Molecular gastronomy defines multi cooking techniques

Cooking is more than manipulation with molecules, a sentence which is often expressed by chefs, e.g. René Redzepi. Indeed that (almost trivial) phrase already shows, molecular gastronomy connects scientists and chefs, as has been shown in many examples, no matter what cooking style is preferred. It is obvious in what has been named “molecular kitchen” or molecular cuisine, associated often with chefs like Ferran Adria and others, when cooking became very technical and a number of so far by chefs unused techniques have been introduced. Basic techniques have become overthought and many cooking styles became overthought and more precise than in previous times. The closer look to taste, aroma and texture re-opened the access to foods which have been forgotten. A closer look to what nature delivers enables new trends, expressed in dishes which use only very regional and local foods, including herbs, moss and insects, very often combined with techniques coming out of laboratories, which sometimes yields the impression cooking turns to applied science and food technology.

Definitely despite all enjoyment, pleasure and indulgence, at the end all what we cook, eat, experience, percept, are only molecules, a large variety of molecules which play together a complicated game in soft condensed materials. To understand this piece by piece and step by step comes down in “molecular gastronomy” ; in and with all senses.

Food is simply soft matter at its best.

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