Food chemistry

I have many favorite scenes from Anne of Green Gables, but one of them of Matthew being shy about buying Anne a dress with puffed sleeves. In his effort to stall, he buys 20 pounds of brown sugar for Marilla. I love it.

My husband has become a cookie-making-machine, and last night he discovered mid-batch that we had run out of brown sugar. He thought he could just skip it; I thought he should find a different recipe or use white sugar. We compromised and made a quick trip to the store. Tonight I was making soup and realized I was out of curry powder. I had some curry paste, but had been burned by adding too much paste in previous situations, so had to consult Google just to be certain I could use it. I'm not a natural in the kitchen by any stretch of the imagination.

Cooks Recipes provides many charts, including common food substitutes, temperature charts (for meat and candy), and food yield charts. The University of Illinois Extension Office provides another substitution chart, as well as equivalent charts, but focuses a bit more on nutrition than the previous. The Cook's Thesaurus, another neat tool, is a searchable encyclopedia that contains pictures, pronunciations and background information on many ingredients and kitchen tools, in addition to providing preparation tips and substitution information.

Turns out, three of my cookbooks also provide substitution charts. I am quick to turn to the web for everything...

Other fun food science sites
About.com has several articles on the chemistry of food.
  • Cutting onions can make us cry because the enzymes they release produce a sulfur compound. You can minimize the amount of tears by refrigerating the onion, cutting under water, or holding a spoon in your mouth Veronica-Mars-style.
  • Pop Rocks are made by inserting pressurized carbon dioxide into the hard candy mixture.
  • Thujone (present in absinthe, and blamed for the hallucinations and insanity 'the green fairy' was known to cause) is also present in sage and tarragon, as well as vermouth. Although toxic in high quantities, it was possibly bad additives or the fact that the liqueur 136 proof that was the source of the ills.
Science News publishes a delightful blog called Food for Thought that records discoveries and explanations about all sorts of food-related topics, from fertilizing with urine to eating and cooking with rare seafood. Includes links to references and further readings.

The Exploratorium Museum of Science's (San Francisco) Science of Cooking offers recipes as well as webcasts, forms book recommendations and monthly features all providing information about the scientific processes at work when cooking and baking.

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