Students Home page
Making sense of cuisine
Molecular Gastronomy 2

Molecular Gastronomy - 2

If you haven't seen Molecular Gastronomy 1, it is here


A much shorter coverage has been published.  Go to "Pubs"
 and look in the side panel.


Here is a conversation which was updated on 28 Feb 09.


On the “Molecular Gastronomy 1” page in the “Gastronomy for All” Section, it says that Professor This has been invited to comment.  I sent him my questions and comments on an internet article he wrote. 
The website address is 


The reader is recommended at least to obtain an overview before reading the subsequent conversation.  It is not a five-minute read.


The author's reply is reproduced here.  You can see the conversation. You can participate in it using the email link on the Contact page.

Black text is from the website detailed below written by Herve This.   

 Red text gives my comment or asks a question.    

Paragraphs have been removed which do not relate to this analysis. 

Paragraphs here which are numbered by me are from Herve's website and aid cross-referencing.

The strange format [long kitchen-roll] derives from the original web page formatting.

In the end, MG is a matter of what it does and not what might be put into one definition.

My thanks to Professor This for taking an interest in this website. 


Food for tomorrow? How the scientific discipline of molecular gastronomy could change the way we eat
Hervé This
Hervé This is Scientific Director of the Fondation Science & Culture Alimentaire (Académie des sciences), and head of the INRA Molecular Gastronomy Group at the Laboratoire de chimie analytique, Institut National Agronomique Paris-Grignon, Paris, France, and at the Laboratoire de chimie des interactions moléculaires, Collège de France, Paris, France.

For years, a new culinary trend called 'molecular cooking' has been touted as the most exciting development in haute cuisine.
Why is it limited to haute cuisine?
It is now the newest fashion
“newest fashion” implies that it will not survive for long
for chefs to offer their customers fake caviar
Haute cuisine may claim to be aimed at gourmets. Why would a gourmet want fake caviar? Assign it to cuisine fausse or even cuisine canard.
made from sodium alginate and calcium, burning sherbets, spaghetti made from vegetables, and instant ice cream, fast-frozen using liquid nitrogen.
Why instant ice-cream? Do gourmets need to race for buses? 

What is molecular gastronomy? Is it only a temporary trend for people who are prepared to spend a small fortune on the latest in fine food, or is it here to stay? Is it a useful technique for both the average chef and anyone preparing dinner for their family? What does it mean for the future of food preparation? What are we going to eat tomorrow?

First, I will define molecular gastronomy, because there is still much confusion in the media about the true meaning of this term, in part because of mistakes Nicholas Kurti and I made when we created the discipline in 1988.
If the media is still confused, it can only react to the later information given.
 But I will start by distinguish between cooking and gastronomy: the first is the preparation of food, whereas the latter is the knowledge of whatever concerns man's nourishment.
A quotation from Brillat-Savarin to be found on his page in "Gastronomy for all" on my website 
In essence, this does not concern food fashions or how to prepare luxury food—such as tournedos Rossini, canard à l'orange or lobster orientale—but rather an understanding of food; and for the more restricted 'molecular gastronomy', it is the chemistry and physics behind the preparation of any dish: for example, why a mayonnaise becomes firm or why a soufflé swells.
Food Preparation lecturers in the 1960s explained that the oil in mayonnaise was emulsified by the lecithin in the egg yolk. A soufflé rose due to the air in the cold/warm mixture expanding on being heated

Of course, the 'molecular' in molecular gastronomy has the same definition as it does in molecular biology. The similarity is intentional, because chemistry and physics are at the core of this discipline, and I will return to this point to explain how physics and chemistry can change cooking. But it is clear that molecular gastronomy is a new science, and that there is already much more to it than what we read in the press. ……..
Despite having a huge impact on other aspects of our lives, scientific advances have done little to change our cooking habits.
The microwave oven, for one, has revolutionised meal preparation. 
When it comes to preparing food—the most important aspect of our life from a physiological point of view—citizens in developed countries still cook almost the same way as their ancestors did centuries ago.  
Fridges and deep-freezes not only have altered what is put on the table, they have altered the frequency and style of cooking both in citizens’ homes and the kitchens of caterers.
……… Kitchens are equipped with basically the same pans, whisks and sieves that cooks used in the seventeenth century.
But the panoply of food-processors, soup-whirrers and other electrical gadgets have speeded things up.
Similarly, culinary books from the fourteenth century to the twenty-first century all look the same, despite the introduction of new recipes
And there may be a slow process of moving from the “dish approach” to the “process approach” wherein the former, every dish demands its own recipe and method irrespective of the many processes which can simplify recipes and cooking methods. 

Indeed, cooking was the last of the 'chemical arts'
This sounds as if the term “chemical arts” applied to cookery has wide acceptance. It does not have any currency.
to become the object of scientific scrutiny and it still relies on telltale and anecdotal knowledge rather than solid science.
In spite of such scrutiny.
 ….. old wives' tales were partly the reason behind the creation of molecular gastronomy: I first started experimental studies of cooking after encountering a recipe for cheese soufflé that advised adding egg yolks "two by two, never by fractions".
It would be interesting to read the source and know how old it is. There is some sense in doing it in this way. The eggs would have been separated one at a time and assessed as to freshness. If it was a mixture which depended on its apparent readiness to proceed to the next stage, adding the yolk in pairs would have been a good idea.
Another reason was that the late Nicholas Kurti, professor of physics at Oxford University, UK, was upset by the poor and unscientific way that people cook (This, 1999). Initially, a handful of other people conducted separate studies of culinary processes, but in 1988, Kurti and I decided that we should create a new scientific discipline to investigate culinary transformations.

First, we had to find a name and a scientific programme to state the goals of this new discipline. Consequently, we organized the International Workshop on Molecular and Physical Gastronomy in 1992, held at the Ettore Majorana Centre for Scientific Culture in Erice, Italy, and invited chefs and scientists from all over the world. The success of this first meeting led us to repeat it every two years.  ….. I presented the first PhD in 'Molecular and Physical Gastronomy' at the University of Paris (
This, 1996). When Kurti died in 1998, I shortened 'molecular and physical gastronomy' to 'molecular gastronomy'—as it should have been from the beginning …….. 

Recipes, the most important written form of culinary knowledge,
Keep the word “knowledge” on the front burner as it reappears soon.
traditionally consist of two parts. The first is a 'definition': for example, a soufflé is a foamy product that swells during cooking, and crumples once someone pokes a knife or fork into it (otherwise it would be a cake); or a mayonnaise is an emulsion of oil in egg yolk, salt, pepper and vinegar. In general, these definitions are usually mixed with 'materials and methods' in the form of a cooking protocol: how many to use of each ingredient for a given number of guests and how to process, blend and cook these ingredients to turn them into the final product. In addition, a recipe might contain what I call 'culinary precisions', such as hints and advice, old wives' tales, tricks, adages and maxims.
Hints and advice form part of the techniques within cookery. “Don’t over do the mixing-in of the flour into the batter when making a sponge. Fold it in gently when making a soufflé.” As technique, they are part of the technology (another term to keep in mind).
It seems unusual to put old wives' tales in the same basket as hints and advice which help achieve culinary precision. Tricks (in this context,  are more nippy versions of hints and advice), and adages (traditional phrases expressing general truths) may de diluted hints and advice.  Maxims are well-known sayings which also express general truths. (We meet them again on the Brillat-Savarin pages.) However, old wives’ tales survive the test of time. They may inspire confidence in an otherwise nervous housewife.

Take, for example, an eighteenth century book that advises us to cover the pan when beef is cooked with water to produce stock (Albert, 1838).
In which category does this fall? Should it be categorised? It is just commonsense at the making stage but not at the consolidation (reduction) stage. It reduced the amount of steam in the 1830s kitchen and still does.
If this recommendation is correct, why? And if it is not, why did someone write this sentence more than 150 years ago? To answer this question, we can use tools from physics, chemistry and biology—for example, the microscope, the thermometer and the gas chromatograph—to investigate the processes that take place during cooking. If we can answer the question, we can correct a mistake, use this knowledge to improve the cooking process or even invent new dishes or ways to prepare food.
And in this way, chefs create knowledge.

One example of how chemistry and physics can lead to new ways of cooking is provided by the egg. If we heat an egg, water evaporates, the proteins denature and polymerize to enclose water, and the end result is a cooked egg. Is there another way to do this? Yes, alcohol can do the same trick because it can denature proteins; thus we achieve the same result by adding liquor to a raw egg.
Most of us prefer our eggs denatured naturally if that isn’t a contradiction in terms. The alcohol can be enjoyed before, during or after.
Similarly, the scientifically proven way to obtain an airy soufflé is to heat it from below, so the evaporating water pushes the dough upwards. This is simple physics but it can help us to make better food.
That sounds like a tray of water on the open stove. It’s more efficient surrounded by heat albeit in the oven with the tray of water. The dough (batter is better) rises due to the expansion of the air in the batter. 

Initially, as written in my PhD dissertation, molecular gastronomy had five aims:
to collect and investigate old wives' tales about cooking; to model and scrutinize existing recipes; to introduce new tools, products and methods to cooking; to invent new dishes using knowledge from the previous three aims; and to use the appeal of food to promote science(This, 1995).
We are almost half way through but the statement “First, I will define molecular gastronomy ..” has yet to materialise. The five aims are as good as it gets.
Today, it is easy to see that this scientific programme was misleading …… The first two aims
to collect and investigate old wives' tales about cooking; to model and scrutinize existing recipes
are really scientific goals,
the third and the fourth
to introduce new tools, products and methods to cooking;
to invent new dishes using knowledge from the previous three aims
are only technological applications, and the fifth aim
to use the appeal of food to promote science
is an educational application of the first four.

Nevertheless, the programme attracted a lot of media coverage,  ………. One very important event was a 'science and cooking' menu served by Pierre Gagnaire at the Academy of Sciences, during a lecture on molecular gastronomy at the beginning of 2000. The creation of an online presence (www.pierre-gagnaire.com), which lists a new application of molecular gastronomy every month, has also contributed to the rapid spread of this discipline among scientists and chefs alike.  …..

New Dishes named after Famous Chemists

Since 2005, new dishes, produced on the basis of the results of molecular gastronomy, have been named after famous chemists or scientists, so people are now eating 'chemistry'. This is one way to fight the public's fear of science and to promote the diffusion of knowledge.
That low proportion of the UK (at least) public which looks at food labels stands in the supermarket aisle in fear and dread of “eating ‘chemistry’ ”. 

One example has been left in this edited version.
Have you ever put a whole egg into alcohol? If you are patient enough, ethanol will permeate the shell and promote coagulation. After about one month, the result is a strange coagulated egg called a Baumé, after the French chemist Antoine Baumé (1728–1804).
Anyone want another strange egg? Being “patient enough” cancels the time saved by making instant ice-cream or do you put the egg in the ice-cream?.
Traditional crop fields are being replaced in order to produce biodiesel. Perhaps ethanol can be bottled to add to your morning egg.

Educational efforts are equally important. In 2001, the Ateliers Expérimentaux du Gout (experimental workshops on flavour) were created in French schools. Since then, Canada and France have introduced new curricula for culinary schools to include knowledge obtained from molecular gastronomy. In 2005, the Institute for Advanced Studies on Flavour, Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts was created in Reims, France, to promote gastronomy knowledge, including molecular gastronomy. Universities in various countries, such as the Netherlands, Denmark and Argentina have set up professorships in this discipline.
The Gastronomy News page demonstrates that the UK does not understand Gastronomy. (See item on Canada.) Dr This would do well to look wider afield to Adelaide. There is less point in looking within the UK.

Despite this spread of knowledge and interest, mistakes are still made. In 2002, for example, the media described some chefs as 'molecular gastronomists',
The media can hardly be blamed for misinterpreting the jargon which any set of specialists creates for its own consumption. Feed the media with the correct material and this will happen less.
which is obviously wrong because chefs create food, not knowledge.
Time to look at that pan on the front burner (paragraphs 8 and 9).
Course in cookery and cookery books are available everywhere and at every level. Chefs, cooks and housewives create knowledge all the time and pass it on to their colleagues, trainees and children.
This confusion was caused in part by our scientific programme, which was not purely scientific but included technological applications and education. From the beginning, Kurti and I agreed that molecular gastronomy was science and not technology,
In paragraph 25 we will read “Science is the basis for technology”.
In paragraph 8, I said “Don’t over do the mixing-in of the flour into the batter when making a sponge. Fold it in gently when making a soufflé.” As technique, they are part of the technology (another term to keep in mind).
MG surely has its own techniques (using liquid hydrogen and injecting food with chemical are examples) if not its own “culinary precisions”  without old wives’ tales.
so we excluded the technological and educational elements.

Accordingly, our scientific programme became clearer when we reduced it to two aims: to model definitions, and to collect and scrutinize culinary precisions.
In paragraph 24, Herve This tells us that he has “now collected more than 25,000 culinary precisions, but they still need to be scrutinized; without more knowledge, culinary books cannot be regarded as reliable.” Culinary books are the technology within kitchens across the world. This is the knowledge he said that chefs do not create (paragraph 15 ..He said “
“chefs create food, not knowledge.”.
However, we rapidly found this new programme insufficient as well, because the main aim in cooking is to produce good food, which is art and not technique.
As can be seen from previous comment, it is art AND technique.
Furthermore, a dish can be cooked perfectly, but if it is not presented in an appealing way,
 .. art has been omitted from the most important stage – the presentation
all the art and science will mean little to the customer or guest; we therefore decided that we must include the 'love' component of culinary practice. Of course, science will probably never be able to fully explain art or love, but it can help; for example, evolutionary biology can contribute to the exploration of human behaviours, and, accordingly, culinary practice. Consequently, molecular gastronomy not only uses science to explore the technical aspect of cooking
which again raises the matter of whether technical aspects are the same as technology which was ruled out of MG as recently as in paragraph 16 – “From the beginning, Kurti and I agreed that molecular gastronomy was science and not technology,”
but also the 'art' and 'love' components, both of which are important for the main aim of cooking: to delight guests.

Let me try to explain the art component of cooking scientifically. In 2002, I introduced a formalism to describe, in a non-periodical manner, the organization of food space or different foodstuffs. All foods are complex disperse systems, also called 'soft matter'. The simplest of these systems—formerly called colloidal—are well known: emulsions, foams, gels and so forth. However, when food involves more than two phases, this classical description is no longer sufficient to describe something as simple as custard—which is probably why physicists eventually gave up trying to find a global description of complex systems and instead focused on interfaces between different phases (Israelachvili, 1992). But food needs more than interfaces to describe it; even a simple sauce such as a béarnaise consists of three phases: solid matter (microscopic egg-yolk aggregate) and a hydrophobic liquid (oil droplets) dispersed in a hydrophilic liquid (water). In order to describe the microscopic structure of such a system, we proposed the 'complex disperse systems' (CDS) formalism in 2002 at the European Colloid and Interface Society Meeting (This, 2003).

So what is the scientific usefulness of this formalism?
The reader might be forgiven for wondering when the “Let me try to explain the art component of cooking scientifically.” statement will be fulfilled.
I applied it to all classical sauces in French culinary history, from sauce africaine to sauce zingara, and showed that their number has increased regularly since the fourteenth century; in 2005, French cuisine had developed 23 different systems (This, 2004): solutions, oil-in-water emulsions, foamed emulsions, and so forth. Now, using the CDS formalism, the number of different sauces is potentially infinite, because new formulas can lead to new sauces and, more generally, to new dishes.

Similar to the study of how sauces have evolved over time, we can also study how these sauces evolved aesthetically—indeed, in 2004, it became obvious that if we want to study the art component of culinary practice, we have to analyse the aesthetics of food. The great German writer and philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote to the German writer Friedrich Schiller: "One essential characteristic of epic poetry is that it goes forth and back constantly, hence the epic character of all delaying motives" (Goethe, 1797). Similarly, food can be explained as a story, with a beginning—the ingredients are organized into a dish—and an end: when the plates are empty and the guests satisfied.
But the story would be a short and boring one if food were just a liquid, because our brains are built to detect contrasts and draw pleasure from them. Of course, food is mostly water, but this water is organized—for example, in the cells of plant and animal tissues—and proper preparation brings about the contrasts and the consistency of different foodstuffs: tender meat, firm mayonnaise, crunchy crackers. This is why consistency is an important factor of all food, and why cooks care so much about it. 
They have evolved techniques, perhaps culinary precisions, to achieve tender meat, crunchy crackers etc. All part of the technology. There may be artistic elements involved which is the intended focus of the debate here.

I therefore proposed an additional formalism, which I first introduced in 2004 to describe the organization of foodstuffs (This, 2005). It includes the 'consistency' of food by describing its firmness: gas is attributed a firmness level of zero; a liquid, one; an emulsion, two; a jellified emulsion, three; and so forth up to infinity, for example to describe chewing gum. Using this scale, what food has level four or five, for example? This is why understanding food needed some formalism to describe food preparations in terms of consistency. On the basis of this formalism, we can perform the same research as for sauces using the CDS formalism and, in this way, study the art component of food. This is interesting not only from a purely scientific point of view: if we are able to understand why a certain food is tasty and pleasurable, we can describe its preparation scientifically so even inexperienced cooks are able to make a good dinner without having to rely on years of experience or old wives' tales.
“we can describe its preparation scientifically” but not “the art component of culinary practice” promised much earlier.

So what is the future of food once we start to explore it scientifically? The difficult thing about the future is that it is hard to predict. We should avoid making the same mistakes that French chemist Marcellin Berthelot made about a century ago: he predicted that the success of organic chemistry would allow us to abandon traditional food and, by the year 2000, eat nutritive tablets instead (Berthelot, 1894). He was obviously wrong
Surely it is better to say that Berthelot has not yet been proved right. Who knows what science, even MG, will invent in the future?
—humans are living organisms, with an extremely sophisticated sensory apparatus that has evolved over millions of years to detect odour, taste, consistency, temperature and more. The pleasure of eating involves all our senses and it is obviously important for our wellbeing—why else did our ancestors start to cook their meat and vegetables even before they invented civilization?

One of the most important and worrying trends is the current pandemic of obesity. Even in Crete, where the so-called 'Cretan diet' originated, up to one-third of 12-year-old children are now overweight or obese (IOTF, 2003).
This only proves that the Cretan diet is useless, unused or both.
 Another clear trend is the increasing concern for our environment and healthy food, and the increasing proportion of humans who live in cities. Finally, there is a growing divide between scientists and laypeople, and an increasing disaffection in society for science and research. All these developments will inevitably have an important impact on what and how we eat and, accordingly, on how we prepare our food.

Together, these developments further strengthen the idea that children must get more information about food and food preparation. Decades of research on nutrition now provide us with a large amount of data on what and how much our bodies need to stay healthy, but the current trend towards obesity is in good part caused by a fatal attraction to junk food, soft drinks and sweets. Consequently, health programmes that promote a balanced diet cannot succeed if people are unable to make intelligent choices about food.
Such matters are looked at in the Health Education and Food group of pages of my website.
However, traditional cooking is not a guarantee either for healthy food or for a rational preparation of food.

This is where the scientific programme of molecular gastronomy can be useful. If we are able to use the knowledge gained on food preparation, we might find new ways to make healthy food more attractive, we might persuade more people to cook better food and, last but not least, we might convince society to regard eating as a pleasure rather than a necessity.
As a Frenchman, Herve This will know as much about Moliere as most people. He cut the mustard regarding living to eat and eating to live. It depends where you live. In France, it is supposed there that you eat to live. UK citizens and others have never heard of Moliere.
I have now collected more than 25,000 culinary precisions, but they still need to be scrutinized; without more knowledge, culinary books cannot be regarded as reliable.
But that scrutiny will not rewrite the  many thousands of cookery books used today and which will be passed on to future generations. It may be better to show the world the results of the scrutiny outside the framework of MG. In that way, any prejudice regarding MG can be filtered out of the presentation.
Moreover, educational programmes cannot rely only on traditional recipes, because products, methods and ingredients have changed over time. Cooking has to be explored scientifically if we want to improve educational health programmes.

And what does molecular gastronomy hold for chefs? For them, the scientific exploration of cooking is even more important. Science is the basis for technology and new innovations, so this field will help them to create exciting new dishes and inventions. All sciences are useful for this enterprise, not only chemistry and physics, but also biology, as well as history and sociology. However, for chefs, and hopefully for non-chefs as well, the main aim is to surprise and delight their guests or their family with exciting, tasty and healthy food.
If that means using MG, it has many obstacles to overcome. This account of it has not produced a definition or  explained important aspects such as its artistic elements. Until such time when gourmets queue to eat fake caviar and every home is connected to liquid nitrogen, MG needs to re-invent itself. There may be large numbers of devotees but proportionally, they are in the minority.
This is not to decry Herve This as he has produced a very interesting book. I have reacted to what he wrote in his internet statement and subsequently over numerous emails. His book gives very little definition of MG. 

WelcomeAllGreenSociety/1Society/2..IWFSDrinkPubsCuisineHaggis HealthStudentsLecturersAuthorSpeakerContact Common Page