Injecting Culinary Preservatives

Has anyone never tried instant noodles?
Something like Indomie or Top Ramen. The kind of pre-prepared, processed food from factories that come with the solid block of carbs that become less stiff and flow more like proper noodles once they settle in the hot water for a few minutes. The flavor of hot water and bland dough are swathed in layers of condiments like chili powder, garlic powder, msg, and some oils. Those packets that come at the cost of spare change, and theoretically a few organs when eaten too frequently, have become an everyday meal for people who can’t afford to eat better because there are more important things to pay for, like rent.

Aside from the health hazards, think about how advanced the technology is.
To be able to create a massive amount of food on a large scale and have it be virtually non-perishable is an outstanding feat. The chemicals used to process the food and allow it to be immortal is not safe human ingestion, but it is certainly a large leap from a long time ago. Even if the food is going to decompose for certain, there exists refrigerators that delays that inevitable outcome. The seemingly simplistic method of refrigeration certainly goes beyond placing things in tin cans and hoping the copious amounts of salt can kill the germs before the raw food goes rotten. Or pre-cooking the food so that the bacteria are dead, but the food becomes cold, stale, and still at risk from fungal growth in a matter of days.

In the modern era, not only are the food storage techniques more reliable, but the art of food preparation is also more advanced. With electronic tools such as blenders, toasters, ovens, and stoves, anyone can make any meal worthy of an Instagram story. Not everyone has the skill to make it impressive, but that doesn’t matter with the current technology. Anyone can cook a recipe they pull off from the internet on beginner-friendly kitchen appliances using ingredients from around the world. Capture and post the outcome on the digital media, and it will probably get the fleeting attention of some random strangers from somewhere in the world. With a few simple recipes and online video tutorials, people can claim to be master chefs, live a healthier lifestyle, and save money on food by buying only ingredients instead of everyday takeout.

Perhaps not the “master chef” part, but the message is there.

The scale at which human survival operates is global. It is not just the fact that raw ingredients can be imported across countries more efficiently, but also the options humans have when it comes to cooking. We get to not only purchase and cook non-native produce, but also decide the style of the meals, such as Italian, Greek, or Chinese. With the ubiquitous availability of information regarding recipes, ingredients and cooking techniques on the internet, an amateur home cook can compete with professional chefs in their own game. An average person with a mere internet connection can influence and be influenced from anywhere at anytime by anyone. Compared to the days before the internet, recipes had to be handed down from generation to generation, parent to child, chef to apprentice. The art of picking ingredients had to be taught by a professional or paid institution, or learned through trials and errors. The path to becoming a proper cook has become shorter and easier, and that is only with traditional cuisines from known places such as Asia and Europe. Imagine what these people could do if they learned a bit of science!

With the progression of science and technology, professional chefs tend to have the same know-how and hygiene as medical doctors. Alongside the standard procedures of washing hands and keeping clean uniforms, the equipment both professions use for their jobs must be sterilized and cleaned to the highest degree, from syringes to knives. Higher level chefs have to enact a certain precision akin to surgeons, and an eye for food like painters to their art. A lot of chefs with Michelin stars talk about cooking as an art of passion, innovating dishes for the perfect set of flavors, and reinventing meals to suit a particular challenge, like a wholesome meal that tastes meaty for vegans. But sometimes, science wants to take a crack at food, like with Indomie packets, to create interesting and innovative treats within a field of culinary chemistry. This is a field known as “molecular gastronomy”. With foods like pop rocks, cocktail ice spheres, flavored gel and paper, ice cream frozen on the spot, and noodles that taste like herbs, the possibilities of new dishes and their various interpretations are endless.

Professionals like Heston Blumenthal take that creativity to overdrive.
This proprietor of the three-Michelin-starred restaurant The Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire uses scientific processes and tools to elevate the sensation of his dishes. He frequently attempts to reinterpret classic dishes and throw the concept of normal out the window. (Check out his bacon and egg ice cream). One prominent example is when he attempts on mimicking the sensation of being inside Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Blumenthal was able to use liquify nitrogen by cooling it down to subzero temperatures and make a waterfall of chocolate by adding some chocolate powder. Not a liquid chocolate waterfall, but a misty flow of chocolate liquid that dissolves in cool smoke, leaving fine chocolate dust in its wake. Videos of him taking advantage of the intersection between science and culinary arts are viral all over YouTube. They are certainly worth a watch.

Blumenthal’s work is an extreme example of molecular gastronomy, but it demonstrates the potential of scientific play within the art of cooking itself. Technology has certainly made food global, safe and somewhat homogenized, but that is merely a shallow view. Science not only elevates the efficiency of food dissemination and consumption, but also pushes the boundaries on how a meal is viewed and consumed. Technology, as the byproduct of science, will inevitably help in this. Whether it is by supplying information and inspiration, or by helping to properly get a dish down, science and food will always play a part in each other’s flourish.