Issue Date: September 1, 2008
Molecular Kitchen Chemistry
“Kitchen Chemistry” provided me with much amusement (C&EN, July 7, page 26). As I read it, it appeared that the approach of connecting chemistry to cooking was something quite new and novel. My professional life has focused on research in food chemistry, physics, and microbiology for more than 50 years.
Food research goes back more than 200 years. In the early part of the 20th century, it was conducted by women who were faculty members in departments of food and nutrition, which were primarily located in land-grant universities. I still have a copy of the book “Experimental Foods” by Belle Lowe of Iowa State University; the first edition was published in the 1930s. Of course, research back then was limited by the knowledge base of the time and by the instrumentation of the day, but not by the talent and imagination of the researchers.
What is being done today is new but not the first research in the field of food.
Eugenia M. Zallen
I was rather surprised to see no mention of the late Nikolas Kurti, who must surely be considered the pioneer in this field, in the “Kitchen Chemistry” text box on molecular gastronomy (page 29). It was Kurti, not Hervé This, who first coined the term “molecular gastronomy” at a meeting in Oxford, England, in 1980. As early as 1969, Kurti hosted a show on British television titled “The Physicist in the Kitchen”; he gave a similarly titled presentation at the Royal Institution in London at about the same time. Highlights of the presentation included cooking sausages by placing them across the terminals of a car battery and using a microwave oven to create an inverted baked Alaska—hot on the inside and cold on the outside.
Kurti’s other research interest was in low-temperature physics, and for many years he held the world record for the lowest temperature achieved on Earth.
Grand Junction, Colo.
I might have taken molecular gastronomy one step further than Lisa Jarvis’ interesting article. For example, there are pleiomeric chemicals reported in onions that have some potential to alleviate or prevent sore throat. The onion, long used folklorically for sore throat, is our best food source of the pleiomeric quercetin. Information about thousands of herbs and more than 100 diseases can be found on the Department of Agriculture website, www.ars-grin.gov/duke/dev/all.html.
James A. Duke
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