How Food & Science Work Together

How Food & Science Work Together

The interdisciplinary field of food science is a melting pot of various branches of sciences. Try this delicious experiment today!

What Is Food Science?

The interdisciplinary field of food science is a melting pot of various branches of sciences. This includes chemistry, biology, physics, nutrition, and engineering which all explore the different aspects of the food industry. With such a wide scope to study, food scientists have the intricate tasks of investigating the properties of food products. This process ensures consumer safety, food taste, nutrition, and sustainability. The science of food has also been used to understand how our brain and body respond to the consumption of specific foods and to assess the health benefits of certain spices. 

Hi, I’m Isabelle, a proud member of the F.A.B. (Food, Art, Science) team here at Spyce. My earliest experience with the culinary scene involves documenting my mother’s recipes before mustering the courage to prepare them. As I obsessed over noting the exact measurement for every ingredient, I was told there was no exact science to cooking and that I should simply follow my intuition. 

Although this advice was motivation enough to start my cooking journey and lead to many unpalatable creations (that I still fed to my family), it allowed me to experiment with different spices and have fun with whatever ingredients I had available. Like many, I’ve learned to be creative with my measurements and ingredients, but all along there was a science to cooking and baking that was worth exploring. 

The Scientific Process

The fundamental knowledge about healthy foods and nutrition stems from experimental research. Similar to every other science, it is based on the scientific method of inquiry.

“Scientists discover the health effects of food and nutrients by first making an observation and posing a question they would like to answer. Then they formulate a hypothesis (a prediction or proposed answer to their question), test their hypothesis through experiments, and interpret the results. After analyzing additional evidence from multiple sources, they may form a conclusion on whether the food suspect fits the claim.”

Rainbow Noodles Food Science Experiment

Color changing noodle recipe/pH indicator from red cabbage 

If you want to experience and taste science in a dish. I’d suggest you try this pH-sensitive, color-changing noodle recipe. It’s a true scientific culinary work of art!

What You Need:

Measure the following to taste:

  • Small head of red/ purple cabbage (half or quartered)
  • Rice noodles 
  • Favorite veggies: (I suggest sliced garlic, onion, scallion, green peppers, parsley, portobello mushroom, and napa cabbage)
  • Olive oil
  • Soy sauce
  • Lemon (or lime) juice
  • White vinegar
  • Vegetable (or Chicken) broth
  • Seasoning: Salt, pepper, paprika, garlic/onion/chili powder, oregano, cumin
  • Water
  • Strainer
  • Knife

Procedure

  1. Slice the red cabbage into roughly ¼ in wide strips (the width of your pinky) 
  2. Add to a pot and add enough water to cover 
  3. Boil until wilted
  4. Drain the cabbage and keep the purple liquid 
  5. Saute the boiled cabbage in some oil with the garlic and veggies
  6. Finish with a splash of soy sauce
  7. Using the purple water, cook the rice noodles following the instructions on the package (save any leftover water you have for future experiments!)
  8. Drain and add some olive oil to prevent clumping

Making The Sauce

  • Add and mix the lemon juice, vinegar and some water into the broth  
  • Season to taste

Limit dark ingredients that might discolor the sauce. Once you’ve performed your experiment, you can flavor with additional seasoning and condiment. The sauce should be light and clear for the experiment. 

Chemical reaction 

  1. Plate your noodles and veggies
  2. Add the sauce to only half of the noodles. What do you notice?

How It Works: The Science Behind Rainbow Noodles 

Red cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata f. rubra) contains a class of pigment called anthocyanins, which gives it its color. Anthocyanins are water-soluble and highly sensitive to pH, light, temperature, and structure. In acidic solution, the type of anthocyanin found in red cabbage, cyanidin, appears reddish-purple but turns pink with a pH decrease. 

The pH (or potential of hydrogen) is a measurement of the number of hydrogen ions (an electrically charged hydrogen atom) in the solution. The more hydrogen ions, the more acidic the solution and the lower the pH value. The higher the pH value, the more basic the solution. Depending on the surrounding pH, cyanidin can appear red, purple, or blue.

Without delving too much into the specific mechanisms of the biochemical reaction, the addition of the acidic solution of lime/vinegar to the noodles alters the structure of the cyanidin and subsequently, the wavelength of light reflected. The key to the structural change lies in the ionic nature of the molecule. Similar to little atomic magnets interacting with one another, the hydrogen ions in solutions interact with the oxygen atoms in the molecule and change the bond arrangement. As the structure changes, the molecule begins to absorb light at a shorter wavelength and appears red/ pink. 

Based on this observation, can you design an experiment using the scientific method?


Optional (DO NOT EAT OR DRINK):

If you have some leftover purple water, you can use it as a pH indicator to test various solutions found in your home. Example: sugar solution, vinegar, water, baking soda solution, clear carbonated drink, drain cleaner, window cleaner, bleach

Add an equal amount of each solution to a clear cup. Then add equal amounts of purple water into each cup. Do you notice a color change? If so, which colors do you see? Based on the colors, try to order each solution from least to most acidic. (Hint: if a substance is a base, the solution will turn blue, green, or yellow)

Fun Facts

Anthocyanins have been traditionally used as natural food dyes. Other than the nutritional benefits they also have medicinal properties. In herbal medicine, anthocyanin-rich substances have long been used to treat many conditions due to their anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties.

The Beauty of Food Science

Science is all around us. It is very much part of the food we eat every day and the processes we use for food preservation. Although the perfect balance of ingredients and spices is enjoyable to our taste buds, they also catalyze essential and useful biochemical reactions.

For Example: Adding vinegar to water while making poached eggs helps the egg hold its shape by allowing the egg-white protein, ovalbumin, to coagulate faster. The addition of baking soda to an acidic batter produces carbon dioxide gas which then serves as a leavening agent for baking. The salinity of pickling water creates a perfect environment for the bacterium lactobacillus to thrive, which produces lactic acid and out-competes harmful bacteria.

So, next time you have something delicious cooking in the pot or baking in the oven, think about the principles underlying the food processes and preparation you use, and the importance of each ingredient in facilitating a chemical reaction. Skip an ingredient or step and you might find yourself in hot water. If your noodles ever turn blue in the presence of red cabbage, you now know what’s up… It’s the pH!

Isabelle Pierre I’m the Catering and Customer Support Associate at Spyce, and part of the F.A.B. crew. I’m a science nerd by trade, a volunteer educator, and visual and performing art creative at heart. I’m a bit of a foodie who loves the outdoors, enjoys a good DIY project and I’m convinced that I sometimes think in music, dance, and colors. And oh yes, I own a pocket microscope!

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