Is kitchen a chemistry laboratory?
Posted on September 20th, 2010

Dr Hector Perera UK 

I am delighted to say that I had a successful live cooking demonstration to a TV channel in Sri Lanka.  In cooking, I think one must have a sound knowledge of chemistry because there is a relationship between the food we eat or drink and the chemicals, then the chemicals in the kitchen and the chemicals in a school laboratory.

During the demonstration, I used only the basic things such as brown rice, fish and green leaves that are commonly eaten as they are healthy. For cooking, a two ring gas cooker then two stainless steel cooking utensils and a non stick pan. The ingredients such as chilly powder, curry powder, goraka [garcinia indica], tamarind, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, turmeric powder, curry leaves, lemon grass, rampae, ginger, garlic, vinegar and table salt were used for cooking but no other special additives, colouring, sauce, preservatives and fish or beef or chicken stocks were used because they have too many chemicals and colourings in them.  I wanted to show my scientific cooking using the normal basic ingredients, using the normal utensils. In Sri Lanka Aluminium cookware is widely used in domestic and commercial cooking applications. Issues of health and toxicity in use of such cookware have been reported. The acidic and basic ingredients in food attack aluminium. The amphoteric nature of Aluminium is that it dissolves in acidic as well as in basic substances and these are widely present in all types of food. As we cook the protective aluminium oxide layer gets dissolved and more metal gets exposed. The stainless steel vessels are resistant to these chemical reactions and further there is a thick base of metal that would save energy due to its high thermal capacity.

Chemicals in the kitchen and chemistry lab

Let me point out some chemicals in the kitchen and from the school laboratory. There is this chemical sodium bicarbonate in the school laboratory and it’s the same chemical used in the kitchen making bread and hoppers, washing soda used in soap powder  and this is called sodium carbonate in the school laboratory, table salt is called sodium chloride in the school laboratory, the vinegar in the kitchen is the ethanoic acid in the laboratory, hydrochloric acid is a very strong acid with pH one and this is found in the stomach for digestion,  washing up liquid has NaOH in it giving this slippery feeling and NaOH is used in the laboratory for chemical tests, cooking gas is called methane or natural gas, the same gas is burnt in the chemistry laboratory and in the kitchen.  Lime juice has citric acid, it’s an organic acid, chillies have ascorbic acid, what about cinnamon, it has cinnamon oils and aldehydes,  sun flower oil, coconut oil or olive oils have essential strings of carbons with OH and COOH functional groups, some oils have carbon to carbon single bonds only and they are broadly called saturated oils.

Chemicals in food

I have listened to some cooks and chef’s cooking programmes in the British TV and they just call saturated and unsaturated oils but I doubt whether they have any chemistry qualifications? I suggest that the future cooks must have some chemistry qualifications? Those oils with some carbon to carbon double bonds are the unsaturated oils and the doctors say these oils are quite healthy to eat but not a lot! The other cooking ingredients such as cumin seeds, coriander seeds,  cardamoms, cloves, curry leaves, lemon grass or even green chillies or onions, garlic or ginger, they all have hundreds of complicated organic chemicals. Some of these chemical ingredients have very low volatile liquids and they tend to come out when they were cut or while cooking. When you cut some onions you would notice the smell of onions and this wouldn’t be possible if there were no volatile liquids in onions. Have I got to say about the odour in garlic?

In the kitchen or in super markets we have processed meat with the addition of a colour fixer called sodium nitrite and we have this chemical in the chemistry laboratory. When sodium nitrite is added, it makes the dead grey meat look freshly red. It is added to bacon, sausages, hot dogs, pepperoni and comb beef. Some people know this chemical as, “ajina motto” which explodes the taste buds but induces the growth of cancer cells. Despite causing cancer, sodium nitrite has remained legal in the food supply to this day. Have you noticed some take away foods are absolutely tasty, have they used this chemical?
 The Bunsen burner was discovered by a German scientist called Bunsen and up until now he is remembered by using the word Bunsen burner. In the laboratory we use a Bunsen burner to burn methane so that only certain reactions can be carried out by heating but in the kitchen we use the same gas but actually the cooker is a large Bunsen burner for cooking. In my point of view all the food we eat and drink are some kind of chemicals, essentially they all have the basic chemical elements such as carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sodium, potassium, sulphur and even iron. These elements have chemically combined in such a marvellous manner to form different molecules in food. Just imagine with 26 letters in English alphabet how many words are synthesised similarly with carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and with other elements such as sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulphur and iron how many complicated chemicals have been synthesised? In the periodic table of elements there are more than 103 elements but in English language there are only 26 letters to make all these words. Am I the first one to come out with such an analogy? I am sure not all these elements combine to make chemical compounds. The red blood cells have iron; in prawns they have found 22 trace elements such as copper, selenium, molybdenum, chromium, antimony, manganese, titanium and even bismuthwith all that chemicals, prawn’s have colourless or slightly blue blood. Eating prawns are better than taking vitamin pills?

Elements in any kind of food or drink

What are the basic elements in rice or wheat, carbon, hydrogen and oxygen chemically combined to form carbohydrates? Then there are vitamins and the structures are far too complicated.  I think most Asians consume rice as the staple diet but in Western countries they consume bread and rolls made out of wheat so whether we eat rice or wheat, essentially they all consume the same basic elements. I can point out the essential elements in all other types of food such as fish, poultry, beef, pork, eggs, milk, butter and cheese, they have proteins that means they have carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur , may be some phosphorus and iron. The shinny lateral lines on some fishes havephosphorus. The rotten eggs have this typical smell of hydrogen sulphide found in chemistry laboratories.  The point I am trying to stress is that there is a huge relationship between the foods we eat and drink and the chemicals. I think one cannot find any food or drink without these basic elements such as carbon, hydrogen, oxygen then some foods have other elements such as nitrogen, sulphur, phosphorus, iron and may be trace amount of other elements.  

Let me ask you a simple question, ” would you like to cook as you are used to and have a shower of aroma from cooking chemicals  or would you like to know my scientific, energy saving, money saving scientific cooking”? The choice is yours, you may contact me on [email protected].   

If any scientist, an environmentalist or any other qualified person scientifically disproves my kind of cooking then there is a prize to give away, yes Rs 250,000 or an equivalent amount in sterlings or dollars. If one used my technique for a month, three months then for an year, just imagine the amount of money that could have been saved. What about if few millions of people used my technique, then a substantial amount of money would have been saved, am I correct? Happy cooking.

3 Responses to “Is kitchen a chemistry laboratory?”

  1. Ben_silva Says:

    A good article indicating the effects of Chemicals. I wish to draw the attention to the plight of people in NCP dying due to consumption of water contaminated by toxins. Ref: http://www.lankaweb.com/news/items08/190508-6.html The people in NCP need help from GOSL and others and awareness is needed. Perhaps the good Doctor can pass on the info and even produce a TV program.

  2. gunawardhana Says:

    As a chemist, I like this article. You have to give more details `your kind of cooking` for common people.

  3. helaya Says:

    It true that Aluminum cookwera imported from India is the main reason for Cronic Kidney Disease prevelant in NCP. Now people are converting good old clay pots. Doctors must advise the masses on how to prevent chemicals affecting their cooking and eating behaviour.

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