Cooking is a chemical reaction
Posted on September 21st, 2010

Dr Hector Perera

In a chemistry laboratory certain reactions are carried out at room temperature and certain chemicals are heated together to make other chemicals. In synthetic organic chemistry experiments far too complicated chemicals are synthesised in several steps for example antibiotics can be synthesised using simple sugar molecules. When certain bonds in chemicals are broken then only other chemicals can react together?  In my point of view cooking is a kind of chemical reaction and the rate of reaction can be controlled to some extent by controlling the temperature, sometimes we heat and sometimes we cool to make other chemicals.  In cooking we need to understand that we are dealing with plenty of chemicals of with different boiling points, volatility, density and viscosity. Some of the chemicals are in liquid form while some in solid form and some gaseous products also associated with these different food ingredients. The actual chemical structure of the any cookingingredient is highly complicated to be mentioned here.

Cooking ingredients and chemicals

Imagine you have added all the ingredients to cook some fish or a vegetable dish. Some of these ingredients or the chemicals stay on the surface while some get partially absorbed at room temperature. Let me quickly remind the ingredients that are added for cooking fish or chicken, they are chilly powder, roasted curry powder containing a cocktail of ingredients, turmeric powder, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, cardamoms, cloves, curry leaves, lemon grass, rampae, onion, vinegar, tamarind, green chillies, pepper, salt, may be some coconut powder or milk, some oils such as olive oil, coconut vinegar or wine vinegar then finally about half a cup of water.When you mix them and look at the mixture of ingredients that are intact with chicken then can anyone safely say exactly where each one of these ingredients are or where these chemicals are? Have I not mentioned earlier that all these ingredients are some kind of chemicals? Now even before cooking some chemical reactions are taking place between these ingredients but the rate of chemical reactions are going to increase when this mixture is gradually heated or cooking, am I correct? How do we safely cook without any knowledge of chemicals? Perhaps some celebrity cooks have some chemistry qualifications.

What happens when cooking?

Now when you started to cook this on the fire, some chemicals ooze out, some juice out, some get absorbed, some react with each other or with different ingredients then some gases are formed and these gases try to interact with each other and some try to escape as the temperature is increased. As the temperature increases in the cooking vessel, some water turns into vapour then other ingredients try to escape or piggy back water molecules and try to escape but if we are careful we are able to control to some extent but not totally prevented this multi molecular escape. Sometimes when we cook a chicken or beef curry, the whole kitchen is filled with this smell due to escape of this cocktail of volatile liquids. Some people cook outside the main house to avoid the strong odours in these curries. I am sure you must have witnessed these at home as well as in TV cooking programmes.

Scientific method of cooking chicken

 If we had a stainless steel vessel with a suitable lid then it will exert a certain pressure on the escaping gas due to the weight of the lid. By years of cooking experience I know roughly within a matter of few minutes this chicken or fish curry comes to a boiling point and this can be visually noticed because traces of steam coming out of the lid. At this point, I reduce the gas and again look out for a minute. Then if it still steams furiously or lots of steam comes out, try and reduce so that a trace only comes out. At this point the steam and other volatile gases are inthermodynamic equilibrium that means, most of the escaping gases get condensed back into the vessel. I can mention these things but nothing like a practical demonstration. This is maintained this way because I have controlled the rate of the reaction by manipulating the temperature.  When this is in near equilibrium point make a note of the time then you are free to do something else or go away for about 20 or 30 minutes. This cuts down the spread of this strong odour all round the kitchen and the house. If that was fish then you can cook for 20 minutes but if it is chicken you may cook it for 30 minutes that means you are free for this much of time. Note that chicken, beef, fish are bad conductors of heat sometimes contaminated with bacteria or germs so it needs a reasonable time to cook. Never open the lid during this chemical reaction or cooking because all the volatile gases are in a very volatile mood and there is a huge reaction or reactions are talking place. If we open the lid then by law of science these volatile gases condense on any cold surface that comes to contact. Often most people open the lid and give a good stir then these cocktail of gases deposit on their hands, face, clothes, hair or on any exposed parts of the body that means without your knowledge you got a dash of Asian cologne or a curry cologne“, if you were cooking fish or chicken using curry powder and the rest. When you walk about this microscopic film of cologne gives a distinct smell and only the outsiders would notice this smell on you. Well in that case you may get the help of cologne or a spray to cover it up but the fact remains the same, you got this peculiar smell on you. What I am trying to do is to help and cut down this smell and let you know how to cook scientifically.

If anyone would like to cook as they used to be and have an aroma shower of cooking chemicals then that is their choice but if they would like to know my scientific, energy saving, money saving scientific cooking then they may contact me on [email protected] 

It would be an advantage for the whole nation to save money, save gas then cut down some environmental pollution so this can be easily demonstrated in a live cooking programme, I am prepared to help the nation. I have heard quite a few top officials made this environmental pollution and running out of fossil fuel as crucial issues but are they prepared to listen to find out any truth in my technique?  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 sterling’s 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, a substantial amount of national wealth would have been saved, am I correct? Happy cooking.

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