Cooking is a kind of chemical warfare
Posted on July 22nd, 2013

Dr Hector Perera     London

Actually cooking means a kind of chemical warfare where lots of different chemicals come together and collide on each other. This is the reason I called intermolecular and intramolecular reactions are taking place while cooking. Cooking is a real chemical reaction; actually a chain of reactions happening in the cold during marinade then on heating or cooking on fire. Most people do not care at all about these reactions and start with the maximum flame in the cooker that is not quite right to me. I can remember our clever servants in the past prepare the fish or chicken and leave it for a while but I never knew why. The question is how did they know the science behind the cooking? That is they leave it to marinade or to absorb the ingredients.

With extreme heat some chemicals escape out of the cooking vessel without reacting with the food that is added for cooking. You need to give sometime for the ingredients to react with each other by oozing out some of the juices, chemicals and flavours. Most cooks or chefs have no scientific knowledge so how would they know anything about the chemistry of the ingredients in the spices?

Sri Lankan and Indian cuisines are characterized by the extensive use of numerous spices or Masala as it is called in Hindi.

The spices are used to flavor the food, making each dish distinct and wonderfully aromatic. Each spice by itself imparts a very unique flavor but when used together with other spices, the combination and permutation of different ones magically change the individual characteristics. Spices are also used for health benefits and medicinal purposes, to prevent diseases and also to preserve food.

Spices are used in different forms – whole, chopped, ground and roasted. Chillies, Cardamom, Pepper, Coriander, Turmeric, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Clove, Fenugreek, Cumin, and Mustard are just a few of them.

 The mixture of ingredients added in cooking curries such as chicken and vegetables are not always the same, slightly different. I am sure you all know roughly the ingredients added to make a chicken curry but let me remind this way. It could be chillies, mixed curry powder or roasted form with a number of spices including coriander, turmeric, ground pepper, ginger, garlic, green chillies, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, curry leaves, “ƒ”¹…”rampae and sera’, then add coconut or cider vinegar. Actually our servants knew the mixture much better when they ground them on “ƒ”¹…”miris gala’. It is important to know the quantitative aspects of the ingredients, otherwise the food cannot be eaten and enjoy. These days just add them into a wet and dry grinder or to a dry grinder and grind them quickly, it’s so easy. Food cooked with freshly ground mixtures taste better than with packet or bottled mixtures. Then add salt but most ladies always open the boiling chicken curry, not just once but several times to taste the salt. Then comes the moment for them to shower with chicken cologne or for some kind of aroma therapy, is that their secret beauty therapy to keep them young and attractive?

 Cardamom with 18 aromatic chemicals

The list of spices added to chicken curry could be more than what I mentioned but for my explanation of chemical warfare of spices, this is more than adequate.

Cardamom

Just take one spice called cardamom. It has 18 aromatic and aliphatic organic chemicals with very complicated structures, with difficult names to pronounce. Let me give the names only, the actual structures are far too complicated to draw here and many of you would not be interested. I am giving the list of chemicals just for interest only, nothing else. Just see how many chemicals are there in just one spice, cardamom. The spicy pods contain many essential volatile oils that include pinene, sabinene, myrcene, phellandrene, limonene, 1, 8-cineole, terpinene, p-cymene, terpinolene, linalool, linalyl acetate, terpinen-4-oil, a-terpineol, a-terpineol acetate, citronellol, nerol, geraniol, methyl eugenol, and trans-nerolidol.

Other benefits of cardamom

It has anti-oxidants and disease preventing and health promoting properties. Further it has therapeutic properties of cardamom-oil, have found application in many traditional medicines as antiseptic, antispasmodic, carminative, digestive, diuretic, expectorant, stimulant, stomachic and tonic. Cardamom has far too many essential chemicals but I do not intend to go into too many details but as someone said, “ƒ”¹…”just a little bit longer’.

 These aromatic pods are rich in many vital vitamins, including riboflavin, niacin, vitamin-C that is essential for optimum health. With all these, I do not recommend to have too many of these pods in any such as in a chicken curry. I add only two of them but open so the seeds come out then reaction would be faster, if chopped it increases surface area then gets a faster reaction. Have you not noticed in some TV cooking programmes, the chefs just add too many without any scientific explanations?

Another spice called cloves.

 Eugenol found in cloves is possible, causing a wide range of symptoms from blood in the patient’s urine, diarrhea to convulsions, nausea, dizziness, unconsciousness, or rapid heartbeat. Eugenol kills certain human colon cancer cell lines in vitro. They are also used in manufacturing stabilizers and antioxidants. I always advised, not to add more than two or three cloves in a large chicken curry. Again some people just add a spoonful of this spice. This gives a special burning sensation when eating but the after affects are more than one can imagine, obviously it burns from mouth to the end point.

Please let me give more information to show that cooking is a real chemical warfare. I know the names are not easy to read and pronounce but try and read them just for your information. The other important constituents in this spice include: essential oils:    acetyl eugenol, beta-caryophyllene and vanillin, crategolic acid;
tannins:   gallotannic acid, methyl salicylate (painkiller); the flavonoids:  eugenin, kaempferol, rhamnetin, and eugenitin; triterpenoids:  such as oleanolic acid, stigmasterol and campesterol
and several sesquiterpenes. I know some names are tongue twisting to pronounce and to draw the actual structures are far too complicated. Now you see how many different aromatic chemicals are there again in a single spice?

Chile a common spice

One of the common things to add to any curry is chilli or Capsaicinoids the name given to the class of compounds found present in members of the capsicum family of plants.  The most common of these compounds is N-Vanillyl-8-methyl-6-(E)-noneamide, or Capsaicin for short. Nearly as common is Dihydrocapsaicin (Chime or VRML).

How many spices are in chicken cologne?

The idea of giving the chemicals in some of these spices is to show the number of complicated chemicals in them. Now you have to imagine why I said cooking is a kind of chemical warfare because when they are heated all these chemicals come together then react and interact forming far too many complicated other chemicals. Ladies, still do you love to ware chicken cologne or curry cologne or spicy cologne? Who knows that is their  secret facial beauty therapy, if not why do they open the piping hot boiling chicken curry, not once but several times and keeps on stirring, inhaling the vapours and gets a nice facial?

 According to science any volatile chemical tend to give up the kinetic energy and deposit on any cold surface on their way. You might say that you put the extractor fan on to get rid of these vapours then just examine it, has it got any oily sticky surface that is due to some volatile chemicals. Then again look around the surface of the cooker; do you see it’s oily and sticky? Not only that these volatile chemicals tend to deposit on the near by kitchen cupboards, curtains in the kitchen then it also creep all the way to bedrooms if the molecules have enough kinetic energy to go that far. I noticed in some of the flats in Colombo, the TV screen also gets a microscopic film of these oily chemicals because the places are congested and the kitchen is not too far from the sitting room. Sometimes this chicken cologne piggy back water then water evaporates leaving the oily and sticky but invincible oily layers damaging your valuables. What is the solution? Try and cook scientifically, saving energy and cutting down these by-products of chemical warfare ruining your valuables. Your comments are welcomed [email protected]

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