Cooking & Baking Chemistry

Your diet and your digestive inflammation goes hand in hand. Eating well means that you are eating what your body can handle. Yet for some of us that means turning to alternative ingredients. So, how can we get these substitutions to work for us as well as “normal” recipe ingredients?

Let’s ask SCIENCE!

My first few gluten-free meals were disastrous. Baking was even worse – half the time my batter didn’t even make it to the cookie sheet because it tasted so terrible. What changed my ability to cook, however, was when I started to look at recipes like a science experiment.

In my opinion, the best way to learn to cook gluten-free (abbreviated hereon in as “GF”) or allergy-friendly is to understand how cooking and baking works in non-special circumstances. That way, it’s easier to figure out what adjustments can be made and how it will impact a recipe.

And it all comes down to chemistry.

Chemistry is “the scientific study of the structure, properties, and reactions of the chemical elements and the compounds they form” (“Chemistry”). If I recall high school chem correctly, said properties can be studied in terms of two categories: physical changes and chemical changes. Let’s focus on the chemical changes since it’s those tasty molecular reactions which affects our yummy finished products.

(Psst, if you geek out on food and SCIENCE, check out this link on Molecular Gastronomy and this one on Vacuum Cooking.)

Anyway, the purpose of this post is to look at common cooking and baking ingredients so that we can see what reactions are taking place. From there, we can learn how to copy those molecular reactions in order to make food that people with allergies and/or intolerances can actually digest.

Basic Ingredient Chart

(Alphabetical Order)

  • Note 1: This chart has footnotes and a corresponding Works Cited page to give the author(s) full credit. I just wanted to have a non-moneymaking place to see food-related chemical reactions at a glance.
  • Note 2: Please note that the “Acceptable Substitutions” reference what will chemically work as a substitution for the original ingredient. Unless specified, actual substitutions are NOT 1-1 ratios. For substitutions and their recipe use, please click here. For GF flour substitutions, please click here.

Name

Chemical Function(s)

Type of food energy; chemical change (examples)
*Additional info. [footnote for the whole box]

Acceptable Substitution(s)

Property: alternatives
*Additional info. [footnote as needed]

Eggs

Protein; changes properties (whisking → shape & stability, heat → solidifies)
*Adds a binder/moisture in baked goods1
For binding: use another protein source (ex., commercial egg-replacement, tofu, flaxseed) 2

For baked goods: applesauce or banana

Fruit

Carb; sweetener
*Browning occurs when flesh is exposed to oxygen unless exposed to citric acid 3
For tarts, pies, or other goods that requires fruit (like apples) to keep its color: use a bit of lemon juice

Leveners

(the reason why you should always combine dry & wet ingredients separately before mixing everything together)

Carb; produces CO2 for rising dough
*Baking Powder (cream of tartar and starch, usually cornstarch): activated by moisture

*Baking Soda (sodium bicarbonate): reacts quickly with acidic ingredients

*Yeast: re-activates in warm water; assists in gluten development; slower rising agent; adds flavor 4

For Baking Powder: baking soda and an acid (ex., cream of tartar, buttermilk, vinegar)

For Baking Soda: double-action baking powder (but do not use with acids [ex., lemon, buttermilk, vinegar]) 5

For Yeast: cannot be replicated exactly as is, but can be replaced with baking soda and an acid to produce CO2

Meat

Protein; when heated, surface proteins lose structure and recombine with any sugar present (browning)
*Marinades penetrate proteins with acids (ex., vinegar or orange juice), oils and seasonings
*Brines use osmosis of salt and water 6
For protein, try:
*Beans
*Legumes
*Nuts
*Tofu/Soy

Milk

(Based on my own experience as someone who is lactose-intolerant.)

Carb; locks in moisture
*Adds flavor if sweetened (ex., vanilla)
Which milk alternative you use will depend on your taste. Here’s a guide to milk type and its taste.
*Goat milk = tangy
*Soy milk = very sweet
*Almond milk = nutty
*Rice milk = none
*Coconut milk = a little sweet

Oils

Fat; high boiling points allows cooking at a spectrum of temperatures 7
*Prevents food from sticking/burning
*Adds flavor & moisture
*Oils have different smoke points
For cooking: use a nonstick pan with water or broth (it won’t be as effective as oil but it will help)

For baking: plain (unsweetened) applesauce, apple butter, banana, or pumpkin
*Note: I’ve used all of these before in baking – they work but they make food more dense and give a slight aftertaste.

Salt

Preservative & flavor enhancer 8 There are salt substitutes on the market, but I’d get medical advice first.  
*For more flavor, opt for more seasonings rather than more salt.

Sugar

Carb; sweetener
*Links proteins together 9
NOTE: if you are diabetic, consult with your doctor about your sugar intake.Refined sugar alternatives:
*Honey
*Agave nectar
*Stevia
*Maple Syrup
*Molasses

Starch

Carb; absorbs liquid and acts as a thickener
*Extracted & refined starches are thickening agents 10
*Gluten: wheat (and wheat-related) proteins which undergo a chemical reaction when gliadin & glutenin molecules meet.  They are responsible for:
– Giving dough elasticity
– Adding texture
– Adding protein to meat substitutes
– Acting as a stabilizing agent 11
Gluten-free flour: you will need extra thickening & rising agents (i.e., starches & xanthan gum or agar agar) to recreate baked goods
*Which type of GF flour you use depends on your personal taste *GF Starches: potato, tapioca, corn, arrowroot (can be used interchangeably)

Vegetables

Carb; heat breaks down cell walls, dispersing nutrients like vitamins, sugars, and proteins
*Chemical changes increase with heat duration (ex., vitamin C decreases while antioxidants increase). 12
For cooking: boiling, steaming, and microwaving reduce the effects of heat on vegetables 12 13


Footnotes:
[1] Peter Barham, “Kitchen Chemicals.” Kitchen Chemistry – Feature – Discovery Channel, 2010, Discovery Channel, 30 Mar. 2012 .
[2] “Chemistry.” The American Heritage® Science Dictionary, Houghton Mifflin Company, n.d., 9 Apr. 2012 .
[3] “Why does bruised fruit turn brown?”, Scientific American, Scientific American, Inc., 21 July 1997, 9 April 2012
[4] “Science of Bread: Bread Science 101,” Exploratorium.edu., Exploratorium, n.d., 9 Apr. 2012 .
[5] Anne Marie Helmenstine, “What Is the Difference Between Baking Soda & Baking Powder?” About.com Chemistry, About.com, n.d., 9 Apr. 2012 .
[6] “Science of Meat: What gives meat its flavor?”, Exploratorium.edu., Exploratorium, n.d., 9 Apr. 2012
[7] Peter Barham.
[8] Peter Barham.
[9] Peter Barham.
[10] “Starch.”, Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 11 Apr. 2012, 11 Apr. 2012
[11] “Gluten.”, Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 29 Mar. 2012, 11 Apr. 2012
[12] Sushma Subramanian, “Fact or Fiction: Raw Veggies Are Healthier than Cooked Ones: Scientific American,” Scientific American, Scientific American, Inc., 31 Mar. 2009, 11 Apr. 2012 .
[13]”Is There Any Evidence That Microwaving Food Alters Its Composition or Has Any Detrimental Effects on Humans or Animals?: Scientific American,” Scientific American, Scientific American, Inc., 2 Aug. 1999, 11 Apr. 2012 .

More Resources:

See you around!

Hilary

  • TL;DR: This post was about the chemistry behind cooking and baking.

PS – Here’s my Works Cited Portion

Works Cited

Barham, Peter. “Kitchen Chemicals.” Kitchen Chemistry – Feature – Discovery Channel. Discovery Channel, 2010. Web. 4 Mar. 2012. <http://www.yourdiscovery.com/science/kitchen_chemistry/kitchen_chemicals/index.shtml&gt;.

“Chemistry.” The American Heritage® Science Dictionary. Houghton Mifflin Company. n.d., 9 Apr. 2012..

“Gluten.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 04 Sept. 2012. Web. 11 Apr. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gluten&gt;.

Helmenstine, Anne M. “What Is the Difference Between Baking Soda & Baking Powder?” About.com Chemistry. About.com. n.d., Web. 9 Apr. 2012. <http://chemistry.about.com/cs/foodchemistry/f/blbaking.htm&gt;.

“Is There Any Evidence That Microwaving Food Alters Its Composition or Has Any Detrimental Effects on Humans or Animals?: Scientific American.” Science News, Articles and Information. Scientific American, 2 Aug. 1999. Web. 11 Apr. 2012. <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=is-there-any-evidence-tha&gt;.

“Science of Bread: Bread Science 101.” Exploratorium.edu. Exploratorium. n.d., Web. 9 Apr. 2012. <http://www.exploratorium.edu/cooking/bread/bread_science.html&gt;.

“Science of Meat: What gives meat its flavor?” Exploratorium.edu. Exploratorium. n.d., Web. 9 Apr. 2012. <http://www.exploratorium.edu/cooking/meat/INT-what-makes-flavor.html&gt;

“Starch.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 04 Nov. 2012. Web. 11 Apr. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starch&gt;.

Subramanian, Sushma. “Fact or Fiction: Raw Veggies Are Healthier than Cooked Ones: Scientific American.” Scientific American. Scientific American, Inc., 31 Mar. 2009. Web. 11 Apr. 2012. <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=raw-veggies-are-healthier&gt;.

“Why does bruised fruit turn brown?” Scientific American, Scientific American, Inc., 21 July 1997. Web. 9 April 2012. <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=why-does-bruised-fruit-tu&gt;.

Advertisements

About tmidigestion

Living life with my inflammation avatar, "Pesky." Current mantra: I may have TMI, but it does not have me.
This entry was posted in Information and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s