Is cooking an Art or a Science?

Is cooking an art or science?

There are many different opinions on this topic, and there is no right or wrong answer. Some people believe that cooking is an art because it requires creativity and imagination. They argue that there are no set rules when it comes to cooking and that each dish is a unique creation.

Others believe that cooking is a science because it relies on precise measurements and techniques. They argue that there are certain rules that must be followed in order to create a successful dish.

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So, is cooking an art or a science? What is your take on this?

I believe that cooking is both an art and a science. It requires creativity and imagination, but it also requires precision and technique. The best cooks are able to combine both art and science to create delicious and memorable dishes.

From a scientific perspective, cooking is ultimately nothing but the transfer of energy, usually in the form of heat to our food. 

What happens to the physical structure of carbohydrates, proteins and fats when a food item is boiled or fried? Why a food item tastes better after cooking? Heat energy speeds up the chemical reactions and makes food delicious and easy to digest too. 

Not to forget, that it’s typically one way. You can’t un-boil a boiled potato or fried fish. It is nothing but chemical changes. Remember the definition of chemical changes? 

A chemical change is a change of materials into another, new materials with different properties and one or more than one new substance are formed.

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This was a small example of cooking and chemistry. 

I would like to say that there is an interesting interrelation between cooking and physics.

Heat is a form of energy. It is the most crucial ingredient which converts raw items into cooked food. What actually happens here? The heat is transferred from a source of heat, which in our case is either a gas stove, a kerosene stove, a wood-burning chulah or an induction stove. 

Physicists will tell you that heat is a form of energy. What exactly is energy? Let me share a rather useful explanation. Energy is the ability to make things happen. It is easier to understand what energy is capable of doing rather than what it is.

We all know every matter is made up of molecules and atoms. Every atom in turn is made up of electrons, protons and neutrons. All these particles are in continuous motion. When a substance is exposed to heat, the random motion of atoms, molecules and particles within increases.

In food-relevant terms, a potato has carbs, proteins and fats. When it is dropped in boiling water, the water molecules move faster because they have more energy. We all know that energy levels itself just like water. It flows from higher level to lower levels till both are at the same level. And in the process, change the raw food items to cooked items. 

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In the kitchen, stoves and ovens are sources of heat. While refrigerators remove energy. Wondering where all the energy goes..just check out the back of the refrigerator.

So this brings the concept of Temperature. Temperature is nothing but quantification of how much heat is there in a substance or system. 

If you touch a metal pot at 75 degrees Celsius, what will happen to your fingers?

You will burn them badly.

Now touch the water at  75 degrees Celsius, it will mildly burn you. And what will happen if you put your hand inside an oven at 75 degrees? The air will be mildly hot. So this brings us to understand that temperature is not the only measure of heat in a substance or system. We need to understand a few more concepts... And it is density.

Density is a measure of how much substance there is in a given space. Looking back to the experiment above. The metal has more atoms in a given volume, and it has more heat at a given temperature, hence our fingers get burnt when we touch this hot metal vessel. Water has less density, so it was less hot at the same temperature. And the air is still less dense, hence it was mild hot at the same temperature. I am sure, you will understand why cooking utensils are made up of metals. Also, the fastest method of cooking is cooking something dry in metal pans while boiling takes more time and baking that is cooking in the air takes maximum time.

Another concept to understand is specific heat capacity. Amount of heat energy required to raise a degree of temperature. Water has a high specific heat capacity as compared to steel. Though steel has a higher density than water, this means that it has more substance, and even then it is heated faster (because of lower specific heat capacity). 

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Air pressure is another important term to understand about cooking. We are surrounded by air atmosphere. And we all experience its weight on us, this is air pressure. It is vital for cooking. You'll ask why. Because water behaves differently at low and high pressures. As water is heated, the movement of its molecules increases due to an increase in energy from the stove. When the atoms of water molecules have enough energy to break the bonds between water molecules, they move into the air and steam/ water vapours are formed. 

Now think about a scene where you have to cross through a crowd. More the people, the more difficult it would be to walk through. So when air pressure increases water molecules need more energy to break free. This is the reason the boiling point of water is more than 100 degrees Celsius in high air pressure.  Lower air pressure, lower boiling point of water. This is the case in high altitudes. 

We have learnt some basic physics of heat. Now let us understand some more mechanisms of heat transfer

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Conduction, convection and radiation.

Conduction is the transfer of heat through surface contact. Mostly done in solids.

Convection is the transfer of heat from a liquid or gas to your food. Have you observed the movement of water when heated? This is nothing but convection. This is how air moves in an oven too.

Radiation is the third mode of transfer of heat. It is through radiation, that heat is transferred in a microwave oven.  Incidentally, the sun also uses the same way of radiation to heat objects. The only thing is that the source of heat is 150 million km away.

This is all about physics in cooking.

We will learn about the basic chemistry of cooking in the next post. 

Till then, happy cooking!

Neerja Bhatnagar

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  1. I enjoyed reading your article and gained valuable insights from it. Your unique perspective on [topic] is refreshing, and I look forward to more of your content in the future.


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