To health: Exploiting Food Science for good (not evil)
The words “food science” certainly should arouse fear and dread in any cogent being. We rightfully cringe at hearing it, after all credibility of so many “experts” proves marginal at best.
A better approach is sticking to facts as actual science reports them. Of course “real science” is careful to avoid overstating its case. Facts are ever only more or less established, everything is subject to revision as more information becomes available.
OTOH food science is not just about nutrition but also concerned with the physical and chemical properties of foods. Those qualities are crucial since they so often have particularly good, bad or ugly effects on food preparation. Which is all about the grand Artform known as Cooking.
Ideally we merge sciences of food attributes and nutrition to create best possible quality of the things we eat. In that light, it's been fun and enlightening trying out new culinary techniques. Experiments succeed or fail but whatever the outcome they teach us something.
Lately we've been working with food modifiers and “exotic” new (to us) ingredients though hardly novel in the culinary universe. This kind of exploration is the first step in developing new recipes that eventually have a place in the site's collection.
These “experimental” ingedients include agar-agar, xanthan gum and aquafaba. Each has many uses—let's talk about a few in particular.
Agar-agar (or agar) is a seaweed product used primarily as a gelling agent. Different from gelatin, agar sets at room temperature and resists melting until near the boiling point of water. It takes only ~1% by weight concentration to form a firm gel. One of the more interesting applications of agar is making “fluid gels”. These have a thixotropic-like quality. Such products are easily poured but undisturbed have an engaging consistency resembling mayonaise but of course egg-free and can be lower in fat.
Widely used in gluten-free cooking xanthan gum has become a nearly mainstream ingredient. Used a thickener, binder, emulsifier it also has a role commercially and in home cooking. In our experiments xanthan gum was indeed a good thickener at low concentrations, certainly less than 1%. It produces a fluid gel effect though not as pronounced as that from agar.
Xanthan doesn't have to be heated to dissolve, but dispersion in water-based fluids (vs. oils) can be tricky. Using a high-speed blender is almost a necessity but care is needed to avoid “eyes” or clumps of undissolved gum. However it works well in oil-water mixtures. Salad dressings, for example, come out with a pleasant creamy character.
One other experiment of note involved use of “aquafaba” (AF). In case you've not heard of this ingredient it's the liquid that legumes are cooked in. We always called it “bean juice”, and usually sent it down the drain. Now it turns out that it's very interesting stuff!
The primary source of aquafaba is chickpeas. The liquid contains proteins and carbohydrates endowing AF with ability to whip up like egg whites. This foam makes a good substitute for meringue, and combined with fruit, dairy or non-dairy milk and sugars forms a convincing ice cream. The exact formula for reliably producing excellent ice cream is a work-in-progress. When it's worked out it will be our pleasure to publish it!
Same goes for the other ingredients described here. We're excited about these new approaches to culinary success especially given the health advantages they potentially provide.