Cooking is a science, baking even more so. Chemical reactions timed with the proper amount of heat or cold can turn something as simple as flour, water, and yeast into mouthwatering bread that engages all the senses. While the best way to learn or become better at cooking is experience, a tip or two from experts as well as understanding the science behind them is always helpful. So go, be brave, cook that thing you never thought you could, and if you mess it up, take notes on what went wrong and go at it again. To help you out, here are 25 Cool Science Hacks To Make Your Cooking Easier.
Melt your butter, instead of creaming, for chewier cookies.
Melting the butter releases the water, which mixes with flour protein to form gluten, the stuff that makes breads and cookies chewy. For crispy cookies, do the inverse – cream your butter until it’s smooth and light in color.
Cook with Pink Salt
Cooking on a low sodium diet is difficult, as most food needs salt to bring out it’s best. If you’re watching your intake, try cooking with Himalayan Pink Salt instead. Himalayan salt is less processed and doesn’t contain anti-caking agents, which is much of what makes regular table salt bad for you. In addition, pink salt contains trace minerals our bodies need to function correctly.
Chill Onions Before Chopping To Prevent Tears
Cutting an onion creates syn-propanethial-S-oxide via chemical reactions, which evaporates and makes our eyes water. Unfortunately, the chemicals and oils that create this tear triggering compound are also what make onions so tasty. To slow the amount of evaporation, which is what carries the syn-propanethial-S-oxideto your eyes, chill your onion for a few minutes before chopping (but don’t fully freeze as frozen onions are mushy).
Add Salt To Bitter Coffee To Reduce It's Bitterness
If you find yourself with coffee that’s just a little too bitter, add some salt. Salt enhances pleasant flavors while suppressing more unpleasant ones, so the result is less bitterness in your coffee. The next time you’re faced with office coffee, mix a packet or two of salt in with the grinds before you brew.
Add Baking Soda To Tomato Sauce To Reduce The Acidity
Unlike adding sugar, which just makes tomato sauce taste less acidic, adding baking soda actually neutralizes the acids found in the tomatoes and can make a huge difference for those who are sensitive to acidity.
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Cook Your Shellfish Alive
As soon as lobster and other shellfish such as crabs are dead, the bacteria naturally present in their flesh can rapidly multiply, and after this point, these bacteria aren’t always killed by cooking. Lobsters don’t possess pain receptors in the same way mammals or other animals do, so the general consensus is that they don’t feel pain, though some activists argue otherwise. To prevent food poisoning, cook shellfish alive or immediately after killing them.
Add Acid To Cheese Sauces And Soups
The acid – such as lemon juice or white wine – binds the calcium in the cheese together, instead of allowing it to bind with proteins and keeps it nice and smooth instead of clumpy. It also keeps the fat from separating out, saving you from that weird cheese-oil situation.
Create Steam In Your Oven For Crusty Bread
Place a pan in the bottom of your oven while it’s preheating, and when you place your bread inside the oven, add 1/2 c of water to create steam. The steam interacts with the starch on the surface of the bread and helps it harden. This happens anyway during baking; the steam just facilitates the process.
Fry Your Spices
Fry your whole spices in an oil with a high smoking point (like avocado) to infuse your oil and amp up the flavor of your spices. In two minutes or less, when you can smell the spices opening up, go ahead and add whatever you were going cook in the oil anyway: mirepoix, veggies, meat, it will work for any of these. The heat roasts the spices and causes new depths of flavor to be achieved.
The Maillard Reaction (or why we sear our food)
The Maillard Reaction is something that happens between amino acids and sugar, usually when heat is applied. This is why we sear meat (not to keep it moist; that’s not how it works). During this process, hundreds of new flavors are created, which in turn create other flavor compounds, and on it goes. Each food has it’s own unique set of flavor compounds created during the Maillard reaction.
Cook Your Food To Increase Nutrition
Raw vegan diets and foods are very popular lately, with devotees of this kind of lifestyle claiming that foods contain more nutrition in their raw state and are therefore better for us. However, just because a food contains nutrients, doesn’t mean our bodies can use them. Many of the beneficial nutrients in vegetables become more easily digestible – meaning our bodies use more of them instead of passing them through our system – when they’re cooked because some of the tougher parts of the plant have already been partially broken down.
Brine Your Meat
A Brine is very salty water that often has other herbs or seasonings added in which raw meat is soaked in for half an hour to several days before cooking. Any meat that can dry out during cooking – poultry, pork, some seafood – can be brined, though the times vary depending on the kind of meat. The salt in the water dissolves some of the proteins, turning them to tasty liquid and also makes the muscle fibers in the meat absorb more water. You start with more moisture, and you retain more moisture when cooking.
Keep Your Cake Tender
Don’t overmix your batter for cake or muffins. Doing so promotes the formation of gluten – that stuff that makes good french bread chewy – and makes your baked good tough. Great for bread, which is one of the reasons we knead, not so great for cupcakes.
Weigh Your Ingredients
Measuring cups measure the volume of your ingredients, whereas the weight measures the actual amount. A cup of sifted vs unsifted flour, for instance, can weigh quite differently. Think of the difference between a cup of fluffy brown sugar and a cup of packed brown sugar. Weighing your ingredients gives you the most precise measurement.
Keep Avocados And Apples From Turning Brown
Sprinkle freshly cut avocado or apple with lemon juice and store in an airtight container. This will keep the fruit from turning brown for a day or so. Fruit turns brown from oxygen interacting with it’s enzymes, but by sprinkling it with lemon juice, the oxygen will interact with the acid first. Once the acid is used up, the fruit will turn brown as normal.
Use Tin Foil Or A Pie Shield To Keep Your Crust From Burning
The foil or shield deflect heat away from this delicate part of your pie, allowing the filling and body of the pie to cook as usual, while having the edges cook slower. This works for most things you don’t want to burn, like the skin on a chicken breast, for instance.
Use Buttermilk In Place Of Regular Milk For Tender, Fluffy Cakes
Buttermilk is the slightly sour milk left over after butter has been made, but you can make it at home by adding a teaspoon of lemon juice or vinegar to regular milk and letting it sit for fifteen minutes. The light acidity of butter milk help keeps baked goods tender by breaking down strands of gluten and produces carbon dioxide gas which helps pancakes rise big and fluffy.
Season Cold Dishes More Aggressively
We have proteins in our taste buds that heighten our sense of taste with increased temperature (obviously don’t burn your tongue), with the perfect temperature being around 98.5 degrees. Since cooler temperatures don’t “wake up” our taste buds as much, season a little more aggressively.
Freeze Cakes Before Frosting
One secret all professional bakers practice – they freeze cakes, tightly wrapped in plastic, before decorating them. There are a few reasons for this; freezing firms up the fats in the cake making a less crumbly texture, and frozen then thawed cakes are much easier to work with and frost. Some swear they taste better, too.
Use Frozen Butter For omelets
Most of us were taught to make scrambled eggs with milk. The science behind this is that the lipids in the milk coat the protein in the egg and help keep all the moisture from cooking out, resulting in a better texture. For omelets though, which are a more homogenized single piece, milk can add too much moisture. Adding small (shredded, perhaps) pieces of frozen butter to your egg before cooking will solve this problem, and the butter will melt evenly while cooking.
Use Cake Flour For Cakes
There are many different kinds of flour available to suit your cooking needs, and knowing why and what some of the most basic different kinds are can make a huge difference in the quality of your finished baked goods. Cake Flour is more finely milled, resulting in a finer texture, and is also more acidic and has less protein than all purpose flour, making it ideal for any baked good that needs to rise and stay fluffy.
Don't Overcrowd Your Skillet
When you put too much meat in your pan, it doesn’t have enough room to release moisture properly. The result is meat that is soggy and not browned properly. Give your meat room; cook in two separate batches if necessary.
Add Lemon To Just About Anything
Have a buttercream that tastes overwhelmingly sweet? Add a little lemon juice. Tomato sauce falling a little flat? Add some lemon to that, too. Lemon juice is almost like salt in the way the bright acidity can add a whole new dimension to flavors. It works by activating more flavor receptors on your tongue, very much the same way salt does. Lemon juice in marinades also helps break down protein strings, resulting in more tender meat.
Dry Your Tofu
Everyone who’s cooked with Tofu knows to drain it to get rid of the water it’s packed in, but to get it really dry, press it. Wrap your tofu in a paper towel, place another plate on top, and press. If your paper towel gets too wet and water is still being pressed out, change your paper towel and press again. Dry tofu browns nicely and has a much better texture than tofu that has merely been drained because you’re actually cooking the tofu instead of just steaming out the water.
Store Salad Greens In A Sealable Container With A Paper Towel
The towel absorbs moisture, which keeps them crisper and fresher for far longer. Sogginess is the enemy of any vegetable. Some veggies, like onions and tomatoes, do better stored on the counter instead of the fridge, so make sure you’re keeping your vegetables where they’ll be the happiest and using them while they’re still fresh.