CHEM 100 Molecular Gastronomy & Food Science

Submitted by Patricia B. O'Hara on Thursday, 7/31/2014, at 11:45 AM
I have found that food and its preparation provide a natural context for a discussion of chemical transformations and the biochemistry that is at the heart of cooking and nutrition.

CHEM 100 Molecular Gastronomy & Food Science: from Test Tubes to Taste Buds

Living organisms require resources to fuel the processes necessary for staying alive. We require a certain number of calories to fuel metabolic processes and to provide building blocks to replace old cells and build new ones.  Our food should provide a balance of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals that we need to consume regularly for a healthy existence. Yet humans have developed another relationship with food that can be either enriching or pathological.  Sharing meals with others, developing the skills to enjoy the sensory pleasures of food, learning about other cultures through their gastronomic habits, and eating moderately while consciously are all examples of a deeper productive relationship with food.  On the darker side, food can be a palliative to relieve our stress or satiate our addictions to sugar, fats, or salt.  Modern humans can be so far removed from our food sources that we lose the connection between animal and meat and do not know if the food on our plates contains added hormones, pesticides, or genetically modified products. This course will examine our core requirements for food as we eat to live, and some of the cultural, social, historical, and culinary dimensions as we live to eat.  Readings will include Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’sDilemma, and selections from Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young and Maxime Billet.

The two sections will meet together for 80-minute lecture/demos twice a week and each section will meet separately for an 80 minute culinary lab every other week.  

The enrollment limit of 30 students was determined by the two sets of four "lab" groups that will meet on a staggered weekly schedule.


Module 1 History; Microbiology; Physiology of Flavor, Nutrition (weeks 1 and 2) 

  • Read
    • Volume 1 of Modernist Cuisine, Chapter 1 (pages 14-60 up to “The Culinary Life of a Cryogen”)
    • Taste Matters, Chapters 1,2
    • Molecular Gastronomy, Part 2: The Physiology of Flavor, pgs 83-102 and Part 3, Chapter 61- Yogurt pgs 209-211
    • Article “Genetic Variation in Taste and Its Influence on Food Selection”
    • Watch
      • Grant Achatz’s Harvard Science and Cooking Lecture on Reinventing Food Texture & Flavor:
      • Do
        • Respond to Food Journal Prompt 1 in your own Food Journal
        • Post to Class Forum:  Commandments or Principles, You Decide by midnight Wednesday, Jan 29th, Comment by midnight Sunday, Feb 2nd  
        • Lab 1:  Fermentation of Milk Sugars on Thursday Jan 30th
        • Lab Group Wiki by midnight Thursday, February 6th

Module 2- Food Safety; Food and Health (weeks 3 and 4)

  • Read
    • Volume 1 of Modernist Cuisine,Chapter 2 (as much of the chapter as you can stomach), Chapter 3 pgs. 166-191, Chapter 4 Health 211-239
    • Taste Matters, Chapter 7 “Just Disgusting”
    • Molecular Gastronomy, 33 Food Allergies 121-123 and Public Health Alerts, pgs 124-126
    •  Opponency of astringent and fat sensations”:
    • Watch
      • Carles Tejedor’s Harvard Science and Cooking Lecture on Olive Oil and Viscosity:  
      • Do
        • Food Journal (include class visitor, Mr. Charlie Thompson, Val)
        • Post to Class Forum:  A Taste for the Disgusting by 6 PM Wednesday, Feb 5th, Comment by 6 PM Thurs, Feb6th
        • Lab 2: The Incredible Egg on Thursday Feb 6th (A) or Feb 13th (B)
        • Lab Group Wiki by midnight Thursday Feb 20th (A) or Feb 27th(B)

Module 3- The Physics of Food and H­2O; Traditional Cooking (weeks 5 - 6)

  • Read
    • Modernist Cuisine (MYB) Volume 1, Chapter 6
    • Modernist Cuisine (MYB) Volume 2, Chapter 7
    • Molecular Gastronomy, This, Sections, 9, 30, 28
    • Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
    • Watch Michael Pollan @ Williams College in 2010
      • Do
        • Food Journal (include class visitor on 2/25, Deborah Gewertz)
        • Post to Class Forum: Cultures of Consumption:  Omnivore or Monovore? by 6 PM Mon March 3rd, Comment by 6 PM Tues, Feb4th
        • Lab 3 Cryogenic Cuisine on Thursday Feb 20th (A) or Feb 27th (B)
        • Lab 3 Wiki by midnight Thursday March 6th (A) or March 13th(B)

Module 4 - Cooking Sous Vide; The Modernist Kitchen (weeks 7-8)

  • Read
    • Modernist Cuisine Volume 2 Chapters 9-10
    • Molecular Gastronomy Sections, This,
    • Animal Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
    • Watch
    • Do
      • Food Journal (include class visitor on 3/4 Betty Rosbottom and 3/11 Carolyn Wheeler)
      • Post to Class Forum:  Can Local go Global? by 6 PM Monday, March 24th , NO COMMENT, Class discussion March 25th
      • Lab 4: Cooking Sous Vide on Thursday March 6th (A) or March 13th (B)
      • Lab Wiki by midnight Mon, Thurs 13th(A) or Thursday March 27th (B)

Module 5- Thickeners; Gels, Emulsions and Foams: (weeks 9-10)

  • Read
    • Volume 4 of Modernist Cuisine, Chapters 13-16
    •  “Molecular Gastronomy”, pg. 128 FOAMS, 212 Milk Solids
    • Watch Nandu Jubany’s Harvard Science and Cooking Lecture on Mixing the Unmixable:
    • Do
      • Food Journal (include class visitors on 3/25  (Leslie Cerrier) and 4/1 Alden Booth
      • Post to Class Forum:  Immersing yourself in the Emulsion by 6 PM Monday April 7
      • Lab 5:  Fantastic Foams on Thursday March 27 (Group B) or Thursday, April 3 (Group A) each posted the Thursday evening two weeks hence.

Module 6: Spheres and Fears/Healthy Eating 1 (Week 11-12)

  • Read
    • Re-read Volume 4 of Modernist Cuisine, Chapters 13-16
    • The End of Overeating by David Kessler Chapters 1-6
    • Watch  Harvard University Food and Science Lecture 6 (2011)  
    • Do
      • Lab 6: Spherification on Thursday April 10 (Group B) or Thursday, April 17 (Group A) each posted the Thursday evening two weeks hence in the lab WIKI below.
      • Submit first draft of your Final Project Proposal by April 15th.
      • Don’t forget your Food Journals!

Module 7:  Food Pairings: Healthy Eating 2 (Week 13-14)

  • Do
    • Food Projects
      • Interview: We will set up the Lab Time on Thursday April 24th and Thursday May 1 to review plans for the Food Festival.  I will assign 20 minute slots for each group.  Please have all group members show up at the appointed time.
      • Excel spreadsheet of ingredients and amounts to Recipe Folder one week after interview.
      • Final project write-up with recipe and science by Saturday, May 10th in Food Project WIKI
    • Forum Post on End of Overeating by Monday, May 5th, 6 PM.
    • Final Food Journals collected May 6th in class. Second round of awards given at Food Festival.


  • Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cookingby Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young and Maxime Bilet (on reserve in the reference section of the Science Library)
  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracleby Barbara Kingsolver($11.61)
  • The Omnivore’s Dilemmaby Michael Pollan ($12.86)
  • Taste Matters: Why We Like the Foods We Do by John Prescott ($19.99)
  • Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor (Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History)  by Herve This ($12.16)

The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite by David Kessle