I am a reasonably decent cook; at least I fancy I am one, well, that’s beside the point; the other day I was asked by an acquaintance to explain to her scientific pantry ingredients. Atta boy! I had heard of kitchen pantry but scientific pantry and its ingredients- a big zero! I immediately dug up on the internet and came to realize that scientific pantry had to do something with molecular gastronomy. Quite a mouthful, isn’t it?
Not quite, if things are made simpler. Molecular gastronomy is the science of cooking food items through an explorative and analytical method which makes use of certain science lab tools and ingredients from food industry to dish out innovative culinary surprises for the diners. It just doesn’t what you call meekly listen to grandma’s recipes and tips; it explores the reasons for transformation of ingredients while experimenting with wide array of ingredients whose uses though known were hitherto rarely used in cooking.
I am pretty impressed on the data available on it and hence taken aback when I hear that people view molecular cuisine with suspicion. Molecular cuisine is according to some as involving unhealthy, chemical, synthetic ingredients and techniques. But then I realize that you cannot really blame the layman as the ingredients of the scientific pantry does involve names like maltodextrin, carrageenan, xanthan and tools such as PH meters, syringes, fuming flasks of liquid nitrogen and many more.
In any case, I have to accept that the recipes dished out by these people are highly innovative and comprise of never heard combinations. Moreover, the ingredients though unfamiliar are all of natural origin though some processing or purification may have been done on it later. The additives used are all approved products and needed in negligible amounts. In addition, I shall not forget the equipment which reminds me of my schooldays chemistry lab, an evaporator to remove flavor from food, liquid nitrogen needed for fast cooling of food to low temperatures, water bath to maintain a constant temperature of cooking water and what not.
Coming back to ingredients needed for scientific pantry, you have xanthan gum which is readily obtainable in health stores and supermarkets. The same can be said of baking soda, cream of tartar and cornstarch. Another ingredient that is used is ascorbic acid which is nothing else but vitamin C, this I guess has to be available at all places. However, it seems that you shouldn’t use this in pill form as functionally it will not serve the purpose due to presence of other ingredients and binders which act as hurdles.
Asian or Latin markets are good places to source most of the hydrocolloids, but do keep in mind the right terminology. ‘Cal’ is the usage name of slaked lime in Latin markets. As for MSG, another ingredient the same source holds good.
The data available on modernist cuisine is vast but after being enlightened on the basics, I must say ‘Vive La the Scientific Pantry’.