This is one page of a manga that talks about the art of cooking and making food delicious. The name of the manga is called Shokugeki No Soma and the main character’s name is Soma. In this manga, some modernized cooking methods were mentioned, including molecular gastronomy and cryogenic cooking (a method in molecular gastronomy). Though I’m a fan of manga and anime, I am quite skeptical towards the accuracy of the science behind the culinary methods in the manga. But before we discuss the science behind the culinary methods, let’s first understand the science behind tasting.
Chemistry and Biology of taste
Each taste bud in the human tongue contains 50 to 100 taste receptor cells and we are able to differentiate the 5 basic types of taste (sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami) based on the different taste receptor cells. The difference in taste is due to the variation in the binding of chemical compounds with different taste receptor cells.
Sweet: glucose/fructose/artifical sweeteners are bind to G-protein-coupled taste receptors
Sour: Hydrogen ions (acid is sour) binding to acid sensing channels (ACCN1, a protein). The degree of sourness is based on the concentration of the hydrogen ions.
Bitter: Alkaloids, caffeine quinine are bind to G-protein-coupled taste receptors (slightly a different receptor from sweet, but same classification)
Salty: Sodium ions binding with sodium channels
Umami: Glutamate and aspartate (protein-derived amino acids) binding with G-protein coupled taste receptors
So… A question… Is spicy classified as one type of taste?
Spicy is a burning sensation you get when chili is ingested. This sensation is caused by this group of compounds called capsaicinoids (in specific capsaicin), which binds to a receptor that is associated with heat or physical abrasion. So spiciness is more related to a sensation rather than a taste.
Modern cooking techniques
After reading the manga, I went on to research about the different modernized cooking techniques as mentioned in the manga to check for accuracy (life of a scientist T.T). Molecular gastronomy was a technique used by Alice, a character in the manga. It was shown that the cuisines produced were very exquisite and high class. The reason is because molecular gastronomy combines physics and chemistry to bring out different taste and texture of food by using tools from the science lab. One example will be cryogenic cooking, where dishes can be partially freezed instantly with liquid nitrogen, giving a unique texture to the food. Another example will be spherification, where liquids can be shaped into spheres using sodium alginate and calcium chloride/calcium glucate lactate. The reaction between the sodium alginate and calcium salt forms a gel like membrane of calcium alginate as 1 calcium ion (green) replaces 2 sodium ions (dark blue) to form a crosslink between the 2 alginate chain (blue hexagons). This membrane then wraps around the liquids to form spheres. So… the science in the manga (at least for molecular gastronomy) is correct. (yay!)
Another type of modern culinary technique that I found out recently from my friend is sous vide. But this method is not mentioned in the manga (or not yet >.<). This technique in general allows even heating throughout the whole dish by regulating the temperature of the water bath. The dish is first placed in a vacuum sealed plastic bag and immersed in a water bath with a very precise temperature. This technique allow a dish to be perfectly cooked (not under or overcooked). However, one disadvantage is that it takes a much longer time to cook as compared to traditional cooking.
That’s all folks, have a delicious dinner ahead!!