The physics of food

Credit: Andrea Parrish - Geyer, CC-BY-ND.

Credit: Andrea Parrish – Geyer, CC-BY-ND.

Food is amazing, and not just to eat. We’re now starting to understand the science of food and how it works, and with that comes an age where produce is designed, enhanced or monitored by the lab. So before you tuck into your dinner tonight or think about celebratory delights like Champagne, take a look at how your food works.

Let’s kick off with a bang, or perhaps, a pop. Champagne!

For the best tasting bubbly, did you know that a you’re better off using a tulip-shaped glass rather than a Champagne flute? Or would you like to know what causes the ‘smoke’ you see when popping the cork? Well, our friends over at Physics World  have uncovered six scientific secrets of Champagne with Gérard Liger-Belair from the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne, just in time to get you in the party mood this Christmas. Plus, if you’re short on time, Physics World Editor Matin Durrani summarised the six secrets in their video blog.

The basic classes of molecules in foods.

The basic classes of molecules in foods. © IOP Publishing.

Now for the main course. Food. In general, it’s all about water, protein, fats and carbohydrates and how they interact with one another. ‘Food molecules’ behave in various ways and have certain properties which enable a huge variety of foods – bread, meat, chocolate or anything else – to be described and understood at a molecular level. Think you know food? Think again, and find out why foods taste, smell and feel different with ‘Soft matter food physics—the physics of food and cooking‘, published recently in Reports on Progress in Physics. It’s even got a section on dough and pasta, and highlights the role salt plays in our food. Mmm, science.

But, food is complicated, and therefore there is a lot of good science going on to understand it. Questions like: how do those fancy foams you see on cookery programs work? Or: how can we understand ‘chocolate blooming’? That’s when you see whitish spots or greying on your chocolate, which make it less appealing and alters its taste. These defects cost the confectionery industry millions each year. Read about this and more over at JPhysD’s Physics of Food special issue.

On the dessert menu we’re sticking with the chocolate theme, which turns out to be quite a popular research topic. I can’t think why. The chocolate fountain is the latest to get the treatment, with its characteristic inward-curving chocolate curtain the subject for a mathematics student at University College London. Their model is simple, but with it they demonstrate that there is real and accessible science which could inspire young chocolate lovers to engage with physics. We found more tasty physics with researchers using ultrasound to help get the number of bubbles in your aerated chocolate just right. Vital research, I am sure you’ll agree.

Just before we go, I’ll leave you with a little gem from Physics Education, for the younger, budding physicist: Physics at the dining table (or, do not play with your food: entertain and educate your fellow guests).


CC-BY logoThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License unless stated otherwise.

Figures:
Headline:  Thomas A Vilgis 2015 Rep. Prog. Phys. 78 124602. © IOP Publishing
Top: by Andrea Parrish – Geyer, reused from Flikr on a CC-BY-ND license.
Middle: Thomas A Vilgis 2015 Rep. Prog. Phys. 78 124602. © IOP Publishing
Bottom: Svenja K Reinke et al 2015 J. Phys. D: Appl. Phys. 48 464001. © IOP Publishing



Categories: Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics, JPhys+

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