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Collaborations Between Cooks and Chemists Push the Boundaries of Taste

Released: 3/26/2013 11:45 PM EDT
Embargo expired: 4/8/2013 4:30 PM EDT
Source Newsroom: American Chemical Society (ACS)

EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE: Monday, April 8, 2013, 4:30 p.m. Eastern Time

Note to journalists: Please report that this research was presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Apr. 8, 2013 - NEW ORLEANS, April 8, 2013 — After walking hand-in-hand as partners for centuries, cooking and chemistry now are sprinting ahead in a collaboration that is producing new taste sensations and unimaginable delights for the palate. That’s the word from a renowned expert on chemistry and cooking who spoke here today at the 245th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society.

“Modernist or experimental cooking is the interface between the kitchen and the laboratory,” said Harold McGee, Ph.D. “It is a partnership in which chefs collaborate with chemists, food scientists and sensory psychologists to produce new culinary experiences, as well as to understand and refine the appeal of traditional foods.” Imagine fruit juices transformed into powders or solid morsels that pop in the mouth like caviar, innovations like cocoa made into a jelly or tomato ketchup ice cream, and unconventional parings like coriander and strawberries based on shared aroma ingredients.

McGee pointed out that cooking is practical chemistry, perhaps the first form of chemistry that humans explored, and the chemistry that billions of people around the world unknowingly use every day. His presentation was part of a symposium honoring Shirley O. Corriher, winner of the 2012 ACS James T. Grady-James H. Stack Award for Interpreting Chemistry for the Public.

Other presentations in the symposium included:

Sara J. Risch, Communicating chemistry to science writers through food
Kenneth Chang, What I learned about cooking as a science writer
Shirley O. Corriher, Touch of grace: Joys of cooking wise
Sally Mitchell, Ph.D.,Chemistry and cooking: A look at solution chemistry
Archibald Corriher, Research and editing for a food chemistry cookbook

In his talk, McGee described the evolution of the long relationship between cuisine and science, from early attempts to understand the principles of traditional cooking to modern efforts at pushing the envelope of what is possible in the kitchen. In between, scientific societies came up with new kitchen gadgets, and academic scientists figured out how to preserve foods reliably and safely in cans. McGee is author of the book On Food & Cooking: The Science & Lore of the Kitchen, now in its second edition, and has been called “the most important person alive writing about food.”

One of the oldest and most prestigious accolades in science communication, the award dates to 1955 and consists of $3,000, a gold medallion and a bronze replica of the medallion. ACS named the award for James T. Grady and James H. Stack, former managers of the ACS News Service. Publisher of the Weekly PressPac, the News Service was established in 1919, making ACS one of the first scientific societies with a dedicated function of communicating and explaining science to the public. The News Service is in the ACS Office of Public Affairs.

ACS selected Corriher for her work in bringing home the power and pleasure of chemistry through her highly popular books, articles and dynamic presentations on the chemistry of cooking. For more than 30 years, Corriher has served as an unofficial “ambassador of chemistry,” delighting readers and audiences across the country.

A biochemist by training, Corriher is the author of two highly respected books: CookWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking, winner of a James Beard Foundation award, and BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking. Cookwise is a popular “go-to” book for chemistry classes, test kitchens and home cooks across the country. Also known as a “food sleuth,” Corriher has been approached by chefs, food writers and even Julia Child to find solutions to difficult conundrums encountered in the kitchen.

She has written numerous articles for newspapers, magazines and technical journals, and has appeared many times on the television show Good Eats with Alton Brown on The Food Network. In 2001, Bon Appetit magazine named her Best Cooking Teacher of the Year. Corriher also serves on the ACS Committee on Public Relations and Communications.

The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 163,000 members, ACS is the world’s largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

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Note to journalists: Please report that this research was presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society.


Harold McGee, Ph.D.
4331 23rd Street
San Francisco, Calif. 94114
Phone: 415-814-3555

Abstracts from other presentations in the symposium appear below.

Communicating chemistry to science writers through food
Sara J. Risch, Ph.D., 505 N. Lake Shore Drive, Apt. 3209, Chicago, IL 60611, United States, (36) 30-299-0014,

As everyone can relate to food, it serves as an excellent vehicle to communicate chemistry. A wide variety of chemical reactions take place in food to create flavors and textures. The American Chemical Society has sponsored a number of events for science writers highlighting the chemistry of a particular type of food. Shirley O. Corriher, this years winner of the James T. Grady-James H. Stack Award for Interpreting Chemistry for the Public, has been an active participant in these events. The events will be reviewed and highlights presented.

Playing with food: Four centuries of science in the kitchen
Harold McGee, Ph.D., 4331 23rd Street, San Francisco, CA 94114, United States, (1) 415-814-3555,

Cooking is practical chemistry, and scientists have been influencing cooks since the time of Isaac Newton. The last decade has brought an explosion of interest in the science of cooking. Restaurant chefs now collaborate with chemists and sensory psychologists, and Harvard University now offers a course taught by scientists and chefs. The rise of kitchen science will be traced, Shirley Corriher's role described, and recent developments surveyed.

What I learned about cooking as a science writer
Kenneth Chang, 620 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10018, United States, (1) 212- 556-7271,

What to do when a New York Times science reporter has a hankering to be a food writer and the editors at the dining section don't return his emails? He figures out how to write about food and cooking as chemistry -- molecular gastronomy, edible nanocrystals, the Wint-O-Green Life Saver Effect, the molecular make-up of Jack Daniels. And, of course, he invites Shirley Corriher over for dinner.

Touch of grace: Joys of cooking wise
Shirley O Corriher, 3152 Andrews NW, Atlanta, GA 30305-2013, United States, (1) 404-233-0923,

It has been such a thrill and pleasure to write and to speak around the world explaining chemistry through cooking—to see eyes light up realizing that the very simple pleasures of food are chemistry. A simple example is people love knowing what is happening with proteins when they are frying an egg. They can literally watch coagulation. I will talk about tales of chemistry as I explain how starch or proteins doing their thing. And i will tell many more stories of the chemistry of cooking.

Chemistry and cooking: A look at solution chemistry
Sally Mitchell, 6400 Fremont Road, East Syracuse, NY, United States, (1) 315-637-9837,

Food examples offer relevant connections to basic chemical principles and reactions, as well as providing an appealing hook to capture the interest of most anyone who likes to cook, enjoys good food, or aspires to a career in food science or nutrition. This presentation is designed to introduce you to topics dealing with solution chemistry through cooking. The talk will concentrate on a series of labs and activities that demonstrate the topics of solutions, colloids, and suspensions. Some of the labs include: Determination of the authenticity of vanilla samples through paper chromatography and TLC, making solutions of varying concentrations and dilutions using Kool-aid, Brownian motion and milk, and the making of food products such as peanut brittle, ice cream, fudge, taffy, mayonnaise and cheese to explain the areas of solution chemistry. Students are excited when they use science skills to explain food and after performing some of these activities, your students will go home and become scientists in their own homes.

Research and editing for a food chemistry cookbook
Archibald Corriher, 3152 Andrews NW, Atlanta, GA, United States, (1) 404-233-0923,

Shirley's books were a different type of food writing and required in depth scientific information. I had done data base research for many years for Georgia Tech and the military and had the ability to find the complex information that Shirley needed.


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