My fellow bloggers Anu Hopia (Molekyyligastronomia) and Erik Fooladi (Fooducation) together with Jenni Vartiainen and Maija Aksela have embarked on a collaboration project to explore claims about food and cooking. If you are a researcher (from any field), teacher at any level, chef or simply a foodie who finds this interesting you can find info at the end of this email on how to contact them. I bring here their description of the project in extenso:
Interdisciplinary network of culinary claims
Is it true that you mustn’t rinse, but rather brush, mushrooms? Should a steak be seared to keep the juices inside? Can you prevent fruit salad from turning brown by sprinkling it with lemon juice? Such apparently mundane questions have been source of inspiration for food geeks at least since “The Curious cook” by Harold McGee (1990) was published, but most likely much earlier. A closer analysis of such questions reveal an abundance of intriguing, surprisingly complex and unexplored questions which might be vehicles for education and even subject for research within natural and social sciences.
The world of food and cooking is full of statements on how to do things and occasionally why one should adhere to these advices. Many are rooted in tradition or are created today by us all and sometimes appear to us like modern urban stories. Some are rooted in long experience of kitchen professionals or home cooks, and some even in science. When tradition and science meet interesting things might happen. In some cases the phenomenon in question (see examples in the introduction) is well described within one field of science but is less so in another discipline, laying questions open for research. Secondly, such culinary claims, which we have termed “Kitchen stories”, provide valuable opportunities in education at various levels (see below). Thirdly, interesting questions might be revealed by laypeople, craftsmen (chefs, artisans) or even school children which in turn could end up as relevant research topics to be studied within various sciences. Finally, such kitchen stories are valuable parts of our cultural heritage and provide rich research material for scientific fields such as cultural history and sociology (see figure above).
Thus far, we have seen several efforts toward the study of such culinary claims within food science (molecular gastronomy, MG) and since publication of Curious Cook several publications do mention such claims as part of the programme of molecular gastronomy (This, 2009; Vega & Ubbink, 2008).  Examples of scientific studies on culinary claims are research on beef stock cooking from the University of Copenhagen (Snitkjær et al., 2010; Snitkjær et al., 2011) and INRA Paris (This et al., 2004). Another example is whether it is a good idea (for the flavour of the dish) to separate the peel and seeds from the flesh before using tomatoes (Oruna-Concha et al., 2007). Even though some such claims have been studied within MG/food science we are not aware of studies starting from such claims within other disciplines such as ethnology, food history, sociology etc.  Following up one of the examples above, one might thus ask
- What claims about making beef stock do we find around the world?
- Are the various versions of one claim similar or qualitatively different?
- Do they exist in some countries/areas, being absent in others? How are they distributed geographically and in time?
Since producing, cooking and eating/enjoying food is among the most influential phenomena throughout human history such claims should be relevant and important questions to research. Furthermore, a large proportion of such knowledge is rooted in tradition and we are thus in a hurry to collect/record it because much of it lies in the hands and minds of people only. We should not trust that our modern, globalised and urbanised society will hand down this knowledge to the coming generations in like manner as done in past times. Also, examples exist of the potential in using such claims in various levels of education. In France efforts have been carried out in schools, such as “Ateliers expérimentaux du gout” and “Programme “Dictons et plats patrimoniaux””.  Also we are underway, through educational research in Finland (Västinsalo & Aksela, 2011) and Norway (Fooladi, 2010), to unveil what potential this might have in science and home economics education. A collection of possible research topics/questions is given in the appendix (link to Fooducation). Our opinion is that this should be a dynamic and expanding list, adding new questions and perspectives along the way.
Prospects and invitation
We believe that this project might involve, perhaps even integrate, a manifold of disciplines as well as various research methodologies/paradigms. As shown in the figure, the phenomenon “culinary claims” forms the centrepiece, allowing the various disciplines to maintain their distinctive features, but also to let them meet in a common point of interest. Our goal is to build an international collection of kitchen stories and culinary claims to be developed and benefitted by researchers of different fields (a French collection exists ). We would also like to build a network for researchers, teachers, schools, practitioners and others with a common interest in this topic. Currently no funds are available, but several national applications are in. If you are interested in joining this network, let us know. At this point, we have not set any limits to who might join in, regardless of profession. Further, if you are aware of similar type of efforts, we’d be happy to learn about them.
Contact (in alphabetical order)
Anu Hopia, University of Turku, Functional Foods Forum. Professor (food development). E-mail: anu.hopia (a t) utu.fi. Web page (in Finnish): http://molekyyligastronomia.fi
Erik Fooladi, Volda University College, Norway. Associate professor (chemistry, home economics, teacher education). E-mail: ef (a t) hivolda.no. Web page: http://fooducation.org
Jenni Vartiainen, Helsinki University, Finland. Coordinator of Finland’s science education centre LUMA, PhD student. E-mail: jenni.vastinsalo (a t) helsinki.fi. Web page: www.helsinki.fi/luma/english
Dr Maija Aksela (professor), head of Finland’s Science Education Centre and the Unit of Chemistry Teacher Education, University of Helsinki. E-mail: maija.aksela (a t) helsinki.fi
 Some collections are available on the web, e.g. http://kitchen-myths.com and they appear to be tool to raise interest of public to natural sciences. However, many such efforts often have a rather one-sided perspective in which science carries “the truth” which is used to “debunk the fallacies of tradition”. We believe in a meeting ground for both science and tradition where both can contribute to the other on more equal terms.
 We do not, however, claim that such research does not exist, and would be delighted to see such research.
 We are not aware of whether these efforts have been followed by educational research.
Fooladi, E. (2010). “Kitchen stories” – Assertions about food and cooking as a framework for teaching argumentation. Paper presented at the XIV IOSTE Symposium, Bled, Slovenia. http://www.ioste14.org/publications/
McGee, H. (1990). The Curious Cook – Taking the lid off kitchen facts and fallacies. San Francisco: North Point Press.
Oruna-Concha, M. J., Methven, L., Blumenthal, H., Young, C., & Mottram, D. S. (2007). Differences in Glutamic Acid and 5′-ribonucleotide Contents Between Flesh and Pulp of Tomatoes and the Relationship with Umami Taste. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 55(14), 5776-5780. doi: 10.1021/jf070791p
Snitkjær, P., Frøst, M. B., Skibsted, L. H., & Risbo, J. (2010). Flavour development during beef stock reduction. Food Chemistry, 122(3), 645-655. doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2010.03.025
Snitkjær, P., Risbo, J., Skibsted, L. H., Ebeler, S., Heymann, H., Harmon, K., & Frøst, M. B. (2011). Beef stock reduction with red wine – Effects of preparation method and wine characteristics. Food Chemistry, 126(1), 183-196. doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2010.10.096
This, H. (2009). Molecular Gastronomy, a Scientific Look at Cooking. Accounts of Chemical Research, 42(5), 575-583. doi: 10.1021/ar8002078
This, H., Meric, R., & Cazor, A. (2004). Lavoisier and Meat Stock. Comptes Rendus Chimie, 9, 1510-1515. doi: 10.1016/j.crci.2006.07.002
Vega, C., & Ubbink, J. (2008). Molecular Gastronomy: A Food Fad or Science Supporting Innovative Cuisine? Trends in Food Science & Technology, 19(7), 372-382. doi: 10.1016/j.tifs.2008.01.006
Västinsalo, J., & Aksela, M. (2011). Using kitchen stories as starting point for chemical education in high school. Paper presented at the ESERA 2011, Lyon, France. http://www.esera2011.fr/en/scientific-programme.html
I feel that Hervé This’ impetus in the realm of culinary claims is a bit downplayed, perhaps due to his desire to open up his research to laymen (such as myself!) and to publish more public-friendly books than peer-reviewed articles. His 2009 course on “précisions culinaires” led to the publication of a fascinating book and he’s been working on the issue for decades at the INRA.
All the same, kudos for pushing for the exploration of an *international* collection of culinary claims. I am looking forward to your works and your ever-excellent blog posts.
We think that this new proyect is absolutely excelent!! At the association we often make workshops about some culinary claims to explain in an easy manner some scientific principles about cooking.
We want to actively participate in this new network. How can we do it?
Thanks in advance for all the information, and congrats about your allways interesting posts. (Our wish list book is almost like yours ;))
Happy new year!!
Mariana Koppmann y Silvia Grünbaum
Asociación Argentina de Gastronomía Molecular
Renaud: There is no doubt that Hervé has done a tremendous job collecting such culinary claims. What I like in particular about the new approach is that they will collect claims in English 🙂
Mariana: I’m sure they would appreciate it if you contact them directy by email (their addresses are given above).
I support both your and Martin’s comments above. Prof. This has indeed been one of my primary inspirations to pick up this and, of course, we have invited him into this collaboration/network. The motivation for this is not to set up a competitive project, but rather open up and also include a broad range of disciplines (e.g. some of us are also interested in how this can be used in education), hopefully along the way be able to develop web 2.0-like functionality etc. Some more information can be found in four posts I published (see http://www.fooducation.org/2010/06/culinary-precisions-andor-kitchen.html and links therein).
you’re more than welcome. I’ll send you an invitation right away.
thanks so much for spreading the word 🙂
Erik Fooladi (fooducation)
Martin et al.,
Please count me in on this project! I would definitely like to be part of a network of cooks and scientists investigating these questions. I have also been working with Naveen Sinha (of Harvard’s Science and Cooking course) and the fine folks at Science Fare on some ideas to tie together food, science, and education. I won’t speak for all of them, but I would guess there will be some interest.
could you please submit your comment to the original post at fooducation.org (direct link) so that we have your name there?