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How Does a Food Scientist Use Chemistry?
Food as Chemicals
Chefs think of cooking in terms of the art of putting ingredients together to form a new recipe. Food scientists think of cooking in terms of the combination of food chemicals and the reactions they undergo to form a new food product.
Our food is made up of chemicals. Proteins, carbohydrates, and fats are particular types of molecules and amino acids that combine in predictable ways to make up a food. Taste, texture, and appearance can be altered by the addition or substitution of chemical food components.
Food scientists work with food chemistry to develop new ways to use and combine ingredients. They study the chemistry of the food to determine the properties of each food component and how it functions in the final food product. Working with natural and artificial ingredients, they develop stabilizers, flavorings, and new ways to combine and present foods.
Food scientists spend a lot of time on research. They study the chemical properties of the food components, how they combine and deteriorate, how to improve their nutrition, flavor, and storage qualities. This research encompasses a number of science disciplines, but most of the work involves chemistry.
One branch of food science that involves a lot of analytical chemistry is the area of flavoring. Food scientists study the molecules responsible for flavor. They conduct chemical analysis of flavors and study the chemistry of altering and combining flavors to create new flavor profiles. Food scientists who work in the area of flavorings must have knowledge of the chemistry of flavoring ingredients and how they react and combine.
Food scientists work with the chemistry of ingredients in food to improve the quality and stability of the food. They study the use of chemical flavors, thickening agents, stabilizers and preservatives and apply their knowledge to improve existing food products and develop new ones. Current emphasis on low fat and low calorie products has prompted food scientists to study the chemistry of improving foods in this area and developing new foods to fill the demand for these products.
Once a food product has been developed, process chemistry is used to determine the best way to manufacture the food. Baking one cake is a much different process than baking thousands. Formulations for ingredients may not be scaled up exactly to form the new large scale recipe. Process chemistry is used to produce the new recipe on a larger scale
Food science is mostly food chemistry. Analytical chemistry is used to determine the properties of food components and determine how they interact. Applications chemistry is used to develop new ingredients and improve existing ones. Process chemistry is used to determine the best procedures for manufacturing food products.
Diane Watkins has been writing since 1984, with experience in newspaper, newsletter and Web content. She writes two electronic newsletters and has a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Clemson University. She has taken graduate courses in biochemistry and education.