Get in touch: send your photos, videos, news & views by texting YORK to 80360 or send an email»
Professor Paul Walton to explain science of puddings at York Festival of Food and Drink event
A chemistry expert will be exploring the magic of meringues and the brilliance of brûlées at this year’s York Festival of Food and Drink, reports MAXINE GORDON.
PAUL WALTON asks me to hold my nose and pop a strawberry into my mouth. “Chew it and, as you swallow, release your grip,” he says.
Surprisingly, the ripe, red berry tastes almost of nothing, just a wet mulch in my mouth; it’s only when I let go of my nose that the distinctive, sweet tang of strawberry comes to life.
“As soon as you release your nose, you are allowing the fragrance molecules to distil into your nose; these receptors then fire signals to the brain to turn on the receptors in the mouth to allow you to get the whole taste sensation,” says Paul, who will be giving a talk on the Science of Puddings at York’s annual food and drink festival, which runs from September 20 to 29.
With a day job as a chemistry professor at the University of York, Paul is perfectly placed to reflect on the scientific qualities of the perfect pud.
Want to know why your meringues fail or why custard sticks so dastardly to the pan? Then make a date with Paul on September 24, 7.30pm, at Tempest Anderson Hall and find out.
Paul is one of several speakers, chefs and food experts taking part in this year’s festival, the theme of which is Food and Science.
Besides explaining the science behind our favourites from the sweet trolley, Paul will be sharing fascinating foodie facts during demonstrations, such as making chocolate from liquid nitrogen.
Chocolatiers normally make chocolate by tempering – a process of heating and cooling the substance so all the cocoa butter hardens in a uniform crystal structure, leaving it smooth and glossy with a ‘snap’ when broken.
“What we do,” says Paul, “is take a chocolate bar or some chocolate buttons, melt it in a bain-marie, put it in a mould and plunge it into liquid nitrogen.”
This, he says, traps the chocolate in its liquid state and doesn’t allow it to crystalise.
“Then we warm it up a little and let people eat it – the sensation is like a solid becoming a liquid instantaneously in the mouth. It is a very nice experience.”
Paul will also talk about our sense of taste. There are five different taste receptors in the mouth which discern salt, sweet, sour, bitter and umami (or savoury: think of Parmesan cheese).
Our brain unravels the complicated business of working out what we’re putting in our mouths – and Paul gives great credit to chefs for finding ways to balance these tastes in their cuisine.
Knowing a bit more about how our sense of taste works, he believes, can make us all better cooks too.
He encourages us all to try the strawberry trick when tasting food and drink at home.
“Smell it first,” he says. “Then taste it, holding your nose, then taste it fully. My hunch is that this will reduce the number of things you put in food.”
He says exercising such control will stop flavours becoming “muddy” because “too much stuff going on”.
He says the best part about talking at popular events such as the food festival is seeing the audience’s reaction as he opens their eyes to the science at work in their everyday lives.
He says: “Eating is something that we do every day. Isn’t it great that a mere smattering of science can take you to a new place?”
As for his favourite pudding – no debate; it has to be the crème brûlée.
“There is a lot of chemistry going on in there,” says Paul, as if a scientific justification were needed for preferring this princess of puddings. “The Maillard Reaction refers to the reaction between the proteins and the sugar which is the basis for the caramel – which makes it so very hard to resist.”
And his final tip: “You have to take a bit of the topping and the custard at the same time to get the full taste experience.”
Where’s my spoon?
• Professor Walton will also be hosting another festival session on the Chemistry of Drinks, looking at tea and coffee and the science of getting drunk. September 28, 5pm; Demonstration Area, St Sampson’s Square. Free entry
• View the festival programme and book tickets at yorkfoodfestival.com
More Food and Science highlights:
Give Us Our Daily Bread: Discover the science of breadmaking from the prehistoric to modern day. Various dates during the festival at York Castle Museum (normal admission charges apply, free to York Card holders).
The Science of Victorian Cooking: Drop-in workshop in the kitchen of York’s Mansion House. September 22, from 11am to 4pm. £5/£4 pay on the door.
Roman and Medieval Food Science: For all the family. Local archaeologist Andrew Jones will show how York’s Roman, Viking and medieval inhabitants used the principles of chemistry, physics and biology to preserve and improve ingredients to create tasty dishes. Demonstration Area, St Sampson’s Square, September 22 at 4.30pm and September 24 at 5pm, £2.50.
Making Chocolate from Cocoa Beans: Discover how chocolate is made from cocoa beans to the actual chocolate bar. September 22 at 2.30pm; Workshop Area, St Sampson’s Square. £5/£3.50.
Comments are closed on this article.