Food is biological material, packed with chemical compounds and fantastic physical phenomena. When we taste, the chemical composition and physical structure of the food determines the flavour and the mouthfeel of the food, and is therefore pivotal for the overall perception of food. In gastrophysics (gastronomical physics), the kitchen becomes a laboratory, where the food is characterised by concepts and methods borrowed from e.g. biophysics, soft matter physics, physical chemistry, and food chemistry. Gastrophysics investigates the scientific nature of flavour perception and preparation techniques with the aim of getting a fundamental understanding of the empirical world of gastronomy and cooking.
In order to compose a meal beyond the ordinary, knowledge of which factors that add value to food and beverage is a necessity. The study of the art of eating and drinking is called gastronomy, and this includes knowledge of aesthetics, ingredients, flavour, culture, cooking and much more. Cooking constitutes the practical aspect of gastronomy.
The fields of gastronomy and cooking are the inspiration for the emerging scientific discipline called gastrophysics (or gastronomical physics). Gastrophysics seeks a fundamental scientific understanding of gastronomy and cooking, and aims at unravelling the scientific nature of phenomena observed in gastronomy and cooking. Flavour (taste and smell), mouthfeel, chemesthesis, and astringency, are all related to the chemical properties and physical texture of the food, and to how the food is transformed in the mouth. Gastrophysics deals with each of these components and their mutual relations e.i. how the sensory input relates to the material properties of food, and the absorption in the human body.
There is a natural interplay between gastronomy, cooking, and the gastrophysics. Gastronomy covers the knowledge on how the cook creates a good meal, and in return; a new preparation from the cook extends the knowledge of gastronomy. In parallel, the knowledge from gastronomy on eg. what is important to attain a certain gastronomic effect gives inspiration to gastrophysical investigations, that returns knowledge on why this is the case. A gastrophysical investigation can also have its origin in understanding the processes of cooking, and return knowledge that suggest an alternative preparation technique.
Mentioned in the article
University of Southern Denmark
Mathias P. Clausen is a postdoc in Taste for Life, doing research and outreach.