Ryan’s Guest Post: Food Science


IMG_0243  Ryan is in the teal shirt on the far right.

Hi guys, I’m Sana’s friend Ryan. I’m a recent graduate in biochemistry***I was also a biochem major, however most of the info just flew over my head, sometimes cook*** By sometimes he means that he makes epic meals (see below), and general food enthusiast, and I’m writing in about how understanding the scientific principles behind food and cooking can help you make better food, as well as better understanding and appreciating it. Also, I just think it’s nifty.


Ryan’s Epic Meal

Taste, like touch, is a sense that is talked about as a single mode of perception, when it is actually a composite impression we get from several different types of chemical detection. The two general categories of compounds that we detect are water-soluble chemicals, which correspond with different taste buds, and oil-soluble chemicals, which we detect with our nose. We’ll start with the water-soluble flavors that you detect with your tongue. When you get a cold, part of the reason that everything tastes funny is that with your nose out of commission, you’re relying mainly on these:



Sweet – the concentration of simple sugars. Your tongue can’t detect sugars that are tied up in long chains of sugar, called starch. However, single and double sugars, like fructose and sucrose, tell your tongue that the food is calorie rich (yummy).

Sour – the concentration of acid. Weak organic acids, such as citric acid in lemons, are common in food, rather than the face-meltier strong acids, such as hydrochloric or sulfuric acid.

Salty – the concentration of, you guessed it, salt ions. We typically only use sodium chloride in cooking, but the taste of seawater includes magnesium chloride as well. Still salty, but not as pleasant.

Bitter – the concentration of alkaline compounds. These are typically acquired tastes, and generally aren’t appealing at first. Since there are a good number of toxic alkaline compounds, and your ancestors that liked them didn’t hang around long.

Umami – the concentration of free amino acids. The most recently added taste, the name is Japanese and has no direct English translation, but is something like “savory.” A distinct, but controversial, example of this taste is monosodium glutamate, the deprotonated form of an essential amino acid and neurotransmitter.

I’ll write in again next week about the oil-soluble flavors. Hopefully by then the rain and grayness will have left the DC area. Have a great weekend everyone!


image Super fun time rock-climbing with Ryan and company, my friends are crunchy!

Thanks Ryan!

I can’t wait for another addition of Ryan’s Food Science post!

Are you into food science or do you just like stuffing your face?

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3 Responses to Ryan’s Guest Post: Food Science

  1. I’m SO interested in the food science department. Though in engineering, I really love learning more about the chemistry behind food and the reactions overall.

    (Sana, the picture has your name tagged in the photo…I don’t know if you want your full name on there or not!)

  2. Evan Thomas says:

    So how would I make a hydrochloric acid bean salad?

    • Ryan says:

      I suppose you would start with bean salad, and at some point you would probably have to pose as a research center.