Don't Live in a State with Oranges? Engineer One in Your Kitchen Don't Live in a State with Oranges? Engineer One in Your Kitchen

Don't Live in a State with Oranges? Engineer One in Your Kitchen

by Peter Smith

September 25, 2010

How chemicals and the razzle dazzle of molecular gastronomy might save the world, or at least reduce your carbon footprint



His “orange” recipe (currently the only one available on the site, more are coming soon) calls for:

  • 20 grams of groundcherry (also known as husk cherries or Physalis)
  • 10 grams of melon
  • 5 grams gooseberry
  • 3 seeds of coriander
  • 1 juniper berry

I was able to find most of these ingredients—all it took was a trip to the coast for some juniper berries and a stop at the farmers’ market. As I weighed them out and blended them together, I realized I had never really noticed the orange-like smell of a melon, but the sweet fruity scent was there. It turns out acetaldehyde is found in both oranges and ripe melons. My end result—an orange juice that actually looked quite green—tasted sweeter and less tart than Minute Maid and more like the orange liquid you get from sucking on a citrus throat lozenge. Call it the power of placebo, but something about making “orange” myself made the drink taste more like orange, a flavor that’s nearly impossible to replicate.

And here’s the thing—to have both your “orange” and your locavore merit badge in much of the world, you may need to have an open mind about molecular science. “If these flavors are connected on a molecular level, they might go well together food-wise. You still need to use skill and knowledge to make it happen,” says H. Alexander Talbot, author of the blog and the forthcoming book Ideas in Food. “It’s not just some miracle donkey dust that you sprinkle on things. The rabbit doesn’t just come out of the hat. There’s a reason it does.”

And maybe that’s the larger message. The public shouldn’t dismiss avant-garde scientific techniques off-hand just because they haven’t heard of them before. Lahousse’s latest project makes it clear that molecular science is not merely smoke and mirrors and frivolous foams. It can also be about the possibility of reinterpreting the lime flavor with cilantro and lemon grass, re-imagining cranberries when a recipe calls for lemons, or unlocking the secret to fried bacon in basmati rice, strawberry, and black tea. For those who want to eat local and seasonal but don't want to give up whole swaths of flavors, food science may have found a solution.

“We are scientists. We want to have the best taste,” Lahousse told me. “Mother Nature is very intelligent. It’s up to science people to understand that intelligence and use it well.”

Illustration by Junyi Wu

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Don't Live in a State with Oranges? Engineer One in Your Kitchen