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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The technology of cooking

Ok, an interesting TED talk for when you have time.. about cooking as a technology! This gentleman brings up some interesting ideas. He projects that cooking is a technology that was invented to make the energy conversion (by our body) more efficient. Talks about how cooking influenced the evolution of our body, brain and gut.


Yes, cooking is a technology older than most "technology" commonly brought to mind. And it has helped us consume many foods that earlier were probably either hard to eat, like certain raw vegetables or seeds, or even completely inedible like raw meats. Since we are the only species that cook food before eating, Mr. W calls us "coctivores" rather than omnivores. :)

Ok, summary over.

This talk made me realize that we, cook-ers, perhaps rarely think this way about our own cooking.. as a technology! But indeed (if we now think about it) that is exactly how cooking works. People learn to cook. Are taught or develop certain techniques. Then we try newer things. Mix and match and generate newer recipes. And this has been on-going for many many years!

First there are cars, then come faster cars, safer cars, more fancy cars. And then there is the abrupt and prolific jump to airplanes. What are the jumps or prolific advances in cooking that you really appreciate?

Techniques like grilling, frying, baking.. baking cakes versus cookies, making kulfi versus ice-cream versus gelato and now frozen yogurt (mostly heat-cold applications) are a big benefit to us.

Also techniques of handling certain foods, for instance, how to cook colocassia leaves and rhubarb, handling the oxalate crystals, how to make pickles, preserves, jams, how to ferment batter, idli-dosa-dhokla.. dried goods like papad, wadis, etc.. fried goods.. making cheese, paneer, even simple yogurt..

There are also certain combinations in meals which probably allowed us to eat certain foods - for instance a lot of traditional Indian Thalis combine cool drinks like lassi, matthaa, buttermilk, solkadi or yogurt raithas and kadhis with our hot and spicy curries. And there are of course umpteen spices that probably work in certain combinations for good digestive health - ginger, heeng, cumin and whatnot. One often finds them in dals and other foods that are high in protein and harder to digest.

And then there are some seemingly mundane things that I, personally, think are cool inventions (nothing to do with evolution.. but oh well..) like tortilla and lettuce wraps - getting rid of the bread, granola bars - compact-ification of breakfast, cutlets or burgers - a method to combine any food into a convenient portion, all the egg-substitutes are cool discoveries, all the chaats we love are inventions of ingredient-combination, oh there are scores of such discoveries and inventions.. :)

Can you tell me about any other common cooking inventions/techniques that strike you as cool and handy?

I think even just adding pakoda to kadhi is a big deal! ;)

Three cheers for cook-ers everywhere! :)


Priya said...

Excellent write up, enjoyed reading..

SS blogs here said...

Thanks, Priya! :)

Malar Gandhi said...

Wow, nice write-up buddy...enjoyed reading it. of cooking is a very vast subject.

BTW...have you read Harold McGee's book? good to read...just wanted to let you know.

SS blogs here said...

Hey Malar.. Thanks! :) Oh I just looked up this Harold McGee. sounds interesting. Thanks for the recommendation. I will check out his book.

Cham said...

That is a cool topic! I always thought of sugar free items are great invention/fat free/gluten free/ no carb/no sodium option.
The more they invent more diseases are discovered, what you think?
I never even thought cooking as technology!

SS blogs here said...

Haha :D Cham, you are so funny.. "the more they invent the more diseases are discovered" Lol!

I agree, sugar-free and gluten-free are really cool inventions. Must come from a lot of chemists sitting in some lab somewhere with pipettes and litmus papers, neutralizing acids and alkalies for our benefit. (That's all I remember from chem lab.) ;) Our blessings to them! :)

Aparna S Mallya said...

Really enjoyed reading your post. Cooking does amaze me and it is definitely fascinating to see how different people use different methods of cooking almost similar ingredients. Everyday is a learning experience and every dish teaches us how differences can co-exist!

One of the things that I find cool is the use of gelatin or agar agar to thicken desserts. How in the world did they discover that!!

SS blogs here said...

Thanks Aparna.. I just looked up Agar and it's a substance derived from an algae! How difficult even to obtain it! And then to think of adding it to food! I agree with you.. that's a really cool finding.

Here's my guess.. probably some chemist pulled an all-nighter, and a slip of her hand over her morning coffee found her a dessert in her mug by lunchtime! ;D