Cooking math


This article by Samuel Arbesman came through today on

Are There Fundamental Laws of Cooking?

Cooking is a field that has in recent years seen a shift from the artistic to the scientific. While there are certainly still subjective and somewhat impenetrable qualities to one’s cuisine — de gustibus non est disputandum — there is an increasing rigor in the kitchen. From molecular gastronomy to Modernist Cuisine, there is a rapid growth in the science of cooking.

And mathematics is also becoming part of this. For example, Michael Ruhlman has explored how certain ingredient ratios can allow one to be more creative while cooking. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that we can go further, and even use a bit of network science, when it comes to thinking about food.

Yong-Yeol Ahn and his colleagues, in a recent paper titled Flavor network and the principles of food pairing, explored the components of cooking ingredients in different regional cuisines. In doing so, they were able to rigorously examine a recent claim: the food pairing hypothesis. The food pairing hypothesis is the idea that foods that go best together contain similar molecular components. While this sounds elegant, Ahn and his collaborators set out to determine whether or not this is true.

Using recipes from such websites as Epicurious, the researchers examined more than 50,000 recipes. They combined these recipe data with information about the chemical components in each of the ingredients, in order to create a network map of related ingredients. For example, shrimp and parmesan are connected in the network, because they contain the same flavor compounds, such as 1-penten-3-ol. A large flavor network of different ingredients is [above].


He later gives a reference to George Hart’s “Incompatible Food Triad” problem and the associated website:

An example solution would be three pizza toppings — A, B, and C — such that a pizza with A and B is good, and a pizza with A and C is good, and a pizza with B and C is good, but a pizza with A, B, and C is bad. Or you might find three different spices or other ingredients which do not go together in some recipe yet any pair of them is fine.

Has any of this ever crossed your mind? Me neither.





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