Ask A Scientist: The Fuuuuuture
April 13, 2017
Q: What do you see as the next unexplored frontier in food science? Where will future research and discovery have the most impact on flavor and pleasure?
—Chef Carlos Salgado, Taco Maria, Costa Mesa, CA
A: The thing I am most excited about is Compost 2.0. Basically, we’re going to get super creative with food waste. Throwing food scraps and ugly fruit into a pile before using it as fertilizer or feeding it to livestock is more appealing than a landfill, but we could do so much better. Let’s get extra style points for humanity by fermenting old tea leaves, grinding leftover bits of charcuterie with salt to make seasoning rubs for meat, and turning juice bar pulp into crispy snacks. The wave is coming, and it’s going to take the combined expertise of chefs and food scientists (and those of us who are culinary science hybrids) to figure out ways for all of these ideas to be delicious, scalable, and safe.
Q: How do culture and tradition play into your research? Are there any cultural foods, flavors, or techniques that create a challenge to an empirical understanding of cooking and flavor, or that create unanswered questions that are worth exploring?
A: We live in an age of myth busting, but for every story about how pregnant women were once thought to be bad luck for emulsions, there are dozens more about how our grandparents were right about a million things in the kitchen. Food culture and tradition are the culinary equivalents of scientific journal articles—these are ideas and practices that would likely have died away over time if they didn’t work. A lot of the sciencey stuff that we do is meant to reinvigorate these traditional food practices. By lifting the hood and figuring out exactly how our grandparents were right, we not only get a better sense of how to keep those traditions going but we can mine all sorts of ideas for how to apply that wisdom to new, innovative projects that our grandchildren will try real hard to myth bust.