It seems that there is far more science involved in the kitchen than many people have realised, and conversely, if scientific observation and methodology can be applied to cooking, then the principles can help solve some problems in industry and medicine too.
Observation of different types of pancakes
A team of English scientists at University College, London, has now studied the way different types of pancakes from all over the world cook differently. The researchers followed a rigorous and time-consuming experimental protocol by sampling 14 different variations of pancake from across the world, including Canada, Malaysia, The Netherlands and France (it was a hard few weeks in the lab).
The chemical changes turn the runny batter into a thick semi-solid or thin crunchy pancake; one with smooth surfaces or one that is crinkly; one that is small like a pikelet or plate-sized like a French crêpe, and many others. The final product, in turn, is dependent on the physics of the way the water evaporates in the hot pan, and the way the bubbles of vapour move through the batter as it cooks.
Think about it. Have you ever watched those bubbles in your pancakes as they cook? Something to look for next time, perhaps on Shrove Tuesday.
These scientists observed the bubbles systematically, varying the type of pancake and the type of batter one variable at a time. They found that the "aspect ratio" (how big the diameter is compared with the volume of cakey stuff in the middle) varied enormously with the French crêpes at one end and Dutch pffertjes at the other.
However, they also found that the batters varied between thicker mixtures with equal portions of flour and liquid, to those with twice as much water as flour.
The physics and maths of how they cook
In summary, what they found was this:
- thick batters release water unevenly as the pancakes cook, so there are craters and wrinkles in the bottom surface,
- medium-density mixtures and small pancakes of any batter mixture form smooth surfaces, as the water is able to evaporate evenly between the pan and the pancake,
- very thin batters made pancakes with dark dots on the undersurface and an even colour on the top. The water escapes through channels in the batter, and forms little pits on the top surface where the bubbles burst. These pancakes also have a dark ring around the edge where the batter was thinnest and the heat therefore more intense,
- the only way to make a thin pancake (eg crêpe) is to physically spread the batter over the surface of the pan – thus making the little channels for the water to escape.
Realisation that the process can be used to improve eye surgery
This research was partly funded by those supporting eye surgery to help patients to see clearly.
Luke chapter 24, verses 30-31: "When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognised him. And he vanished from their sight."
Glaucoma causes a build-up of pressure in the fluid part of the eye. Surgeons helping people to "open their eyes again" need to cut little channels into the harder, stiffer parts of the eye to let the fluid escape.
By working with engineers and mathematicians who can model the processes involved in the way the water escapes during the cooking of a pancake, they have been able to work out better and safer methods of enabling the excess fluid to be released from someone's eye, while retaining the function and health of the eye after the surgery.
This is a great example of how careful scientific method and accurate observations of everyday phenomena can be used as a model for medical treatments which, for obvious reasons, cannot lend themselves to direct experimentation.
We may be a bit light hearted about the topic, but this one has been a serious and useful study, nonetheless. The Old Testament has numerous citations for food, cooking, sterilisation, good security and the like,
Dr Mark Tronson - a 4 min video
Chairman – Well-Being Australia
Baptist Minister 44 years
- 1984 - Australian cricket team chaplain 17 years (Ret)
- 2001 - Life After Cricket (18 years Ret)
- 2009 - Olympic Ministry Medal – presented by Carl Lewis
- 2019 - The Gutenberg - (ARPA Christian Media premier award)
Gutenberg video - 2min 14sec
Married to Delma for 44 years with 4 children and 5 grand children