Food nerds take note: Robert Wolke’s book, What Einstein Kept Under his Hat– Secrets of Science in the Kitchen, is for you. But it’s also for home cooks, aspiring chemists, and those that simply love trivia. This book is Wolke’s fourth in his sort-of series of simple questions explained in a cheeky way. Also on this list is What Einstein Told His Barber, What Einstein Told His Cook, and What Einstein Didn’t Know. Here he works with his wife Marlene Parrish, who provides recipes that demonstrate cool food science trick, or just use good foods in proper recipes.
Covering a wide range of topics from beverages, dairy, vegetables, fruits, grains and herbs, Wolke answers questions about food science from the quirky to the profound. He delves deep into the mysteries of fats and sugars, but also looks at the science behind modern ‘foods’ like processed cheese products and liquid smoke. The questions are adapted from his years as a food columnist for the Washington Post, with many ‘sidebar science’ facts thrown in to help us non-science types really figure out how things work.
Some of the profound (and not-so-profound) questions addressed by Wolke include:
- How can I remove a red wine stain? (Hint: it involves percarbonate products, which you probably have at home now)
- How can I prepare for how drunk I might become at a party?
- What are all those parts in an egg?
- Why are vegetables so many colors? (Hint: this is what makes them healthy and makes you happier!)
- Why do sometimes mashed potatoes turn out gluey?
- Why should meats be marinated and why does it work? How does fish ‘cook’ in ceviche?
- Are raw cashew nuts poisonous?
- How come meats are pink outside but brown inside? Is it spoiled?
- Why does leftover rice turn hard?
Super fun food nerd things I have been sharing at parties lately:
- Did you know champagne corks are actually cylinders? They just get squashed when inside the bottle neck!
- Hot tea is clear because the tannins disperse when warm, but ‘fall out of solution’ in cold water. But you can add lemon to acidify the tea and make it clear again.
- Red cabbage will turn blueish green when cooked with an alkaline food, but will keep it’s purple hue when cooked with an acid!
- Chilling onions in the refrigerator for a few hours before slicing will slow down the complex chemical reaction when the onions cells are broken open. Using a very sharp knife helps too! This makes it less likely that you will cry your eyes out while preparing for dinner!
What Einstein Kept Under his Hat– Secrets of Science in the Kitchen makes for a good coffee-table book, but it’s a good sit-down read too. The humor and sense of the ridiculous infuses the serious science with a lightheartedness that makes it entertaining, if not totally understandable. Some of the facts are really fascinating (processed cheese is truly disgusting; I’ve been caramelizing all wrong all these years) and others are ridiculous (spoons do not keep champagne fresh, eating ice cream does not cool you down)– but the book is super fun overall.
The author Robert L. Wolke, a professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh and a former food columnist or the Washington Post, received his doctorate in chemistry from Cornell University. Hie lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with his wife, noted food writer Marlene Parrish.
Vibrant Wellness Journal wishes to thank WW Norton Publishers for sending a review copy of What Einstein Kept Under his Hat.