Welcome to Savor the Science! In each Savor the Science, RENDER’s resident chemist, Claire Lower, will explore culinary questions through a scientific lens, perfecting recipes and demystifying techniques. Theories and reactions will be discussed and experiments will be performed; it’s like your high school chemistry class, only edible. Twice a month, Claire will take a scientific concept (such as the acid-base reactions in baking, macerating, or Maillard browning), explain it in a way that would make Bill Nye proud (hopefully), and then provide an edible experiment which allows you to demonstrate your new scientific food knowledge.
It’s science you can eat!
I would never refer to myself as a “botanist.” I can barely tell a rose from a begonia. I can only recognize an orange tree if it has actual oranges growing on it, and sometimes I’m not even that great at correctly identifying fruits. Recently, I was visiting my parents and I noticed a small, shrub-like tree with yellow, apple-esque fruits hanging from it.
I thought it was an apple at first, but my stepmom was quick to inform me that it was a quince. This was a happy coincidence (quincidence?) because this fruit is not only difficult to find in the U.S. (it’s not farmed here commercially), but also extremely interesting due to the chemical changes it goes through during cooking.
Usually, an unhappy side effect of cooking fruits and vegetables (especially vegetables) is that the heat alters the molecules responsible for color, making them appear dull and drab. But in the case of the quince, heat transforms these babies from astringent, colorless little rocks into ruby-colored jewels of soft, sweet fruit-flesh, perfect for pairing with salty meats, strong cheeses, oatmeal, roasted fowl, and the list goes on.
There are three factors that make a quince a quince [Editor’s Note: shall we say quincessential? har. har. ]: a high level of pectin, the presence of tannins, and anthocyanin.