The art of the perfect breakfast

Whether you know it or not, chemistry surrounds us throughout our entire lives. We unknowingly take part in numerous chemical reactions on a daily basis and use the concept of chemical quantities through most of our mundane activities. As we all know, nourishing our bodies with food and water is essential to our survival and one of the most important actions we must do every day. But, were you aware that cooking and preparing the food which you consume requires the basic comprehension of chemical quantities? 

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Gavin, Jessica. “How to Measure Ingredients For Baking.” Jessica Gavin, 18 Mar. 2020, www.jessicagavin.com/how-to-measure-ingredients.

As an example, we can use one of the most basic breakfast foods that many enjoy throughout the world.  According to mobile cuisine, this food is “one of the earliest cereals cultivated by man, and it was known in ancient China as long ago as 7 000 B.C.”. If you haven’t already guessed it, the food in question is oats, but I will be focusing more specifically on the wonderful porridge (oatmeal) it makes. You may be asking yourselves, how on earth could such a simple food need knowledge of chemical quantities? Well, if you’ve ever made oatmeal, you may have noticed that adding the perfect amount of water to your oats is essential to obtaining the perfect oatmeal. To better understand why the quantity of hot water used to make oatmeal is so important, we must first analyze what an oat is. 

Jacelyn. “Oatmeal Eight Ways.” Cooking Classy, 3 Oct. 2017, www.cookingclassy.com/oatmeal-eight-ways.

Oats have a starch content of somewhere between 40-60%. If you aren’t familiar with starch, it is a carbohydrate that produces granules of amylose and amylopectin. When you add heat to your oats by using hot water, it allows the starch granules to absorb the water. As a result, the hydrogen bonds between their chemical components are disrupted, causing the granules to swell. In other words, it weakens the intermolecular bonds of our oats which make them grow in size. This swelling causes the oatmeal to thicken over time which why we notice our oats seem to expand after adding water and heat. This is a process known as starch gelatinization and as it goes on, the oatmeal continues to increasingly thicken.

“The Chemistry of Porridge.” Maxim’s Chemistry Musings, 18 Feb. 2019, ptekchemistry.wordpress.com/2019/02/18/the-chemistry-of-porridge.

The “thickening” of our oatmeal is commonly referred to as “pasting”. It is crucial that during the pasting process, the cook must occasionally stir their oats to ensure that each oat comes in relatively equal contact with its heat source and liquid (so hot water in my example). If the cook doesn’t stir before serving, their oats can come out clumpy and have different textures due to the varying exposures to heat and liquid. However, it is also important not to over stir. If a cook continuously stirs a pot of oatmeal, it can break down the compounds making it soggy, as well as create an overabundance of starch which would give the oatmeal a gluey texture. 

Chad. “The Best Oatmeal.” Chad Chandler, 14 May 2013, chadchandler.com/the-best-oatmeal.

With all of this in mind, having the correct amount of liquid to oat ratio in oatmeal is crucial to obtaining the perfect porridge. Adding too little hot water will result in a lack of gelatinization, meaning that the oats won’t swell as much as they are intended to which would leave your oatmeal gritty and less voluptuous. Adding too much water will result in your oatmeal having a liquidy texture. This is because oats have a limiting capacity to absorb water and other liquids therefore, adding more water than your oats can absorb will leave excess water remaining in your bowl and no one likes soupy porridge.  

A picture containing indoor, food, rice

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“Watery Oatmeal – Picture of Hampton Inn & Suites St. Petersburg/Downtown – Tripadvisor.” Trip Advisor, 2018, www.tripadvisor.ca/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g34607-d275398-i331732843-Hampton_Inn_Suites_St_Petersburg_Downtown-St_Petersburg_Florida.html.

To conclude, a real-life example that demonstrates the importance of an understanding of chemical quantities is cooking meals such as oatmeal for breakfast. To make yourself a nice bowl of oatmeal, a very particular amount of liquid must be used to obtain the right texture and taste. Other foods such as rice, curries, cakes, and pudding’s outcomes work in the same way. If you would like to know what the perfect ratio of oats to liquid is to make yourself oatmeal, click the link below and it will lead you to the perfect oatmeal recipe!

https://www.cookinglight.com/recipes/basic-oatmeal-recipe

Sources:

Gordon, Megan. “3 Tips to Help You Make Perfect Oatmeal.” Kitchn, 12 Sept. 2012, www.thekitchn.com/make-better-oatmeal-3-priceless-tips-176747.

“The Chemistry of Porridge.” Maxim’s Chemistry Musings, 18 Feb. 2019, ptekchemistry.wordpress.com/2019/02/18/the-chemistry-of-porridge.

Myrick, Richard. “Oatmeal Fun Facts.” Mobile Cuisine | Food Truck, Pop Up & Street Food Coverage, 29 Oct. 2020, mobile-cuisine.com/did-you-know/oatmeal-fun-facts.

Prakash, Sheela. “Access to This Page Has Been Denied.” Https://Www.Thekitchn.Com/5-Mistakes-to-Avoid-When-Making-Oatmeal-on-the-Stovetop-248254, 11 Sept. 2017, www.thekitchn.com/5-mistakes-to-avoid-when-making-oatmeal-on-the-stovetop-248254.

Abbott, Philip. “What Causes Your Oatmeal to Be Watery? – Quora.” Quora, 2018, www.quora.com/What-causes-your-oatmeal-to-be-watery.

Une pensée sur “The art of the perfect breakfast”

  1. Hi Michelle, I agree with you! It’s definitely important to understand chemical quantities, and how they apply to everyday life.

    I found it really interesting to hear about what’s happening at a molecular level when you make oatmeal, and the science behind getting the right texture. I knew that cooking was a form of chemistry, but I had never thought to do research on the chemical reactions that occur in the meals I eat regularly. In the future, I will be careful to get the oats to water ratio just right. Thanks for the info!

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