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“Maybe you came here for the science. Or maybe you just came because you heard ice cream!” said Bill Yosses, former White House Pastry Chef, and one of the lead presenters at a recent HarvardX for Allston event at the Harvard Ed Portal in Allston.

But came they did. Yosses led a special hands-on demonstration to illuminate concepts learners are studying in the HarvardX Science & Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science MOOC on edX. Nearly 150 people attended the recent program, while more than 2000 viewed it online.

“Cooking is a great way to look at science and science is a great way to look at cooking,” Yosses said. This is the foundational idea behind the HarvardX course, Science & Cooking.

“When I first started as a chef, the only thing we were interested in was flavor and ultimately filling seats with customers,” he continued. “Today a new generation of chefs is teaching us all that cooking is also about how we actually think about food. Where does it come from? How was it grown? Were the farmers treated fairly? Is it organic? Cooking is about all of these things – not just how it tastes.”

“Science and cooking are beautifully interconnected,” said Vayu Maini Rekdal, an incoming PhD student in the department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard, and the other presenter.

Maini Rekdal said that when growing up in Stockholm, his mother put him in the kitchen at an early age. It was there that he had the experience of creating something on his own. “I realized how connected this all was to the things I had been learning about in school. I was doing experiments. I was doing biology. I was doing chemistry. I was doing physics,” he said.

He hasn’t looked back. When he’s not studying or presenting with Yosses, he’s been working to develop curriculum for schools and programs across the country to help them explore different elements of science and cooking. In 2011 he created the Young Chefs Program. Through the program he said, he aims to use “cooking as a way to engage – as a way to get young kids interested in science.”

One way to do that is to look at the science behind the creation of ice cream.

“Essentially by putting air into something, we can call it lighter. We call it fluffier. Pastry chef’s do that a lot,” explained Yosses. “But the reality is that air is free. So by using only a little bit of ingredients, we’re getting a lot of final product. And that is called aeration.”

“I love ice cream for many reasons,” he continued. “One of them is because 50% of what I’m selling you is free. Ice cream consists of 50% air. “

The crux of the presentation focused on a special kind of ice cream called Salep Dondurma, which is a specialty in Turkey.

“It’s ice cream with a twist,” said Yosses. “It contains a special ingredient that gives the ice cream a lot of elasticity. So much so, in fact, that you can cut it with a knife and fork.”

That ingredient is called salep, which said Maini Rekdal, is derived from “fox testicle.” After waiting for the gasps and “ewww’s” from the audience to subside, he explained that “Fox Testicle” is actually a type of plant found in the Mediterranean.

The class went on to look scientifically at how this plant causes stretchiness in ice cream, and if other substances elsewhere in the world can cause the same stretchiness. They also looked at the other ingredients of this special Turkish ice cream, particularly those occurring naturally, such as mastic from Greece and various other herbs and plants. They even learned how some of these ingredients have ancient health benefits – concluding what many of us have been saying all along – that ice cream can actually be good for you!

To learn more about the science of ice cream, check out the video of this lecture.

Explore HarvardX courses, and sign up for Science and Cooking today!


Guest post contributed by Harvard’s Ed Portal Communications Team. For more information about other offerings at the Harvard Ed Portal please visit the Harvard Ed Portal’s website.