What Is Molecular Gastronomy?

That's not caviar on that prosciutto. It's cantaloupe that has undergone the process of spherification. (Photo: jlip/Shutterstock).

You may recall the $625, six-volume cookbook published a few years ago called "Modernist Cuisine." The cookbook explores and explains the art of science and cooking, often referred to as molecular gastronomy.

Molecular gastronomy combines the culinary arts with science, most often chemistry and physics. Chefs often use the tools found in a science lab. They deconstruct food, turn liquids into solids and solids into liquids. They create things like the trendy "foam" that many restaurants used in dishes a few years ago. (Personally, I find the look of that foam to be an appetite killer, but that's just me.)

However, many of the foods that are the result of molecular gastronomy are creative, appetizing and just plain fun.

According to Culinary Schools, the term was coined in 1988 by French chemist Hervé This and his partner, Nicolas Kurt. At first, they wanted to discover the science behind why traditional dishes reacted certain ways, like why a soufflé swells or why mayonnaise becomes firm.

Eventually, scientists and chefs got more experimental, and they began to manipulate foods and adding chemicals to create things that had never been created before. From these experiments came foods like foams, new ways to use dehydration, spherification (a method of making liquids look like jelled balls like caviar), and sous vide (a method of cooking food by sealing it in an airtight bag and cooking in a low temperature water bath for a long time).

With molecular gastronomy, not only chefs can get in on the act; mixologists and bartenders can play with cocktails, too. Through the process of spherification, molecular cocktails (like a solid mojito) are possible.

"Spaghetti" can be made from fruits and vegetables. We’re not talking about pasta that has some spinach added for color, we’re talking about strings of jelled fruit or vegetables.

Molecular gastronomy even makes it possible to eat hot ice cream.

Maybe this weekend, I’ll try a little DIY molecular gastronomy. While that spherified mojito doesn’t appeal to me, the White Russian Breakfast Cereal (dehydrated Khulua and Rice Krispees) topped with vodka milk in the video below sounds like a great weekend brunch dish to me!