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Chemical Engineering in Cooking

Science deals with the study of why things happen and how things work. Science is applicable to many activities in every day life. Science is involved in activities such as taking a shower, cleaning the house, putting on lipstick, and cooking a meal. These webpages will look at the science, more specifically the chemical engineering, concepts involved in different aspects of cooking.

Through common examples, we will intrigue your minds with the amount of chemical engineering you already know and use in your everyday life.

Almost everyone has had some experience with cooking, whether it is as simple as heating water in a microwave or as difficult as creating a gourmet meal. Therefore, almost everyone has experienced chemical engineering at work. How many times have you boiled water to make hot chocolate, grilled chicken, made Kool-Aid, or drank a beer? Have you ever received your food on a warm plate in a restaurant, seen milk spoil on the counter, or cooked an egg for breakfast?

Chemical engineering theories explain why and how things heat up or cool down, how things mix, why food goes "bad", and many other concepts that people take for granted when in the kitchen. Everyone knows how to boil water; set it on a hot surface until it bubbles. The question we are addressing here is, 'Why does water boil?'

You have probably noticed when you turn on the stove, it gets hot. Likewise, when you set a pot of water on the stove, it also gets hot. The stove is transferring heat from the coils of the stove, to the pot of water. Water boils because the heat from the stove is transferred to the pot and then to the water. The water then spontaneously mixes, this is called diffusion, so that the bottom of the pot of water is not hot while the top is still ice cold. This fluid flow allows heat transfer throughout the pot of water. The speed at which the water boils depends on the kinetics of the process. The water then boils because it reaches its vapor-liquid equilibrium, which forces the liquid water to turn into steam. That is why water boils.

Concepts such as kinetics (or how fast does a reaction happen), heat transfer, diffusion, and equilibrium will all be discussed, along with many others, in the following chapters of The Chemical Engineering of Cooking. Select an area of chemical engineering below to learn more. Each topic area will give a general explination of the chemical engineering principal, and then using common examples, look in more detail at the theoretical equations and proof of the concepts involved.

[Kinetics | Heat Transfer | Mass Transfer | Bibliography]

This project was funded in part by the National Science Foundation and is advised by Dr. Masel and Dr. Blowers at the University of Illinois.

By Valerie Fisher and Nathan Pace. Previous work by Sheetal Khedkar, Brooke Patterson, and Kelly Provost.

2007 Arizona Board of Regents for The University of Arizona