Gastrophysics and the habit of healthy cooking

Gastrophysics and the habit of healthy cooking

“Art is and should be hard to master, but if the craft is hard to get right, then the documentation is probably inadequate.” - Krish Ashok, from his book, “Masala Lab”

The science of cooking and gastronomy, often lightly called “gastrophysics”, can be amazing. Take the example of cooking a delicious puri. The cook prepares the dough by adding water to wheat flour. The dough is then kneaded into a flat piece and placed on a frying pan with oil. The dough now begins to swell, forming a tasty,

Puffed-up puri! What really happened? Why does the puri puff up? It turns out that as the cook fries the dough above the boiling point of water, steam escapes from the surface of the puri. But the water-soaked molecules of wheat flour within the insides of the puri have no place to release water. Hence the water is released as steam within the puri, allowing the puri to swell from within.

Cooking is an art that our grandmothers may have intuitively practised. However, according to Krish Ashok's legendary book called Masala Lab, this art can become a craft only if the science and the processes of cooking are properly documented. Only then can recipes be passed on to posterity, and more importantly, innovated further.

Why should one know about the science of, say, cooking a puri? Understanding the science will tell us why the puri is considered to be unhealthy. For example, as the wheat flour is mixed with water and kneaded, the well-known protein gluten is formed. Gluten in wheat has been linked to a number of diseases, from abdominal bloating, diarrhoea and constipation to anaemia and depression all coming under the umbrella term of “gluten intolerance”, affecting the select few who cannot tolerate it. In addition, while placing of the dough on heating oil gives the puri a golden glitter, the heated oil is obviously not good for cardiovascular health. Finally, deep frying of food itself worsens food quality. You will remember that to release steam, the dough in the puri has to be heated above the boiling point, which generates considerable heat. This excess heating and frying results in food that can worsen a condition called inflammation in the body making people vulnerable to a host of diseases.

On the other hand, a similar insight into the science of cooking can help make healthy foods too. For example, consider “palak puri”. Adding palak (spinach, which is nutritionally rich), which is either chopped finely or sautéed and added into the dough can add a wonderful flavour while making the unhealthy puri somewhat less unhealthy. Interestingly, when heated, palak (spinach) releases more beta carotene, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. This makes it a foil against the inflammatory effects of overheating. Thus, incorporating “gastrophysics” into a habit of healthy cooking can be rewarding.

Speaking of habits, our cover story talks about 5 healthy habits that every person with diabetes could inculcate into their daily lives. For some folks, these habits are as intuitive as an art form. But for most of us, health is a craft that has to be practised with diligence and discipline. And all crafts benefit from documentation, as mentioned in the quote above. Diet, exercise, medications and monitoring the four pillars of diabetes care are a craft that is best supported by authentic documentation. We at Diabetes Health strive to meticulously document the craft of healthy living. So that we equip our readers with the right path to health.

Dr Unnikrishnan AG


Diabetes Health Magazine