Taste with Fear: The Surprising Science Behind Leftovers

Taste with Fear: The Surprising Science Behind Leftovers

I don’t know if you’ve been watching Lessons in Chemistry, a TV adaptation of the best-selling book. The film revolves around a young chemical researcher who is denied employment opportunities in laboratories because of her gender. She later achieved success as a television chef. But while most TV chefs of the era (the series is set in late 1950s and early 1960s America) were more like Julia Child, our heroine became an early prototype for a Heston Blumenthal or Ferran Adrià, saying things like “Cooking is alchemy” and applying the principles Scientific for her work in the TV kitchen.

Chemistry Lessons is a TV show about a chemical researcher turned TV chef. The presentation emphasizes the application of scientific principles in cooking and improving the taste of leftovers the next day due to the formation of resistant starches. (Pixabay)

Food science may or may not interest you, but there is one thing I found fascinating. When a TV executive tries to convince her to start a show by trying a pie she baked, he discovers that it tastes better the next day than it did when she first baked it.

On an intuitive and anecdotal level, this wouldn’t surprise anyone. We all know that curry often tastes better the next day. We say it’s because the spices have had a chance to mix. This is the case with biryani. Although I don’t keep biryani for long, many of us have noticed that raiding the fridge where a bowl of biryani remained from the day before can be surprisingly fun. Even if it is cold, the biryani may taste better than when it was just cooked.

In chemistry lessons, a scientific explanation involving starch molecules is given to explain the improvement in flavour. I’m an art student so I have to admit I didn’t follow it completely.

But I think the writers and producers checked the science. In this case, they may have been able to explain to us why leftovers sometimes taste so much better the next day.

What the show doesn’t tell us is that leftovers — especially those containing starches — may actually be healthier for you than some fresh foods.

However, this is exactly what some research now suggests. Since this research appeared in the New York Times and was not part of a scene on a TV show, I was able to read and re-read the article until I finally understood what the researchers had discovered!

Doctors always tell us not to consume too much starches like pasta and rice. There’s a reason for that. Starches cause high blood sugar. This is not good for anyone, especially for people with diabetes or those who are pre-diabetic. That’s why, as you get older, you’re asked to eat less carbohydrates and eat more fibre.

However, scientists have now discovered the breakthrough. They claim that if you put biryani (or rice or pasta) in the refrigerator overnight, something amazing will happen to the starch content.

Many of them turn into so-called resistant starches. There are starches that do not break down in your system and release sugars. Instead, they move uninterrupted to the end of your intestines where they may feed the good bacteria in your system.

Even if you reheat the leftover biryani/rice/pasta or whatever, it will not make much difference to the newly formed resistant starch which will retain its shape and not release sugars.

How does this work? Well, cooking first and then cooling makes the starch molecules in the food clump together more, making them more difficult to digest. When starch becomes more “resistant” in this way, the sugar molecules in the starch don’t break down and enter the bloodstream as easily as if you were just eating fresh cooked rice, for example.

But it gets better. When you cook and cool starch, you also increase its fiber content. All doctors will tell you that fiber is good for you. Usually they will ask you to eat fruits, vegetables, oats and the like to increase your fiber intake. These are still valid recipes. But what if you could get some of the fiber you need simply by leaving the biryani in the refrigerator overnight?

If you’re skeptical about medical discoveries that seem too good to be true, join the club. I am extremely skeptical about so-called discoveries that often tend to explode when the next round of research is done.

So, I imagine the New York Times, in reporting on this discovery, noted that it “looks like just another online health hack.” But after examining the evidence, the newspaper took the discovery seriously enough to feature it on its pages.

That’s when I started paying attention: Variations on this thesis have been floating around YouTube and the web for a few months now, and I’ve always been wary of claims made about reheated starch.

But now, I’m ready to give it a try. First: Chemistry lessons. And now this. Obviously, food left out overnight has taste and health benefits that we should consider.

Bring the rest of the biryani!

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    (Tags for translation) Chemistry lessons 

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