HAPPY PI-E DAY! Where did pie originate?

I was snowed in today and didn’t have a chance to get to work, despite really wanting to start my experiment. So I ended up doing a lot of reading today.

Followed by cleaning the kitchen and baking mini apple pies for dinner. It was my first time doing a basic pie crust and it turned out pretty good, except I couldn’t get it thin enough and didn’t add enough sugar. It’s okay though, I’ll get it next time!

I didn’t even realize it was March 14th… or 03/14 or… 3.14 day, aka PI DAY.

So today I wanted to talk to you about the very early origins of pies. Because of pi day! Which sounds like Pie Day, close enough. I mean, I could talk to you all about pi and where that came from (I did actually read up on that too), but I figured I’d keep this more food related. To be completely honest if I had to pick between cake and pies, I’d choose cake hands down so it was pretty cool looking into pies.

Origins of pie

In the early days, meat were cooked on top of a fire on a spit. Which is fine and all, but that also meant the edges got charred and burnt and the delicious juices simply fell back into the pit, leaving dry, tough pieces of meat. To fix this, some bright person thought,

“Hey, let’s wrap this in something so prevent the juices from leaking out!” And so, meat pies were born when people decided to wrap bread around it. Interestingly, they called these crusts coffins, which meant a basket or box back then. Also, this crust wasn’t really eaten, it was mostly just a vehicle to cook and carry the meat in, so I suppose this wasn’t truly a pie.

From around 1300-1200 B.C., ancient Egyptians made galettes which is just nuts, honey, fruits in a bread dough. From there the Greeks took that and wrapped a flour and water paste and wrapped it around meat, making meat pies. Following the Greeks, the Romans, stated baking sweet pies in a pastry case.

After that, pies spread across the world. Many of our pies today actually began in Medieval Europe and then brought to America by the colonists. Since pies were a great way to preserve food, they were made quite often.

And from there most of our modern pies were developed, especially ones meant to showcase different fruits and ingredients, rather than just be a convenient way to carry meals.

Conclusions and tl;dr

Just a short brief primer on where some of the earliest ideas for the pie came from today. The history of the modernized pie that starts right after this story is the part that is very well documented. Perhaps one day I’ll go into the detailed history of the modern pie, but I’ll save that for another time.

tl;dr

Pies date back to Ancient Egypt, in the form of galettes. Most historians attribute meat pies to the Greeks, and sweet pies to the Romans.

 

References

http://www.everythingpies.com/history-of-pie/

http://www.foodtimeline.org/index.html

 

 

Soda vs Powder…?

I’ve had this conversation so many times before. The differences between baking soda and baking powder, so when this conversation came up in the lab I was super ready for a response… sort of.

I mean baking soda was just sodium bicarbonate and powder had… some sort of acid added to make it bubble without anything else? Wait, so why do some recipes only require baking soda then? And why do we add both to some? Can’t we just use baking powder for all the baking, why not cover all our bases and have it react on its own.

Why did I only use baking soda in my banana bread, but I needed baking powder for some of my cookies. Heck, why did I need baking powder for some cookies but baking powder for other cookies? I was starting to think these recipes I’ve seen are just completely arbitrary and just picked whatever the baker had on hand.

Of course, this called for some research. I realized super quickly that there’s about a million and two sites (100% not an exaggeration, you should trust 100% of the statistics you see online) that will tell you that baking soda is sodium bicarbonate and that baking powder is sodium bicarbonate with cream of tartar (tartaric acid). Then they’ll tell you that baking powder will react on its own once liquid is added and make bubbles and make your stuff puff up.

Well, sure, but that still doesn’t explain when to use what and why we use both. So, I decided to dig deeper.

Acids and Bases

Before we can move on to discussing the details of this, here’s a quick primer on the acids and bases.

The way we measure acids and bases is using a pH scale. It stands for power of Hydrogen, but I won’t go too deep into that. It is a scale from 0-14, with 7 (the middle) being completely neutral. This is based on plain water, water is neutral, pH 7.0. Lower numbers are acidic, high numbers are basic.

phscale

There’s a quick guide to common things that are acidic or basic. But as a very simple and basic rule of thumb, most acidic things taste sour to us, basic things taste bitter to us.

Now if you look, baking soda sits around 8.5, higher than 7, making it a base.

Very basically (pun fully intended), bicarbonate, a base, reacts with an acid and forms CO2, carbon dioxide. This is a gas, and when it tries to escape from liquids into the air, it’ll form bubbles. CO2 is what makes soda pop fizzy, and also what makes your baked good puff up. This is also the reaction with the classic baking soda and vinegar volcanoes.

Image result for bicarbonate reaction

If you look to the very right, the HCO3- is the bicarbonate from baking soda. the H+ is the acid, any acid. If you look to the very left, the carbon dioxide is in gas form, this tries to escape from the liquid and as it does so, it makes little bubbles of gas. Now you’re an expert in chemistry.

 

What about baking?

Baking and cooking is really just chemistry. Lots of delicious chemical reactions go on, and then you have a meal. Yum.

But in terms of baking, which one you use will depend on several things:

  • How much do you want it to rise or fluff up? (Will this be a cookie or cake?)
  • What ingredients are in it (Are those ingredients mostly basic or acidic?)

Easy right? Let’s go back to what’s in baking soda and baking powder:

Baking soda: sodium bicarbonate

Baking powder: sodium bicarbonate, acid, corn starch (to stop the other two from reacting, kinda like the third wheel in the relationship, the really awkward kind)

Baking powder actually comes in two forms, most of the time you see the double acting kind. Which means they have TWO acids instead of one. One of the acids act during room temperature, the second one reacts when it goes into the oven.

How much you want it to rise

So the important thing to keep in mind is, we want to have a balance of acids and bases to get this reaction going. And the total amount of each will dictate how much leavening (puffiness) will happen. You put in more base and acid together, you get more CO2, more bubble, more rising.

Now what happens when the balance is out of whack? If you have more base than acid, then your product will taste bitter. Remember when I said bases taste bitter? Well leftover un-reacted baking soda is really bitter. Same thing goes with the other end, too much acid, then you’ll get leftover un-reacted acid, though this isn’t as bad as the bitter baking soda.

What other ingredients are present?

Different ingredients in the recipe might also be acidic. This would be why you would add baking soda > baking powder, there’s already acids in the ingredients. Some examples of acidic ingredients are: honey, lemon juice, yogurt, buttermilk, and bananas.

In recipes where you don’t have acidic ingredients, you’ll often just use baking powder. In recipes where you want it to rise a ton and there’s some, but not a lot of acidic ingredients, you’ll likely use both. It’s simply that, balance the acid and base and increase/decrease based on how puffy you want the thing.

Conclusions and tl;dr

So there really is a method to this madness that goes into recipe development. Experienced bakers are able to tell what kind of leavening agent to use based on the other ingredients they put in, and how much they want their product to rise. Even then though, they go through many trials to make sure they get everything just right. It takes some time to really understand the ratios and exactly how much you need, and it’ll really change based on what you’re trying to make. If you’re just starting to bake a highly recommend following recipes specifically and make sure you find trusted recipes. (Cookbooks and highly popular blogs are usually the way to go)

If you’re ever missing one or the other, there are ways to substitute other ingredients for it. If you need baking powder but only have baking soda, you can cut down the amount and add some acid (cream of tartar, vinegar, buttermilk, lemon juice, etc.). If you need baking soda but only have baking powder, then just add more baking powder (since baking powder is a combination, there’s less baking soda in it).

 

tl;dr

Baking soda is a base that reacts with acid to make gas bubbles that make baked goods rise. Baking powder is a mix of baking soda, and an acid.

If other ingredients are acidic, people use baking soda. If other ingredients are neutral, people use baking powder. If you need something to really puff up, but there’s only a little bit of acidic ingredients, you use both. (Enough baking soda to neutralize the acid, then extra baking powder)

 

References

pH image: https://www.minichemistry.com/ph-scale-indicators.html

http://sallysbakingaddiction.com/2015/06/11/baking-powder-vs-baking-soda/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baking_powder

My chemistry classes

All about Soy Sauce

Today, my lab mate asked me what the difference between dark soy sauce and normal sauce is. Turns out she’s never seen dark sauce before until recently! Having grown up with this condiment, I knew all about soy sauce… right?

Nope.

I realized I had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. So after some solid research, I’ve learned so much more about soy sauce than I’ve ever cared to know.

 

First off, what is soy sauce?

It’s one of the oldest condiments in the world, with a history spanning over three-milennia. Basically, it’s fermented soybeans and wheat mixed with brine. So to start, they throw together some boiled soy beans and roasted wheat, add Aspergillus, a fungus, and let the culture sit for a few days. Afterwards, it’s combined with salt water, and lactobacillus gets added to break down the sugars into lactic acid. (Fun fact, that’s the bacteria that keeps vaginas healthy. Yum.) This mixture is then fermented over a period of time, this allows the microbes to break down the grains of soy and wheat into sugars and amino acids, before it gets filtered, pasteurized and bottled into the delicious stuff we see in stores.

Key differences in Soy Sauce

So now that we talked a little about the process of making soy sauce, you’ll notice that it’s a relatively simple recipe. So then why are there so many different kinds of soy sauces? Well, there’s a few major differences between different soy sauces

  • Soybean to Wheat ratio
  • Strains of microbes
  • Length of fermentation/aging
  • Additives

Each of these things will alter the taste a bit and each culture has their own recipes. I’m going to focus on the Chinese and Japanese soy sauces here, because they’re the most widely known soy sauce users around here.

Chinese soy sauces

These soy sauces are made primarily from soybeans only, with very little other grain. This makes them denser and saltier. There’s two major types of these you’ll see in stores: light and dark.

Light (or fresh):

  • The main soy sauce used for cooking and seasoning (if a Chinese recipe asks for just soy sauce, assume it’s this type)
  • No additional additives
  • The premium type called 頭抽, or “first sauce”, is made of the first press of the soy beans and usually more expensive
  • There’s also a double fermented type (They use soy sauce from another batch instead of brine) with a mellower, more complex flavour. These are usually used as a dipping sauce

Dark (or old):

  • Darker and slightly thicker, prolonged aging, called 老抽, or “old sauce”
  • May have added molasses, thickening agents, or other ingredients to adjust flavour
  • Richer, sweeter and less salty compared to the light version
  • Used during the cooking process since the flavours deepen with cooking time

 

Japanese soy sauces

The Japanese variety is called shōyu, and comes in many varieties. While Chinese soy sauces are made with only soy beans, Japanese soy sauce mix in various amounts of wheat which makes a sweeter, lighter sauce.

Koikuchi (dark):

  • The main Japanese soy sauce, if the label doesn’t specify, it’s mostly likely dark (note that this is the opposite of Chinese soy sauces)
  • Made with equal amounts of soy beans and wheat
  • Used as an all-purpose sauce, both for marinades and cooking or dipping

Usukuchi (light):

  • Lighter in colour, but saltier than Koikuchi
  • Sweeter due to the addition of mirin, a sweet rice wine
  • Can be used to replace the dark version but sparingly due to the intense flavour

Tamari (soybean only):

  • Most similar to Chinese soy sauce, has little to no wheat
  • Stronger flavour, usually used as a dipping sauce
  • Was traditionally the liquid byproduct during miso fermentation (Another seasoning made of fermented soybeans)

 

Conclusions/TL;DR

That’s the basics of soy sauce, especially the ones you’ll see at the supermarket. Although there are so many types of soy sauce, the average home cook probably wouldn’t go wrong with any of them. The best thing to do is to try them all to see which ones you like the most, and in what dish. And reading the ingredients list will help you determine which ones are better. (Stay away from the chemical stuff made of hydrolyzed soy protein, they won’t taste as good as the traditional)

tl;dr

Soy sauce is a condiment used for marinades, cooking, or dipping sauce.

Chinese soy sauces (ex. Lee Kum Kee): Light is the regular. Dark is thicker, sweeter and has additional ingredients

Japanese soy sauces (ex. Kikkoman): Dark is regular/all-purpose. Light is thinner but has more intense flavor (both sweeter and saltier).

 

References:

http://www.seriouseats.com/2011/03/do-you-know-your-soy-sauces-japanese-chinese-indonesian-differences.html

http://www.epicurious.com/ingredients/how-to-buy-soy-sauce-like-a-pro-article

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soy_sauce

 

 

About the blog

During my daily life, I realize I talk about food an awful lot. During these food conversations, lots of questions often pop up. Unfortunately, or fortunately, when there’s a question about food I’m always dying to know the answer. I’ve spent so much of my time researching the answers to some of these questions that I might as well compile these in case I ever forget.

These posts will be informal, I’ll write like I speak, and include a tl;dr at the end with the answer to the main topic is only a few sentences.