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The Chemistry of Food

Course Times & Enrolment

This course is currently unavailable.

Course Summary

Food is a constant part of our daily lives, but a remarkable amount of science is involved in what we eat and drink. The way food tastes can also be explained by simple chemical concepts. This course will give participants a glimpse of what happens when they cook, and the importance of chemistry in the processes involved.

Along with experimenting with food, we will be tasting food as well. Please let us know in advance if you have any dietary requirements.

Course Details

Pre-requisites for enrolment

The course is suitable for anybody who has an interest in the science behind what they eat, and the basic chemistry of cooking. No prior knowledge of chemistry is required.

Content of Course

The course will be presented in 5 sessions, covering the following topics:

1. Brewing, Fermenting and Distilling: Understand what happens during the fermentation and distillation processes. Practical demonstrations of distilling natural products with steam. Topics include physical properties of liquids and solids, biochemistry of fermentation and basic overview of chemical processes.

2. Baking: Why can’t you un-bake a cake? Understanding the processes that occur during baking and why fresh bread smells so good. Topics include introduction to molecules, chemical reactions (such as Maillard processes) and polymerization.

3. Alternative methods of cooking: Investigating modern cooking methods (such as microwaves) as well as much older techniques such as salting. Why they work, and how the results differ. Topics include the effect of heat and light on chemicals, causes of food decomposition and the effect of gases.

4. Molecular gastronomy: Designing food from an atomic level, and understanding why things taste and smell the way they do. Topics include more advanced properties of molecules, interactions of molecules with taste and smell receptors, and more advanced reactions (such as gel formation).

5. Chocolate and confectionary: Why does chocolate turn white over time? Looking at how molecules arrange themselves in a solid, and why this can affect how good your chocolate tastes. Topics include basic crystallography, weak bonding between molecules and basic sugar science.

Teaching method(s)

The course will be delivered through illustrated presentations combined with discussions and some very safe and simple practical activities. Students are encouraged to be actively involved through group discussion exercises.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  • Appreciate basic chemistry such as molecules, reactions and how to control them in the kitchen;

  • Understand why foods taste and smell the way they do;

  • Recognise the different processes involved in producing the food we eat.


Core Readings


  • Edwards, W.P., 2000. The science of sugar confectionary. Royal Society of Chemistry. London. 

  • Figoni, P.I., 2010. How baking works. Wiley. Chichester.

Web Sources

As directed throughout the course.

Class Handouts

Class handouts will consist of copies of the presentations.


If you have questions regarding the course or enrolment, please contact COL Reception at Paterson's Land by email or by phone 0131 650 4400.

Student support

If you have a disability, learning difficulty or health condition which may affect your studies, please let us know by ticking the 'specific support needs' box on your course application form. This will allow us to make appropriate adjustments in advance and in accordance with your rights under the Equality Act 2010. For more information please visit the Student Support section of our website.