Are Molecular Compounds the Future of Food?

Photo © Courtesy of Amazon
By Yaran Noti Posted January 27, 2015

The father of molecular gastronomy warns that the Earth will soon run dangerously low on food. His solution: “cooking” with substances like 1-Octen-3-ol.

The father of molecular gastronomy warns that the Earth will soon run dangerously low on food. His solution: “cooking” with substances like 1-Octen-3-ol.

Hervé This, the French scientist whose pioneering work in molecular gastronomy has inspired avant-garde chefs like Wylie Dufresne and Heston Blumenthal, has a provocative new idea for eradicating hunger: Feed the world without any actual food. In his dystopian view of our future, the planet’s dwindling resources will no longer be enough to meet the food needs of our growing population. So he lays out an alternative plan in his recent book, Note-by-Note Cooking, in which he describes recipes made up of pure molecular compounds, like 1-Octen-3-ol (which smells like wild mushrooms) and sotolon (which has a fragrance resembling curry), along with both artificial and naturally occurring substances. At first glance, it’s an absurd thought experiment—a version of Soylent that turns the genius of molecular gastronomy into futuristic parody. But as food availability and prices bend and burst against the pressures of climate change, seeking alternative nutritional sources sounds eminently reasonable. After all, we have factories to thank for the tools used to make great art—things like oil paints, musical instruments, digital cameras—so perhaps one day a lab will produce powders and potions to create an awe-inspiring dish that leaves Earth’s increasingly scarce resources alone.

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