November 15, 2018

The Botanist’s Approach to Cooking

“Have you ever wondered why kiwi fruits are green instead of red? Why okra is slimy but cooking it with tomatoes cuts the goo factor? Or how artichokes became giant balls of thick, spiny leaves endlessly furled over a small, soft heart? If so, you’re not alone.

In 2012 two botanists, Katherine Preston of Stanford University and Jeanne Osnas of the Alaska Center for Conservation Science, started a blog called The Botanist in the Kitchen to answer exactly those kinds of questions.

You might think that botanists spend most of their time exploring fields, forests, parks, farms or wilderness areas, working to identify, study and protect the rich bounty of the plant world. In contrast, the kitchen, that warm hub of domesticity, might not seem like an obvious place for a botany lesson. But it offers many opportunities for culinary and botanical exploration. Imagine a botanist exploring the intricacies of plant science while preparing peach mint jam, fried okra with mole sauce, or almond cake. That’s exactly what this blog does.

How did they get started? Osnas took one of Preston’s botany courses at Stanford, where she taught her students in part by having them study fruits. The two realized that one great way to teach people about the subject was through the plants they love to eat. Botanical information in books, they found, was often full of dense science and technical lingo that was too difficult for the lay reader.”

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