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Chemistry explains pizza perfection

Lona Middleton
Copy Editor
lkemp@lhup.edu

 

Photo courtesy of asiagopizza.com

Photo courtesy of asiagopizza.com

I have heard it said about pizza that even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good. There is a reason for that and it is chemistry. That’s right; the chemistry of the basic structure of pizza is why most of us love the hot deliciousness we can get at seven different places here in Lock Haven.

The dough is simple enough with its base components of flour, salt, yeast and warm water although it is the elasticity and bubbles formed by the yeast that add the first complexity to our enjoyment of pizza.

Photo courtesy of gimmesomeoven.com

Photo courtesy of gimmesomeoven.com

The second is the sauce. Sure there are a multitude of sauces for pizza but the most popular by far is the tomato and that is because of their acidity. Tomatoes sit at about 4.0 to 4.6 on the pH scale which leads us to our next lovely additive to a basic pizza, cheese. If you don’t know already, you get cheese by adding an acid to milk and it separates the proteins. Cheeses are made by separating the casein proteins and then adding rennin to the give the cheese more stability.

This all seems simple enough but the real chemistry happens as soon as we add this circle of goodness to the oven. The heat from the oven liquefies the fats in the cheese and the calcium ions in the cheese hold the casein proteins together giving mozzarella its signature stringiness.

Photo courtesy of zastavki.com

Photo courtesy of zastavki.com

Then it gets even better and we get what is called the Maillard Reaction. Simply explained, when the sugars and amino acids in the components of pizza reach over 140 degrees F, they react to create the flavor combinations we recognize as the taste of pizza. This is also called the Browning Effect and happens most notably on the cheese and around the edges of the crust.

The crust, due to its elasticity and composition, remains softer and less cooked underneath the sauce and that adds another layer to the tactile experience of eating pizza. So as we can see, pizza is a delectable lesson in chemistry and how these reactions create a food universally enjoyed by people of many cultures.  (Information from the American Chemical Society)

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