If I asked you what angel food cake is like, you’d probably talk about it more in terms of texture than taste: light, delicate, airy. Maybe you’ve made one before, and know that texture is created by whipping eggs and sugar together. However, odds are you don’t think about it in terms of hydrogen bonding, electrostatic interactions, or Van der Waals interactions. But thanks to a student in Richard Ludescher’s Food Physical Systems class at Rutgers University, the Wikipedia article on angel food cake now explains how these forces create that light, airy texture. You can also learn how protein denaturation during the baking process helps set this mass of bubbles into a stable matrix. You can also read about the role of the additional ingredients added to commercially-produced cakes.
Another student in the same class expanded the croissant article by adding information about their manufacturing processes and the changes in the physical and chemical properties of ingredients during manufacturing, baking, and storage. Gluten and starch play important roles in the absorption of water into the predough; gluten networks formed during the kneading process help make the dough cohesive; fats contribute to the flakiness, while yeast helps the dough rise. The baking process leads to the formation of disulfide bonds between protein molecules and starch gelatinization, changing the soft, flexible dough into the flaky baked goodness of croissant.
By adding these sorts of perspectives to an article, student editors in the class were able to transform the information available about these and other foods including marshmallows, mayonnaise, meat analogue and chewing gum. By doing this, they didn’t just add information to Wikipedia—the context in which they added it was important. The formation of disulfide bonds between protein molecules might not be of interest to most people, but the “magic” by which dough turns into croissants or beaten egg turns into an angel food cake is something that’s relevant to a much wider audience.
Image: 00 Croissant. Yum.jpg, by Mark Mitchell, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.