Skip to main content

Fluid Physics Tackles Fondue

During the cold of winter, the Swiss will often prepare a warm pot of fondue for supper. The famous melted cheese dish is traditionally made with grated cheese, white wine, a thickener like corn or potato starch and seasonings like garlic, pepper and nutmeg.

The ingredients are simple, but woe to the home chef who gets the proportions wrong (or forgets one component entirely). They may be left with a pot of cheese that is too liquidy, too gummy, or—worst of all—separates into oil, water, and cheese solids.

Now a new scientific paper can help fondue preparers avoid the shame of a ruined meal.
Image Credit: Aimee Custis photography, via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

"In Switzerland, everyone claims to know exactly how to prepare the perfect fondue. I realized that there hasn’t been a scientific investigation, and decided to do it," said Pascal Bertsch, a graduate student in the Laboratory of Food Process Engineering at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, in an email to Inside Science.

Bertsch and his colleagues made a series of fondues from Gruyere and Vacherin cheeses, water, potato starch, and an ethanol mixture that mimicked the effects of wine. Together the ingredients make what is scientifically called a colloidal system, meaning that tiny particles of protein, fat and starch are evenly dispersed in the water and alcohol.

It wasn’t entirely clear how the different ingredients would affect fondue, Bertsch said, so the team tried to tease out the answers. They found that a minimum of 3 percent potato starch relative to the fondue's water content was necessary to prevent separation. They also found that the alternative thickeners xanthan and carrageenan did the trick at a lower concentration, although they wrote, "We are aware that this will hardly be acknowledged by Swiss people for future fondue preparation."

Too much starch could make the fondue too sticky and too much wine, which lowers the pH, could make it too liquidy. Many Swiss add baking soda to their fondue, which can increase the airiness of the dish by releasing carbon dioxide. The researchers found this extra ingredient might also make the fondue creamier by counteracting the wine and increasing the pH. The pH of the fondue mixture affects the properties of one of the main proteins in cheese, which in turn affects how the fondue flows.

In total, the research should give amateur chefs the tools to correct their fondue if it is coming out too thin or gummy, Bertsch said. So, if before the winter is over you want to whip up a fine, creamy fondue that clings to the bread in just the right way, a little science can be your friend in the kitchen.

—Catherine Meyers, Inside Science


Post a Comment

Popular Posts

How 4,000 Physicists Gave a Vegas Casino its Worst Week Ever

What happens when several thousand distinguished physicists, researchers, and students descend on the nation’s gambling capital for a conference? The answer is "a bad week for the casino"—but you'd never guess why.

Ask a Physicist: Phone Flash Sharpie Shock!

Lexie and Xavier, from Orlando, FL want to know: "What's going on in this video ? Our science teacher claims that the pain comes from a small electrical shock, but we believe that this is due to the absorption of light. Please help us resolve this dispute!"

The Science of Ice Cream: Part One

Even though it's been a warm couple of months already, it's officially summer. A delicious, science-filled way to beat the heat? Making homemade ice cream. (We've since updated this article to include the science behind vegan ice cream. To learn more about ice cream science, check out The Science of Ice Cream, Redux ) Image Credit: St0rmz via Flickr Over at Physics@Home there's an easy recipe for homemade ice cream. But what kind of milk should you use to make ice cream? And do you really need to chill the ice cream base before making it? Why do ice cream recipes always call for salt on ice?