Food Temperatures, Contextually

I’ve given a lot of thought to temperature recently. I’m often boiling sugar… and watching my candy thermometer… and reading through books and recipes specifying temperatures… and noticing how temperature can affect everything edible.

Objectively, the temperatures that affect food are in a relatively narrow range, and I thought, why not put them together onto one list?

So, that’s what I constructed on my Temperature Scale page in the sidebar on the right-hand side of the screen; you can also click here to see it.

I’ve always liked historical timelines that incorporate disparate events to put things into perspective, so I just think it’s cool to see so many disparate foods together — sweet and savory — on a temperature basis. You can see how foods act individually… and get some idea of how they act in the presence of other foods… and how different foods act differently or the same at the same temperature… and how there’s somewhat of a progression, from animal fats to meats to sugars to vegetable oils to salt. I like looking at it with the concept of simultaneity in mind.

It’s not a complete list… but it’s quite a start… and I’ll add it through the course of more research. Also, the temperatures cannot all be taken as absolute gospel; it’s probably most useful to insert the words “around” before many numbers. This uncertainty can be due to the effects of time, the presence of other ingredients, the different substances that can be contained in one type of food, and the fact that sources differ on some numbers.

It’s also interesting in the context of cooking temperatures. Although ovens are usually btw 300-450F, it’s very rare for the temperature of the food to actually get that hot. Only sometimes, the exterior temperature of a food matches the ambient temp. I think about it like this — the temperature of the oven (or pot or whatever cooking vessel) doesn’t really dictate what the food will be cooked to, it affects the rate at which the food is cooked; I guess like acceleration. A 450 oven will try to pull the food up to that temp faster than a 350 oven. That’s why, say, cupcakes that are baked in an oven that is too hot won’t necessarily burn them to a crisp — but they’ll get pointy tops, and may be underbaked on the inside and overbaked on the outside.

Anyway, just try skimming the list slowly — letting your eyes run down the temperatures and foods. Maybe they’ll want to jump back to connect some dots… or just keep going.

And the next time you pre-heat your oven to 450, think about how many foods would be affected on the way to that temp.

The information on the scale comes from (the absolutely extraordinary book) On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee; Cookwise by Shirley Corriher; The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart; The Bread Builders by Daniel Wing and Alan Scott; Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Remolif Shere, and my notes from CIA-Greystone.

2 Responses to “Food Temperatures, Contextually”

  1. irene Says:

    wow! what a very impressive list! looks like you really did a lot of research to include all that you have. i’m sure it’ll prove useful to many of your readers. keep up your experimenting and your great descriptions, which are fun to read.

  2. Nina Says:

    Thank you so much! 🙂 It was really fun to put together, and I’ve already referred to it a few times since I’ve put it together… and I hope it helps out other people, too!

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