Science Can Help Us Make Better Pizza and Better Roasted Potatoes

2 minute read
Originally posted here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know/did-you-know-science-can-help-us-make-better-pizza-and-better-roasted-potatoes

Students from the Edge Hotel School have brought us some starchy math that can improve the quality of roasted potatoes the world over.

The theory is that maximizing the internal surface area of the tuber will maximize the crispiness and therefore the desirability of roasted potatoes. Most of us cut our potatoes at 90˚ angles, in half, and then into quarters. These students realized that just by cutting at 30˚ angles, an increase of up to 65% internal surface area can be achieved!

You can view their method in the images below. Their calculations are based on a 5 cm by 11.5 cm potato, so the specific numbers will differ depending on the spud, but since most potatoes are spheroids the principle will hold true.

Photos sourced from https://theuijunkie.com/edge-school-method-roasted-potatoes/

Science can also help us out with how to improve the pizzas we bake at home.

A traditional Italian pizza oven features curved stone walls, a stone floor and a wood fire burning in one corner. These ensure that heat radiates uniformly throughout the oven. When the heat of a pizza oven is 615 – 625 ˚F a traditional thin crust margarita pizza will be completely cooked in 120 seconds. The heat can be increased to 730 ˚F, in which case the pizza will be cooked in only 50 seconds, but the quality will be poorer. Pizza restaurants will often do this during rush hours in order to keep up with demand, leading pizza aficionados to recommend only getting pies before 8 or after 10 pm.

These temperatures and times only hold true for a wood-fired oven. When cooking pizzas at home, most of us will place them on a metal tray or oven rack. Metal, however, has a different heat conductivity than stone, so that tray or rack will heat up much faster than the stone floor, and your pizza winds up overcooked.

This can be remedied by decreasing the temperature. Knowing by how much was the hard part, but luckily the researchers have solved the complex thermodynamic equation for us. In the end, the authors recommend cooking your thin crust pizza in a convection oven for 170 seconds at 450 ˚F (although any toppings added will increase the time needed to cook the pie).

Trying these methods, you may just wind up with a better dinner, all thanks to science.

Are Goats the Secret Tool We’ve Been Looking for to Prevent Wildfires?

2 minute read
Image made by Ada McVean
Originally posted here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know-environment/goats-might-be-secret-tool-weve-been-looking-prevent-wildfires

Goats are really useful creatures. We use their milk, fur, meat and… firefighting skills?

In several places goats and sheep are being herded into fire-prone areas. The hungry herbivores move through the land, munching on shrubs, trees and grass, and creating firebreaks. Since goats only stand about 1 metre tall, they will graze heavily on low-lying plants, creating a gap between the ground and higher trees. This gap can prevent fires from spreading or slow them down. Some places in Spain have even blamed recent wildfire severity on the declining number of herds grazing on the land.

Goats are perfect for the job for a few reasons. Unlike some grazers, goats do not limit themselves to leaves or grass, eating the wood and bark of smaller plants as well. Goats are able to traverse a wide variety of terrains, and they are naturally resistant to several toxic plants. They can also be herded in tandem with sheep or cows, creating an even more effective grazing party. Using goats comes with the added advantage of reducing the carbon footprint, compared to clearing brush with machines, and improving air quality. The waste left by goats is simply absorbed into the ecosystem of the area.

Studies have shown that a herd of 250 sheep can reduce the available plant mass by 75% in 30 days. When a wildfire in Utah with 15-foot-high flames reached an area that had been cleared by goats, the flames dropped to only 3 feet tall in lightly-grazed areas and stopped entirely in more heavily-grazed ones.

The biggest barrier to using goats in this way is a lack of trained and skilled herders and herding dogs to manage the goats. So, if you’re looking for a career change, a position in goat herding is probably available. Given goats’ relative quietness and lack of air-polluting outputs, they could be especially useful for grooming areas near residences and towns, so you may not even have to commute very far.