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Why Is Mathematics Important in Culinary Arts?

by Kelly Chester

Surprisingly, mathematics plays an important role in the culinary arts. There are helpful tools, such as measuring cups, measuring spoons and scales, to aid in food preparation. However, some background in measurement, fractions and geometry is necessary when cooking and baking. Chefs need to be able to measure and weigh ingredients, time recipes and adjust and measure cooking temperatures. Furthermore, when creating recipes for special diets, it's important to have a background in the science and mathematics of nutrition.

Measuring in the Kitchen

Measurement is an important math skill that significantly impacts the ability to cook properly. Tools like a glass measuring cup with a spout for liquids and measuring cups for dry ingredients are needed in every kitchen. Measuring spoons for spices and a scale to measure the weights of different foods are also necessary. Even with the use of all measurement kitchen tools, it is required that cooks and bakers understand the metric system and standard system of measurement so that they can apply those skills to following a recipe.

Temperature and Time

Telling time and adjusting temperature are important math skills that factor into the culinary arts. Recipes require different amounts of time, so cooks need to set a timer and monitor food accordingly. Furthermore, temperature adjustment is also very important. When cooking meat in an oven, use a meat thermometer to determine whether your dish is completely cooked. For example, chicken should be cooked to 180 degrees to ensure that bacteria are killed. When cooking at different altitudes, temperatures may need to be increased or decreased in your oven to bake successfully. In addition, altitude effects the boiling point for range-top cooking.

Fractions, Division and Geometry

An understanding of fractions is crucial to cooking. Aside from measuring in recipes, the use of fractions also impact serving size. For example, if a recipe claims to serve eight people, but you are only serving four, the cook must be able to divide the entire recipe in half. Typically the cook will be required to divide whole numbers as well as fractions. Geometry is used in the presentation of food and baking. If a cook is creating a fancy layer cake, the use of rectangles, squares and circles may be necessary. When arranging food onto a plate, cooks should use different shapes to make foods aesthetically pleasing.

Nutritional Data

Many cooks must take into consideration health and a balanced diet when cooking. As a result, knowledge of calories, fat, sugar and sodium are important for the everyday cook. Using the nutritional information on fresh and packaged foods will enable a cook to provide guests or family members with balanced meals that use a variety of food groups. In addition, calorie, sodium and fat needs vary greatly from person to person. Knowing the dietary requirements of those you are cooking for allows you to create an appropriate menu using nutritional calculations.

About the Author

Kelly Chester is an educator and writer who has worked in both public and private schools for almost a decade. Her areas of expertise include literature, writing, history and art for adolescents. In addition to writing reports for NYSAIS, she has also written a biography on artist Frank Covino, which was published in the anthology “Teaching Lives.”

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