The Science of Shirley Corriher


I met one of my idols the other night when Shirley Corriher gave a lecture for the New York Academy of Science. If you’re close to New York, check out the rest of the ‘science of food series,’ the non-member fee is $25, and their space (40th floor of 7 WTC) is brilliantly designed. Shirley, a scientist with a genuinely jolly charisma, spent an hour giggling her way through topics ranging from the effects of zinc chloride on chlorophyll to the ins and outs of swelling starch molecules.

At the reception after her talk, Shirley and I had the most delightful conversation about the phenomenon commonly known as asparagus pee. She informed me that there are dozens of academic articles on the subject. "You’d think they’d have more important things to do with their time!" Shirley said, chuckling. It turns out, everyone who eats asparagus has the metabolic byproducts in their urine, (with some debate over exactly which; S-methyl thioacrylate, methanethiol, or sulfur compounds.) But not everyone has the genetic disposition to smell it. Fascinating. We also spoke about her upcoming book, BakeWise, due out next year. Her grin disappeared momentarily, "It’s controversial stuff. I’m going to dispute what we all believe to be a proper meringue."

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