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Fried Rice Physics: When Science Meets the Restaurant Scene

Fried Rice Physics: When Science Meets the Restaurant Scene

fried rice being made in wok

When DFC was located in the Toronto suburbs, we often found ourselves grabbing a quick bite at some of the amazing Chinese restaurants in that community. Besides being fast and delicious, they were often open at the unusual times we were peckish!
 
Now that our offices are in the (relatively) deep woods, more often than not we have to look to homemade options for lunch. But, if and when we venture into the big city to scratch our culinary itch, we’ll be on the lookout for the fascinating physics of fried rice, recently uncovered by a team of mechanical engineers!
 
Frying rice in a commercial-grade wok is a major physical challenge for a chef. The rice grains and other tasty components must circulate in the pan constantly, so the dish doesn’t burn over the incredibly high heat. The Georgia Tech team analyzed a sample of five professional chefs, filming their fried rice technique and slo-mo-ing it for a full breakdown.
 
“These chefs made a specific set of motions that repeated about three times a second, the researchers report February 12 in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. Each repetition includes sliding the wok back and forth while simultaneously rocking it to and fro, using the rim of the stovetop as a fulcrum. […]

By simulating the trajectories of rice in a wok, the researchers hit on some key culinary tips. The rocking and sliding motions shouldn’t be totally in sync, otherwise, the rice won’t mix well and could burn. And the wok’s movements should repeat rapidly. Moving the wok even faster could launch the rice higher, and might allow cooking at higher temperatures, and perhaps a quicker meal.”
 
This complex move often results in a lot of shoulder pain in wok-specializing chefs. In the most kind-hearted invocation of Skynet I’ve ever encountered, the researchers suggest that a robot be developed to take on rice-frying duties, to spare the humans in the kitchen. While I’m sure it can provide the brawn, it remains to be seen if a robot can handle the moment-by-moment subtle modifications humans are great at. How would it turn out? Oh dear: All this wondering has me craving fried rice. Be back soon…!