IA #3 – Pesto – Kitchen Chemistry

Https cooking nytimes com recipes 2653 basic pesto

1/2) Assumption / Plate

Pesto is a vibrant green pasta typically used as a pasta sauce and occasionally as an accompaniment to bread. Made with basil and olive oil, it is a light sauce perfect for summer. I’ve never liked pesto very much, but I’ve come to appreciate it more. I also didn’t know how pesto was prepared: I thought fresh basil and olive oil were ground together in a blender.

3) Chemical analysis

Basil is an aromatic herb that gives off a very different smell. Basil contains two types of molecules that contribute to its remarkable aroma: terpenes and phenolics. Terpenes provide more floral and citrus aromas, while phenolic ones provide warmer aromas that we associate with cooking, such as vanilla. Basil contains two terpenes (cineole and linalool) and one phenolic (eugenol). Due to the presence of more terpenes, basil gives off a fresh, herbaceous aroma.


pesto recipe I’ve been following for this task lists these ingredients:

2 cups fresh basil leaves

  • (without stems)
  • 2

  • tablespoons pine nuts OR walnuts
  • 2 large garlic

  • cloves
  • 1/2 cup

  • extra virgin olive oil 1/2 cup
  • freshly grated Parmesan cheese

The only water in this recipe comes from basil and garlic. Terpenes do not dissolve easily in water. In addition, terpenes are volatile and evaporate easily when heated. Pesto also does not heat up. Due to the lack of heat and water applied to the dish and the nature of the terpenes themselves, pesto is very aromatic and tempting to smell.

4) Cultural Analysis

Basil has been a popular herb since ancient times. Many cultures around the world revered basil for different reasons: in Egypt, mummies were often embalmed with basil, and in Greece, basil was synonymous with mourning. Basil associated with lovers in Rome. This idea that basils are equated with love and fertility seems to be present, albeit in a strange way, in the story of Lisabetta and her basil, who grows in a pot in which she has buried her lover’s head. Throughout the world in India, basil was considered protection and was planted around temples and other religious sites and was considered sacred to the gods. Needless to say, basil had significant cultural value all over the planet.

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Pesto originated in the Italian city of Genoa and emerged around the 16th century. The ingredients of pesto have hardly changed since its conception: basil, garlic, olive oil, parmesan and pine nuts remain the main ingredients of the recipe, with pine nuts being the most common substitution for other nuts. Pesto comes from the Genoese word pestâ, which means “to crush” or “to crush”, referring to the traditional way of preparing pesto by grinding the ingredients with a mortar.

5) Integration

The first thing one notices about pesto is its magnificent and powerful smell. While today we know that there is nothing wrong with smelling pesto and that the aroma comes from the presence of terpenes and phenolics, many people during medieval times believed that smelling basil could lead to a scorpion infestation in the brain, among other things. (Yes, really. Scorpions.) Basil may not have the power to infest the brain with scorpions or make them fall in love and be fertile, but basil has the power to entice us to eat it with the “magical” power of its terpenes and phenolics.


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