Food Scientist Harsha Hirdyani’s love for food had led her to become a food scientist with more than 10 years of experience and a Ph.D in the field. Harsha’s technical knowledge about food enables her to explore and evaluate every cuisine and share her vast knowledge with her followers on social media. Using her knowledge of food sciences, she cultivates her own recipes that are not only delicious to eat but are also wholesome. One of Harsha Hirdyani’s most renowned achievements include patenting the technology for increasing the shelf-life of the ‘farmer’s soup’, which helps reduce depression besides improving gut function, and was also featured in the Times Of India.
Read more about the science behind food that you consume by having a look at the interview of Harsha Hirdyani below
Questions and answers
The idea of Food Science as a subject is a considerably new concept. Harsha, how is being a food scientist panning out for you so far?
This is my Ikigai! I really enjoy being a food scientist. Food has always been my first love, that is the reason I spent 10+ years in core food science and nutrition. As a food scientist, you really get into the basics of every ingredient and understand what goes into the making of any food product whether freshly cooked or packaged food. Food is integral to every culture, every occasion, every moment, but what you put in your mouth really determines your well-being. Having understanding of the technical aspects of food really elevates it from good to great.
Can you explain in detail about your profession to our audience?
I try to create something new which can appeal to all your five senses while being nutritional and healthy. Although it sounds simple, a lot of technical know-how as well as creativity goes behind this. Developing recipes is as much a science as is an art form. While my background of food science and research helps me on the technical aspects, I also need to dig deep in various inspirations to get my creative juices flowing. In simple terms, it’s an amalgamation of being a scientist and an artist. And you always strive to find that balance in hope of creating magic on plates.
How did you incorporate your knowledge of Food Science into your recipes?
Oh, I do that a lot!
Food Science enables you to understand the impact each ingredient has on our palate and our body. Each ingredient, it’s quality, the temperature and sequence of steps, each & every detail is sacrosanct.
It enables me to turn a traditional dish into something interesting and healthy. For example, I created Avocado Barfi which enhanced our traditional Barfi recipe to create a dish which anyone can enjoy without guilt.
Thus, from avoiding the common mistakes to getting that desired texture or creating that color or even the aesthetics – everything needs to be perfect. That is where my knowledge aids me. Precision leads to perfection!
You have a patent from your Ph.D. degree with 10 years of experience in food science and research. Could you tell us a bit about it?
Yes, as a part of my PhD, I developed a dairy based probiotic health beverage inspired by traditional drink Ambil, which is popular in Maharashtra which is sugar free and gluten free with natural probiotics. As it is an innovative health beverage, I had also applied for patent which is currently in the process of final stages and formalities. People really liked the concept and the final product, evident from very positive market research data. It also got featured in “Times of India” and “Gujarat Samachar”. I would love to see the product on shelf soon and looking for suitable company to distribute it.
Being a food influencer, you must have had your fair share of trying Indian as well as world cuisines. What are some of the most remarkable and distinctive elements that you have noticed in the cuisines of different nations?
What I have noticed through my personal travel and food exploration is that a country or community’s cuisine reflects its unique history, lifestyle, values and beliefs. The French view meals as an opportunity to connect, and spending time with their loved ones.
In Greece, the countryside is a fertile ground for a variety of fruits and vegetables, making its cuisine a colorful tapestry of flavors. Olive trees are abundant there, and olive oil is de rigueur, no matter where a dish is from in Greece, it runs like water throughout the cuisine, in every region.
Talking about Middle eastern food, it is way beyond the classic hummus and pita. The spice blends they use like Za’atar, ras al hanout, baharat, sumac and dried mint imparts the unique taste to middle eastern food.
In South East Asia including Thailand, Indonesia, China, Malaysia and Vietnam, harmony is a vital trait in almost every aspect of life, this is reflected in these cuisines where almost every flavour is used in a balanced way to create dishes that go well together.
In Vietnam the mainstream culinary traditions feature the use of rice in nearly every meal it is the center of dishes in Vietnamese cuisine, abundant side dishes, broths or soup-based dishes like Pho, Cao Lao, Bun cha, and colorful presentation of food in eye-pleasing manners and dipping sauce.
How big a role does travelling play in your life? How do you incorporate your travel and food exploration in your recipes?
A lot actually, more than I can emphasize! I love to travel and I try all sorts of food that the place has to offer. I feel every place has its own history and culture. The food & the flavors are what tell that story beautifully! So, sometimes I try to preserve the authenticity of it, the history it carries. Sometimes I try to create a fusion of it with my own ideas. Because places are changing you know, people are changing, so your food has to preserve this change as well & convey it to the next person and the next person and so on…
What were the specific turning points or factors that inspired you to start a food blog?
Honestly, I can’t look back and point to a date or an event. I love to cook for people. I love those times when people meet. Those moments of joy & happiness when we celebrate something together. Food carries that memory with it. Even if in a different world, I was doing something else, I will still be cooking for people. Just for those moments of happiness, you know!
I guess that and a strong conviction that food can be both tasty and healthy, made me feel I should share my learnings, experience and tips with a larger audience. In a time when people are so busy that everyone is turning towards packaged food, I wanted to bring back the joy of freshly cooked food which is easy to make, tasty and nutritious.
What are some of your main sources of inspiration when you are developing a new recipe?
I also feel inspired due to my strong belief that whatever you eat should be healthy as well. So I consciously try to think of recipes which while being tasty are also nutritional.
And finally I would like to acknowledge the work of some great chefs. Their work and passion keeps inspiring me to try something new. If I have to name one such chef from whom I am greatly inspired, it would be Heston Blumenthal.
Your Mango Coconut Mousse was featured in @miamikidsmagazine. What was the thought that went behind the creation of the recipe?
That time I was traveling in Southeast Asia. It was summer. I was looking at the people & the cities and how things have changed since my childhood! You can’t deny the westernisation of thoughts everywhere. I was loving to see how the kids swimming in pools and how people were shopping everywhere. I wanted to make something that resonates with this changing time while keeping the Southeast flavours intact. So I chose Mango and Coconut both most common ingredients in this part of the world So I thought of making this mango-coconut-mousse, which really tells the story and the feeling in one picture.
This change and the positivity conveyed all in one.
A talented blogger and chef, you have mastered several forms of cuisine, but if you were to name a speciality of yours, what would it be? What is your favourite food?
As a foodie I love various cuisines, one of my favourites is Japanese. At the same time, I also love north Indian street food including chaats and I am a big time sucker for middle eastern food. I also have a very strong sweet tooth and I love experimenting with desserts. If I have to name one single dessert which I love making as well as having is Panna cotta.
Is there any ingredient that you consciously avoid or eliminate when recipes calls for it?
I try to preserve natural ingredients as much as possible in whatever I make and completely avoid artificial ingredients. You will have no clue on what you eat and what goes into it for preserving it, for coloring it or even for increasing its shelf life!
I try to avoid food colors as much as possible. For instance, I use fresh, made from scratch beetroot powder a lot for coloring. Even for exotic or distinct colors for e.g. I use something like purple cabbage. Some people might now know there are these blue pea flowers which are a new addition these days for the same coloring via natural means.
All sorts of chemical food preservatives I avoid. You have no idea how many of these are used in everything you eat.
One last thing – trans fat, I NEVER use! Always original pure ghee/butter. Let’s not harm ourselves and others for these artificial additives.
Do you prefer classic traditional recipes or make your own fusion food?
I like both!
Fusion is my own creation – from my own travel experience, knowledge of food science and my ideas. It has a bit of everything and a bit of Me. Fusion is nothing but magic! But I abide by what I said above. Food is the story about the culture & history of a city or country. I try to preserve the authenticity of it many times – Nothing beats the “butter chicken” of New Delhi. You want to preserve that for the future kids right!!
a. Favourite Christmas dish? – Traditional Christmas cake and Egg nog.
b. Inspiration for the Rasmalai Macaron? – Reliving my trip to France amidst Covid restrictions.
c. One travel destination that you would like to visit time and again? – Paris
d. Most difficult dish you have cooked till date? – Consommé
e. Your favourite MasterChef? – Heston Blumenthal