New SAT Reading Practice Test 75: Chemistry of Cooking

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Chemistry of Cooking

We tend to think of cooking as an art, but much of its basis actually comes from
chemistry. Let's take, for instance, the example of cooking meat. Why do we bother with
cooking meat? For one, it kills the bacteria that can live in meat and be harmful to us. But
additionally, it makes the meat much more tender—easier to eat and easier to digest.
05Typically, protein is the second-highest component of meat behind water. Proteins
have several levels of organization. A protein's primary structure is the order in which
the amino acids are joined by their peptide bonds. A protein's secondary structure is
made up of local interactions of the primary structure. Secondary structure includes
alpha helices, beta sheets, turns, and loops. Tertiary structure is formed when various
10secondary structures interact, typically over long distances. Finally, quaternary structure
is the interaction of different protein subunits. Proteins fold tightly in complex
ways that are energetically and sterically favorable. So what happens to this complex
organization when meat is heated? These interactions become weaker. Proteins denature,
meaning their interactions weaken and their quaternary, tertiary, and secondary
15structures break down. Instead of tightly folded proteins, they become loose and
stretched out. This denaturation is what makes meat more tender. However, continuing
to cook meat after this initial denaturation serves only to remove water, making the
meat tougher and drier. In particular, the denaturation of collagen makes meat more
tender. Collagen is the most abundant protein in animal connective tissue. Tougher
20cuts of meat tend to have more connective tissue, and thus more collagen.
But heating proteins isn't the only way to denature them: they can also be denatured
by adding certain denaturing substances. Many of these substances, like strong
acids and bases, you wouldn't want to add to your food; however, one common
denaturing agent is salt. This is why you may want to brine a tougher cut of meat in
25addition to cooking it. Brining involves soaking something in a solution of salt water.
Another benefit of brining is that when the meat absorbs the salt, this draws water into
the meat to dilute the salt. Thus, brining also serves to keep meat moist. Some chefs
will advise searing the outside of a cut of meat before cooking it through to lock in the
moisture. However, chemistry doesn't support this approach: steam is equally capable
30of escaping through a seared crust as it is through non-seared meat.
If you've ever cooked red meat, you know that as it cooks, it turns brown. Red meat is
red because of its high myoglobin content. Myoglobin is an oxygen-storing protein found
in muscle cells. It is associated with an iron atom. Before the meat is cooked, the iron
atom is in the +2 oxidation state. Cooking it removes an electron, thus changing it to the
35+3 oxidation state. This transforms the color to brown. On the other hand, white meat
doesn't turn brown because it doesn't have nearly as much myoglobin to be oxidized.
We rarely pause mid-recipe to consider the chemistry of cooking, but understanding
the chemical reactions occurring in our food will help us to become better cooks.
Isn't that some food for thought?

Mean Percent Yield of Meat Cooked Under Different Methods

1. It can be reasonably inferred from the passage that which of these protein structures is LEAST impacted by heating?

  • A. Primary
  • B. Secondary
  • C. Tertiary
  • D. Quaternary

2. Which option gives the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?

  • A. Lines 7-9 ("A protein's . . . loops")
  • B. Lines 9-10 ("Tertiary . . . distances")
  • C. Lines 10-12 ("Finally . . . favorable")
  • D. Lines 13-15 ("Proteins . . . down")

3. The sentence in lines 12-13 ("So what . . . heated") serves to

  • A. define a term.
  • B. explain an effect.
  • C. provide a transition.
  • D. analyze an observation.

4. As used in line 13, the word "weaker" most closely means

  • A. defeated.
  • B. loosened.
  • C. pathetic.
  • D. fatigued.

5. According to the passage, which of these cooking approaches would have the most negligible effect on the tenderness of meat?

  • A. Cooking past protein denaturation
  • B. Brining it in salt water
  • C. Searing it before further cooking
  • D. Using an acid or base to denature

6. Which option gives the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?

  • A. Lines 16-18 ("However . . . drier")
  • B. Lines 22-24 ("Many . . . salt")
  • C. Lines 26-27 ("Another . . . salt")
  • D. Lines 29-30 ("However . . . meat")

7. As used in line 39, the phrase "some food for thought" most closely means

  • A. an appetizing situation.
  • B. a next step for researchers.
  • C. a plan for actionable change.
  • D. something worth considering.

8. The passage explicitly states that the substance most directly responsible for the browning of meat is

  • A. collagen.
  • B. myoglobin.
  • C. quaternary structure.
  • D. zirconium.

9. Based on the information in the graph and on lines 19-20 ("Collagen . . . collagen"), what type of cooking method would most likely be most appropriate for a tough cut of meat?

  • A. Roasting, given its moderate yield.
  • B. Braising, given its potential to eliminate a greater proportion of the undesirable parts of the meat.
  • C. Broiling, since virtually all of the meat tissue would be preserved.
  • D. All three methods would be equivalent as far as their appropriateness.

10. According to the graph, broiled meat's yield is about how much greater than braised meat's yield?

  • A. Three times
  • B. Two times
  • C. Fifty percent more
  • D. A third more