All over the world, pizza is one of the most loved foods. However, part of what makes it special is the layer of cheese that's usually put on top. But which cheese is best on pizza? A group of scientists recently asked that question, and after tests, came up with an answer: mozzarella.
So what makes mozzarella better than other cheeses? The obvious reasons are that it melts and blisters, without burning, better than other cheeses. However, food scientists at University of Auckland in New Zealand wanted to find out the science behind pizza cheese, so they started baking pizzas to get their answers.
"So at first sight it seems really trivial, but actually it's a huge combination of things that contribute to that discreet patch of brown blistering across the pizza," says Bryony James, PhD in the video below.
The researchers cooked a variety of pizzas using different cheeses, such as mozzarella, cheddar, Edam and Gruyere. Each pizza was then carefully studied with cameras and computer software, which measured how the cheese browned and the exact amount of oil, water and elasticity. They made detailed diagrams of each pizza based on these measurements.
The researchers immediately noticed mozzarella's special bubbling capability. It's a highly elastic cheese, thanks to it having channels of fat content surrounded by protein. When baked, the water in cheese evaporates and becomes steam. This creates bubbling. Mozzarella's stretchy nature allows those bubbles to become big, which causes oil sitting on top of the bubbles to slide down and brown. Eventually, the bubbles pop, leaving a perfectly browned top layer.
The other cheeses aren't quite as flexible and don't have the same fat content, so they don't perform as well when baked.
Of course, these results don't take into account other pizza toppings, like sauce, meat and vegetables. Finding the perfect combination that's right for you might require a bit of experimentation.
The implications of this research, however, could lead to better food preparation, allowing for other research in how to manipulate specific properties in foods. Wouldn't it be nice to have a low-fat cheese that tastes just like its fatty counterparts? Or maybe scientists can create a pizza crust that doesn't get soggy after sitting in the fridge overnight. The possibilities are endless.
"When we understand food right down to its micro-structural level," says James. "It gives us the levers we need to change the way it behaves."