Americans love eating pizza covered in browned, bubbly, juicy mozzarella cheese. A new group of scientists just did a study, published in this month's issue of the Journal of Food Science, that explains the science behind something chefs have known for hundreds of years: that mozzarella is the best type of cheese for pizza.
It's not just the taste that makes mozzarella on pizza so alluring for hungry eaters, although the savory, salty cheese probably doesn't hurt. Mozzarella browns in a distinct way, making pizza visually appealing. When mozzarella cheese is baked, it bubbles in ways that create this unique brown pattern.
Bryony James, a professor at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, is one of the scientists who went behind the scenes on America's favorite pizza.
The team's delicious paper was called "Quantification of Pizza Baking Properties of Different Cheeses, and Their Correlation with Cheese Functionality." They explored how the chemistry of each cheese affects the way it bakes.
The researchers created a lot of pizzas with different cheeses, such as mozzarella, cheddar, Edam and Gruyere, and put them to bake in an oven. They used cameras and other equipment to measure what happened to the pizzas as they baked. They also had pizzas with different levels of water and oil to see what effect those factors had on the pizza's taste and look after baking.
Since mozzarella is created by kneading the cheese, "mozzarella has a lot of elasticity," James said. "If you look at it under a microscope, you see it has these channels of fat surrounded by protein."
The water in mozzarella rises as it bakes, creating a bubble. Mozzarella is more elastic than many other types of cheese, so the bubbles can grow rather large. The bubble then browns when the oil on the surface falls off. Then, the bubbles pop and shrink back to the pizza's normal level, leaving a brown mark.
The group found that cheddar cheese doesn't bubble as much as mozzarella cheese, but that means it can bake to a consistently even golden brown. Gruyere cheese on the other hand does bubble, but doesn't brown as much as mozzarella, because it is more oily.
"As a home consumer, you might want play around with these things," James said. For example, if you want the look and feel of mozzarella pizza but with a different taste, you can try mixing more than one cheese together.