Filed by Rachel Petkewich
Boston is famous for lots of things—including fresh seafood, dropped Rs, and a passion for the Red Sox. Having grown up a few miles north of Boston, I eat plenty of fish, proudly display the regional accent, and, yes, hid my husband’s Yankees hat after we got married.
I love some good clam chowda too. So when I heard that Gerald DeMenna, an adjunct professor of chemistry at Sacred Heart University, in Fairfield, Conn., would give a little talk about chemistry of clam chowder to a group of science writers gathered on Monday evening, I had to see what he’d say. (Especially because I couldn’t go to his Tuesday talk.)
Now when I think of chowda, I admit to only thinking of one kind. But two chafing dishes at the gathering held two different concoctions: the (glorious) cream-based New England Clam Chowder and that thin, red, tomato-based (imposter) known as Manhattan Clam Chowder.
I went straight for the real chowda, while DeMenna carefully sampled both specimens. How did they rate? He gave the Manhattan soup at hand a B+. The New England favorite garnered an A– from him and an A from me.
“A good cook is nothing more than a good synthetic chemist,” DeMenna noted before enlightening us with some tales of his cooking and results from his previous chemical analyses on the two types of clam chowders. He found that Manhattan-style is more acidic, with a pH of 5. The New England version contains potatoes and comes from heating milk and cream, which naturally leads to a more alkaline pH of 8. Therefore, he says, New England chowda has four times the sugar content and half the available protein of its Manhattan counterpart. No wonder I like the New England stuff so much better!