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A Wok Secret for Cooking the Best Fried Rice Dishes

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Stir Fry Secrets

Earlier, we discussed the virtues of rice as a food staple, with instruction on the basics of how to grow rice from your home garden. As a follow-up to the article, here is an interesting study where scientists reveal how chefs-in-the-know cook the best fried rice dishes on a wok.


Health experts recommend “eating clean” rather than going on a diet as a healthier way to lose weight. Brown rice in fact, qualifies as an eating-clean dish. As it turns out, just like there are many cooking techniques that can make the difference between savory and suck in a dish, cooking rice in a wok has its own sleight of hand technique that requires some finesse. In other words, the secret to cooking the best fried rice dishes is all in the arm.

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In a recent study published in the February issue of the Royal Society, researchers reveal that chefs who stir fry the best tasting fried rice dishes actually share a similar hand and wrist technique that prevents the rice from being over-cooked under temperatures of close to 1200 degrees Celsius.

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This cooking technique is centuries old and is responsible for causing a chemical reaction referred to as the “Maillard Reaction” that gives browned food its distinctive color and flavor. Named after the French chemist Louis-Camille Maillard who is credited with being the first to describe it back in 1912, the Maillard Reaction is the result of a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars in food when exposed to high heat conditions. Common examples of this and the effect it has on flavor can be related to with searing a steak and the toasting of marshmallows over an open flame.

The Study

However, this study is not so much about cooking, but about the shared arm and wrist flipping technique used by cooks of Asian foods. This technique is believed to be the cause of a repetitive motion injury common among cooks who use a wok. Therefore, the study is focused on the possible cause of injury with thorough observation and mathematical modeling of the mechanical motion of the cooks’ dominant arms while stir frying to reveal the kinematics of injury causation.

Using multiple cameras and multimedia software to generate data related to the proportion of the rice that is tossed, its flight height, and the angular displacement of the rice, the authors of the study created a mathematical model that ranked all of the possible kinematics.

What they found was that the wok-tossing process of frying rice is a combination of two independent motions, a side to side motion and a see-saw motion. The result of this combination of motions is that it allows the rice grains to slide around the wok as well as to jump off the surface in a manner that allows the aforementioned Maillard Reaction to take place without burning the rice and thereby giving it its characteristic desired flavors.

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The authors of the study concluded that the shared repetitive motion they observed and modeled is the likely cause for injury and believe that their results may inspire the design of stir-fry robotics and/or exoskeletons to reduce the rate of muscle strain injury among professional chefs.

Stir Fry Demonstration of Wok Technique Used by Chefs

Here’s a YouTube video showing the technique chefs use and that you can try at home to improve the taste of your next stir fry meal.

If you have a favorite wok stir fry dish to share, please contact us using the comments box below.

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Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Today, with a background in farming and an avid home gardener, Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on the connection between plant biology and gardening for healthy living. For continual updates about plants and health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

Image courtesy of Pixabay


1. “The physics of tossing fried rice” by Hungtang Ko and David L. Hu, The Royal Society Publishing, Volume 17Issue 163; 12 February 2020https://doi.org/10.1098/rsif.2019.0622

2. “Top and side view of wok tossing from The physics of tossing fried rice” The Royal Society Publishing posted on 23.01.2020 by Hungtang Ko and David L. Hu.