Category → Chemistry and Food
At last week’s American Chemical Society meeting in New Orleans, a group of chemists came together to discuss the latest and greatest in alcohol. No, this wasn’t on Bourbon Street. And karaoke, to-go cups, and beaded necklaces weren’t involved (as far as I know).
This week’s issue of Chemical & Engineering News features a column I wrote about one of the session’s presentations. Neil C. Da Costa, a researcher at International Flavors & Fragrances, in New Jersey, entertained the audience with tales of the hurricane, that rum-based drink the Big Easy is famous for. I featured Da Costa’s studies of the hurricane because of the soft spot I have for the cocktail: The first time I drank one was during my undergraduate years at, you guessed it, my first national ACS meeting.
But I gave short shrift to other “Chemistry of the Bar” presentations. One particularly interesting talk was given by Jerry Zweigenbaum, a researcher at Agilent Technologies, in Delaware. Along with Alyson E. Mitchell and coworkers at the University of California, Davis, Zweigenbaum investigated the ingredients of the after-dinner liquor amaretto.
If you’re like me, you might have thought that because amaretto smells like almonds, it’s made from them. Zweigenbaum says that’s not necessarily the case.
According to legend, amaretto was first made in 1525 by soaking apricot kernels in alcohol. You can see the tale, conveniently located on the website of amaretto maker Disaronno, here. Apparently, one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s star pupils was asked to paint a fresco of the Madonna in the Italian city Saronno. His model was a local innkeeper who showed her gratitude by gifting the fellow a drink made from the infamous kernels.
Today, Disaronno says its amaretto contains “herbs and fruits soaked in apricot kernel oil.”
But the problem with alcohols like amaretto, Zweigenbaum says, is they are regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives here in the U.S., rather than by FDA. That means companies don’t have to list the beverages’ ingredients or nutritional content.
So what exactly Disaronno and other amaretto companies are putting in their wares remains a mystery. Zweigenbaum decided to find out. Continue reading →
If you ever visit the Museum of Science in Boston, in a certain corner of the museum you’ll find a giant insect hovering over a toy train set. This particular display, in a section about scale and models, delights and terrifies my three-year-old. He loves the train but is scared silly by the big bug. I had this section of the museum, and the ideas of scaling up and scaling down, on my mind when putting together this week’s Newscripts column. That’s because one story focuses on a new protein model building kit and the second story is about making bite-size gummy people.
Models are a big deal in science. They help us visualize and give us tactile experiences with all sorts of different things. From grade school, I recall a giant model of the ear and ear canal. My favorite thing to do was to pull out the tiny ossicles–those smallest of human bones–from the middle ear canal and try to figure out which was which amongst the hammer, the anvil, and the stirrup.
In chemistry, where we can’t really see the molecules we study, models are even more important for getting across ideas such as chirality and structure. Did anyone else learn stereochemistry with toothpicks and gumdrops?
The new set looks like it will give budding biochemists the ability to build proteins in the same way that organic students build natural products.
As for the second item in the column, I confess that I wrote about the FabCafe in Japan because I saw the pictures of their gummy people online and was absolutely taken with how cool they looked, especially the image below. It’s so Matrix-meets-Haribo.
One of the C&EN editors even told me that he thought $65 was a bargain for seeing yourself reproduced in gummy candy. I heartily agree. Too bad this was just a special event at the FabCafe. And that the FabCafe is so far away (from me anyway). I love the idea of sitting down with a cafe au lait and then trying my hand at a laser cutter. Are there any Newscripts readers who have had the good fortune to visit this spot?
The Newscripts gang is always on the lookout for ways to make happy hour even happier. Monica Villa, beer lover and aspiring science writer, shares the following tips on how to get the best bubbles in your brew.
Beer drinkers know that quality beer foam means a better beer. So what exactly is this luscious lather? Beer foam is composed mainly of the same glycoproteins and organic acids found in beer, but at higher concentrations. Brewing and aging denature the glycoproteins (which come from yeast cell walls and barley), exposing their hydrophobic regions to carbon dioxide. Meanwhile, their hydrophilic side groups hydrogen-bond with water. This segregation of gas and liquid forms the basic structure of foam.
To create the best beer foam in your glass, follow these steps:
- Wash your beer glasses by hand; dishwashers leave detergent residues that interfere with bubble formation. The lacing of foam on the sides of a glass is actually an indication of cleanliness. Scratches at the bottom of a drinking glass can serve as nucleation sites for bubbles, so don’t sweat the imperfections in your barware.
- Serve your beer at the right temperature. Ideal beer temperatures vary by type, and the truth is that not all beers create a lot of foam. Darker beers and those with higher alcohol content tend to form less foam, while lighter-colored, hoppy beers form high-quality foam. These light-colored beer types should be served at 39–45 °F. Higher temperatures force CO2 gas out of solution, so aim for the higher end of the temperature range to increase foam volume.
Choose the right glass for the beer you’re drinking. BeerAdvocate magazine has compiled a helpful list of the appropriate glasses for each class of beer, highlighting traits that contribute to quality beer foam. Among these qualities are ample space for high foam volume (tulip glasses), slenderness for the fluffy foam of wheat beers (weizen glasses), and room to showcase rising gas beads (pilsner glasses).
- Pour vigorously. A strong pour decreases beer surface tension, aiding in bubble formation. Start at a 45° angle, then straighten the glass to 90° midway through (as demonstrated in this video).
Bonus tip: Change your look for improved foam quality: Mustaches and lipstick carry lipids that disrupt bubbles.
Charlie Bamforth shared these tips in a recent ACS Webinar titled “Getting a Head through Chemistry: Great Beer and a Frothy Foam.” He is a professor of malting and brewing sciences at the University of California, Davis, and author of “Foam,” which he plans to be the first of a six-volume series on beer.
Silly samplings from this week’s science news, compiled by Bethany Halford and Lauren Wolf.
Where some see a stinky armpit, this Ph.D. student saw a novel method for making cheese. [Improbable Research]
Latex condoms? So five minutes ago. The new hotness is electrospun nanofiber condoms. [PopSci]
Bad news for those of us who have lost our sense of smell from breathing the air in the organic lab: Scientists say a strong sense of smell is key to a happy relationship. [Daily Mail]
New study, completed in Turkey, shows that treating gum disease also improves erectile dysfunction. Newscripts wonders whether the researchers did a control for bad breath simply keepin’ the ladies away. [Vitals/NBCNews]
A nice explainer on the perils of moonshine and drinking oneself blind. [Slate]
Experiment from 1995 finds that cowboy boots impart less balance to subjects than tennis shoes. Give those researchers some more funds! [Discoblog]
For her doctoral thesis, Zandonadi used unripe, green bananas to develop an alternative for individuals, such as those with the autoimmune condition celiac disease, who are allergic to the gluten normally found in pasta. The results were recently published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics (DOI: 10.1016/j.jand.2012.04.002).
Typically pasta is made with wheat flour (which contains gluten) and whole eggs. Zandonadi’s team, however, cooked up a pasta with green banana flour (which does not contain gluten), egg whites, water, and guar and xantham gum. According to Zandonadi’s teammate Raquel Botelho, green banana flour serves as a great replacement for wheat flour because the fruit’s resistant starch “forms a net similar to gluten” that traps water inside the pasta, ensuring a moist and elastic consistency.
Unripe fruit might not sound like the most appetizing of ingredients, but the experimental pasta actually proved quite tasty. The team cooked a meal of green banana pasta for a focus group of 25 people with celiac disease as well as a meal of green banana pasta and whole-wheat pasta for another group of 50 with no gluten allergies. The team then asked the tasters to rate their experience. The diners raved about the experimental pasta, ranking it ahead of whole-wheat pasta in terms of aroma, flavor, texture, and all-around quality. Not bad for pasta that contains 98% less fat than its whole-wheat counterpart. Another benefit, says Botelho: Green banana pasta serves as a source of inulin, a polysaccharide that stimulates the development of “good,” immunity-boosting intestinal bacteria. Continue reading →
Chemistry is everywhere, as we’re fond of saying in the pages of C&EN. So I was excited to let my taste buds partake in the biochemistry at the Fancy Food Show, which rolled into DC this past weekend. Sponsored by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, the Show is a mecca for makers of specialty foods such as cheeses, confections, and snacks. It draws the most diverse group of attendees I’ve ever encountered–on the expo floor I ran into folks from nerd gift emporium ThinkGeek, agribusiness giant Cargill, and the U.S. State Department.
Chew on some tidbits of science I picked up at the show, some of which are connected to past C&EN coverage. Continue reading →
Silly samplings of this week’s science news, compiled by Bethany Halford and Lauren Wolf.
MIT engineers devise coating to squeeze the last drops of delicious ketchup from the bottle. Now if they could just figure out a way to get rid of that annoying watery layer that always comes out first. [Brainiac]
Finally, research on why heirloom tomatoes are just better than all the others. Here comes the chemistry of volatile compounds. [Scientific American]
Attention Canadians: You may soon get to buy apples that won’t go brown after they’ve been cut. [Cnews]
To see the QR code on this glass, you’ll have to pour a pint of Guinness. [BoingBoing]
Slate takes on baby veggies – Are they the veal of the vegetable world? [Slate]
Cuttlefish are just SO unevolved. Pigments in their ink sacs haven’t changed for 160 million years. [iO9]
Top 10 newly discovered species of 2011 announced. List includes a sneezing monkey, a night-blooming orchid, and a walking cactus. [Science Daily] For coverage of 2010’s list, click here: [C&EN/Newscripts]