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Should #foodchem lovers work as food chemists? Maybe not.

I knew mixing food and chemistry would draw some newbies out of the woodwork! Everyone give a warm welcome to guest poster Coulombic Explosion.

I’m not a blogger, but I have been an observer of those chemists active in the chemblogotwittersphere. I nearly succumbed to the excellent recent #chemcoach carnival initiated by SeeArrOh, but this carnival has finally surpassed my activation barrier. As a result, I made it a point to at least establish an account on Twitter prior to submitting my humble entry. Don’t expect frequent tweets from me, but if you see CoulombicExplosion@CoulombicExp – that’s me.

As it turns out, chemistry and food have been associated in my mind for most of my life, going all the way back to early childhood (say 6-8 years old) when I would visit my grandmother. During those visits, one of my favorite activities was playing “magic potions”. This game consisted of playing with various kitchen chemicals: water, food coloring, flour, sugar, salt, and most exciting, Alka-Seltzer tablets. It was great fun for me to mix and pour solutions, make brightly colored pastes, and watch the Alka-Seltzer fizz away in the bottom of a mixing bowl.

Years later, when chemistry-oriented science classes started to become available in middle school, I seemed to have a natural aptitude for the subject. I’ve always thought this may have been (partially) the result of some kind of genetic predisposition from my grandmother, who worked in a hospital as a lab technician. Nurture likely complemented nature in this case, through the early-childhood hands-on experience with chemistry of the “magic potions” game. Although I certainly had no understanding or appreciation for any of the chemistry going on in these kitchen concoctions (Absorbance and Beer’s law with food coloring, ionic bonds and solubility rules for sodium salts, citric acid and sodium bicarbonate reacting to liberate carbon dioxide, to name a few), I think that engagement fueled me with enthusiasm to seek such understanding and appreciation.

When I started my job search upon finishing my dissertation, I strongly considered a career in food chemistry, in part because I had begun to grow increasing interest in cooking. Around this time, my university was visited by Prof. Charles Bamforth, Anheuser-Busch Endowed Chair of Brewing Science at UC-Davis. During a small group session, I asked him why, despite his obvious passion for brewing science, that he was not a home-brewer? To paraphrase his response, ballplayers don’t go home and play ball; brain surgeons don’t go home and practice on his/her spouse. He made me realize that perhaps it was best to keep my interest for cooking as a hobby and not to merge it into my work life. Part of the purpose of a hobby (in my opinion) is to serve as an escape from your work. That’s not to say a chemist can’t employ chemical principles and intuition to enhance his/her cooking experience.

Happy #foodchem carnival all you foodie chemists out there!

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