Green Banana Pasta, Just like Mama Never Used to Make
Jul23

Green Banana Pasta, Just like Mama Never Used to Make

These days it seems like everything’s turning green. Cars. Buildings. And now, thanks to a team led by University of Brasilia Ph.D. nutritionist Renata P. Zandonadi, even pasta is turning green. 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. Through their new recipe, the research team has turned a commonly overlooked fruit into a key ingredient for feeding an underserved section of the world’s population. “Green bananas are considered a subproduct of low commercial value with little industrial use,” the team’s abstract notes. Yet, “the possibility of developing gluten-free products with green banana flour can expand the product supply for people with celiac disease and contribute to a more diverse diet.” Green banana flour has already contributed to a more diverse diet for the Brazilian research team. Botelho tells Newscripts that her lab bakes cakes, cookies, and pies using the alternative pasta ingredient. Still, she contends, “the most difficult recipes to be developed without gluten are pasta and bread. That is why we wrote an article about...

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National Lampoon’s … Chemistry Vacation?
Dec20

National Lampoon’s … Chemistry Vacation?

Today's post is from See Arr Oh, who finds chemistry lurking in a holiday classic. See Arr Oh is a chemist working in industry. It’s that time of the year again! ‘Tis the season for snowflakes, gifts, and, of course, watching holiday movies. Which one’s your favorite? Maybe Miracle on 34th Street, or Frosty the Snowman? For me, it’s always been National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Watching it again last week, I recalled, perhaps even subconsciously, one of the many reasons I like it so much. At the core, it’s a Christmas movie about a wacky family man—who works in Chicago as a food chemist (well, “additive designer” according to the script). That’s right. Look around Clark Griswold’s office in the film. See anything interesting? I see catchy product art, miniature swimming pools (the “last true family man”), and look, molecular models! Sadly, they appear to have been set up by an errant props person; I can’t think of any stable chemicals with a sulfur-bound peroxide, nor a stable N,O carbene! Let’s delve deeper for more evidence of Clark’s chemistry connection. First, when he encounters his boss in the hallway, Clark gets complimented on a new “non-nutritive cereal varnish.” Clark himself refers to it as a “crunch enhancer.” What could this bonus-worthy product be? Perhaps a derivative of carnauba wax? Or a cyclodextrin? Could it be a soluble fiber, like Metamucil, that preserves the precious cereal flakes? Second, the infamous silver saucer scene, which ends with Clark toppling into a Walmart dumpster. Remember the compound he smeared on the bottom of the saucer? A “noncaloric silicon-based kitchen lubricant,” which he claims is more slippery than cooking grease. Given the low friction coefficient with the snow cover, one suspects derivatized mineral oil, or maybe Clark has presaged the lotus-leaf-inspired superhydrophobic coatings developed recently. Whether you watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation for holiday joy, or for scientific enlightenment, we here at Newscripts hope you and your families have a wonderful holiday season. And please, if your sewer is glowing green or evolving strange gases, don’t let anyone light a...

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Oh Nuts: Bad Pine Nuts Leave Behind Bitter Taste For Weeks
Jul12

Oh Nuts: Bad Pine Nuts Leave Behind Bitter Taste For Weeks

This past weekend, I was on the hunt for some pine nuts. They’re not always easy to find in the grocery store, and they are almost always expensive. But I love them so—the delicious prize is always worth the aggravation of the search. When I finally came upon the pine-nut container in a crowded aisle at the store, I checked to see where the small edible seeds were from. “India,” the container said. And I breathed a sigh of relief. The reason for my nut-origin prejudice is a condition known as “pine mouth,” or “pine nut syndrome.” At a party earlier this year, a new acquaintance was delighting people clustered around her with what I thought sounded like a fantastical story of bad pine nuts from China inducing a bitter taste in people’s mouths for weeks after their ingestion. In this case, though, I was wrong to poo-poo the tale. A paper from the Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry recently came across the Newscripts desk in which researchers from Germany, Russia, and Belgium banded together to devise a way to sort good pine nuts from taste-altering bad ones. And most of the bad nuts happen to be from China. About one to three days after ingesting a bad pine nut, the victim develops a bitter, metallic taste in his or her mouth that lasts “for some days up to two weeks,” says Dirk W. Lachenmeier, the lead author of the JA&FC paper. Lachenmeier, who works at the Chemical & Veterinary Investigation Agency in Karlsruhe, Germany, says he got interested in pine nut syndrome when several nut samples, accompanied by consumer complaints, arrived at his institute. His agency is one of a series of state-run facilities in Germany that are the authorities on food control. Initially, Lachenmeier and his team searched for a cause for pine mouth—a specific culprit compound. Unsuccessful, they instead devised a method based on NMR spectroscopy to weed out the naughty nuts. The researchers looked at 57 samples total, from China, Italy, Pakistan, Spain, Turkey, and the Mediterranean, and found in almost every situation where the nuts caused pine mouth that the samples had come from a species of pine tree called Pinus armandii. China happens to frequently harvest seeds from this nontraditional pine species. But Lachenmeier and team also found two other pine-mouth-inducing P. armandii samples, from Spain and the Mediterranean. When the researchers analyzed both their 1H NMR and 13C NMR data sets with principal component analysis, they saw that all the P. armandii samples—not all of them positive for pine mouth—clustered on the negative end of the scatter plot. A negligible number...

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