Chemistry of the Bar: Amaretto 101
Apr19

Chemistry of the Bar: Amaretto 101

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). Instead, these folks shared stories about cocktails and hangovers at the New Orleans Morial Convention Center during a symposium called “Chemistry of the Bar.” 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. The Agilent researcher purchased seven different brands of amaretto (he won’t divulge which ones) and tested them with various analytical techniques—headspace gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) and quadrupole time-of-flight liquid chromatography (Q-TOF LC), to name a few. One volatile compound stood out in all seven amaretto brands: benzaldehyde. This is the chemical that gives amaretto its sweet, yet...

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Amusing News Aliquots
Mar15

Amusing News Aliquots

Silly samplings from this week's science news, compiled by Bethany Halford and Lauren Wolf. Researchers at Vienna University of Technology break speed record for 3-D printing objects, produce racecars and Towers of London London Tower Bridges with nanoscale detail. We’ll take two of those printers. Wrap ‘em up. [TU Vienna] CYBORG SNAILS. We really shouldn’t even have to say anything else in order for you to click on this link. But they’ve got implanted biofuel cells. [iO9] Bonus: This work was published in JACS. [JACS] Happy belated Pi Day! This woman took it to whole new level, baking a pie with number-shaped pieces of apple. Count ‘em. It seems a good portion of the digits of pi are there. [A Periodic Table Blog] Worried someone will piece together your shredded personal documents? Well, now you can unprint them instead. [ExtremeTech] Violin strings made from spider silk have a unique timbre. Newscripts gang wonders how “Flight of the Bumblebee” would sound. [BBC] The Newscripts gang has previously pointed out the opening of Booker & Dax, a bar in N.Y.C. that uses centrifuges and rotovaps to make its cocktails. But this firsthand account of the bar includes videos of drinks being lit on fire. So who wouldn’t want to read about it again? [Gizmodo] If you’re wondering what to do with dead jellyfish, one company suggests making them into glow-in-the-dark lamps. [Daily...

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