Welcome Food Matters at Scientific American Blogs- Chemistry Represent!
Sep03

Welcome Food Matters at Scientific American Blogs- Chemistry Represent!

Recovered from your Labor Day barbeque? Good. Because something's cooking at the Scientific American blog network, and it is decidedly meaty. I'm talking about the SciAm network's new food blog, Food Matters, which launches today, in time for Scientific American’s Food Week celebration. This group blog features seven authors- three researchers and four journalists, and includes a familiar face (more on that later). According to Bora Zivkovic, who heads the network, at Food Matters "there will be explainers of basics, coverage of new papers, carefully researched pieces of in-depth journalism, pushback against non-science-based activism, posts that provide historical context, and just plain fun stuff from original multimedia to quirky recipes." And chemists, if that's not enough to whet your appetite, consider this: the blog's authors include Julianne Wyrick, who holds a B.A. in biochemistry, and friend of CENtral Science See Arr Oh. I asked them some questions ahead of the launch and here's what they had to say. (Quotes edited for grammar and/or shortened for brevity). Carmen: Why do you think food is a great medium for talking about chemistry and biochemistry? Julianne: Food touches everyone; from biochemists to ballet dancers, we all eat. Discussing the chemistry involved in food and nutrition helps science come alive to scientists and non-scientists alike. See Arr Oh: People are surrounded by food, but they don't always take a second to realize that food is all about chemical processes- from photosynthesis, to preservatives, to digestion. C: Why is it important to have chemistry representin’ on the big blog networks? J: Blogging about the chemistry involved in topics like food is important because chemistry is the foundation for so much of science. Many processes, like how a nutrient affects the body, boil down to chemical reactions. If we know more about the chemistry, we have a better understanding of the process. S: There's a stereotype that may be in some people's minds of chemists holed up in their labs, drumming up massive profits for corporations. I'd like to show that chemists can be relatable and fun and communicate well. Congrats on hitting the bloggy big time, you two. Now, make sure you commission some guest posts from the likes of Matt Hartings and Martin Lersch, and then I'll really be...

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Visions of a fictional #foodchem future
Nov14

Visions of a fictional #foodchem future

As Thanksgiving approaches, I know I'm not alone in having an intensely nostalgic view of food. Certain foods will always be strongly associated with memories of my childhood and inextricably linked to my family as my children grow. Or rather, now that they are grown. As I look fondly to the past, I also wonder what the future of food will look like. It is certain that chemistry will play some role here, because, food, like everything else, is made of chemicals. When I was a young boy, all technology, including chemistry (!), was chic and modern, or, rather, mod. The food industry was creating product after product that, to me, seemed cool as cool could be, and I literally ate them up. My experience of this era mirrors that of Michael Pollan, writer of “books and articles about the places where nature and culture intersect: on our plates, in our farms and gardens, and in the built environment.” In a 2003 New York Times Magazine article entitled “The Futures of Food,” he wrote: “all signs pointed to a single outcome: the meal in a pill, washed down, perhaps, with next-generation Tang. The general consensus seemed to be that “food”—a word that was already beginning to sound old-fashioned—was destined to break its surly bonds to Nature, float free of agriculture and hitch its future to Technology.” Sadly, this love fest with technofood was short-lived: “What none of us could have imagined back in 1965 was that within five short years, the synthetic food future would be overthrown in advance of its arrival. The counterculture seized upon processed food, of all things, as a symbol of everything wrong with industrial civilization.” Over forty years later, although food technology has continued to proceeded, the concept of synthetic food has not regained any luster. The opinion that processed food is to be avoided has transcended the counterculture, and has been embraced by the popular culture and medical establishment. Whole, natural, fresh foods are the healthy dietary high road for you to travel. There has been much controversy in particular regarding genetically-modified organisms (GMO) contained in our food products. Any discussion of the future of food would have to include this. But having just opened that particular can of worms, I’m going to attempt to reseal it and approach the subject of food’s future from another tack, taking a very sharp turn toward a lighter, fluffier view. Like a soufflé. Hopefully it won’t collapse. We are now well into the 21st Century. So, how did those 1960s predictions of our Food Future turn out? I don’t know about you, but I certainly enjoy...

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A chemist employs his analytical skills in the wine industry
Jun09

A chemist employs his analytical skills in the wine industry

To make wine, you start with grape juice, let the fermentation process begin and a few steps (and few months) later, you may have yourself a delicious alcoholic beverage, if you balanced all the flavors just right. Conceptually, it’s very simple, but in reality, winemaking is an art that some people spend their lifetime perfecting. Yet when you break it all down, winemaking is chemistry. And sure enough, there are chemists who work at wineries—like Kawaljit Tandon, a research chemist at Constellation Wines U.S., the largest premium wine company in the world. Kawal’s job isn’t exactly “non-traditional” since it’s essentially an R&D job in a beverage industry. But I thought he’d still be a good fit for this blog since becoming an enologist and working with winemakers isn’t something that comes to mind right away when you’re thinking about what you can do with a chemistry degree. Kawal received his Bachelors degree in Agriculture Sciences from Bangalore, India, before coming to the U.S. and earning a Masters and Ph.D. in food science from The University of Georgia. In grad school, he studied the flavor chemistry of fresh tomatoes using various sensory techniques and analytical instrumentation. As a post-doc in food chemistry at Cornell University, Kawal found out about the job at Constellation Wines U.S. and applied. Although he didn’t study wine prior to landing the job, his training in basic plant physiology, food chemistry and analytical instrumentation prepared him well for the position. “I had too much of the upstate NY snow and could not resist sunny California!” Kawal said. “It has been a learning curve though since this job was my first exposure to grape and wine flavor chemistry.” Kawal researches the aroma and flavor of grapes and wines, as well as cork and other closures, oak barrels and adjuncts, and packaging materials. When an aroma or flavor issue arises with a wine product, he investigates it to determine the source of the stink, which could come from cork (haloanisoles), or from the yeast (sulfur compounds) or from the grape itself (methoxypyrazines). He is also involved in tracking aroma compounds in grapes and following that through winemaking and storage. “Wine is a very dynamic medium and there is chemistry happening all the way from the vineyard to fermentation to barrel ageing to bottling and post-bottling storage,” Kawal said. Each step along the way requires analytical support, and Kawal and his chemistry colleagues are there to make sure it all happens so that the final product is of the highest quality. Kawal uses several pieces of advanced instrumentation on a regular basis, including a GC-MS, GC-MS/MS and GC-O as...

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