Thursday, July 30, 2015

Time-lapse Chemistry and Food!

One of our grad students, Dorea Reeser, convinced C&EN to publish her time-lapse video of  a chemistry experiment:

She calls it "Chem-lapsed" and it is pretty cool. Her first one uses tomato juice and bromine water to create rainbows in a test tube. Watch and learn!

We hope there are many more in the pipeline...

Monday, April 13, 2015

food pairing vs anti food pairing

As an silly example of flavour pairing, here is a video from the National Post:

Can you nutella it?

In 2012, I  linked to an ACS webinar on food pairing and to the website to highlight how sometimes some flavours work well together. The Foodpairing website also has a video explaining how to use it.

The Wiki page on food pairing has more info and links.

People have also use flavour pairing for wines:
Here is a food pairing interactive from Scientific American.

But now a group of scientists have done research on how flavours that do not complement each other can also come together to make delicious food.

Spices form the basis of food pairing in Indian cuisine

Anupam Jaina,†, Rakhi N Kb,† and Ganesh Baglerb,*

Affiliations: aCentre for System Science, Indian Institute of Technology Jodhpur, Jodhpur, Rajasthan 342011, India. bCentre for Biologically Inspired System Science, Indian Institute of Technology Jodhpur, Jodhpur, Rajasthan 342011, India. †
These authors contributed equally to this work
*Corresponding author: E-mail:,

"Culinary practices are influenced by climate, culture, history and geography. Molecular composition of recipes in a cuisine reveals patterns in food preferences. Indian cuisine encompasses a number of diverse sub-cuisines separated by geographies, climates and cultures. Its culinary system has a long history of health-centric dietary practices focused on disease prevention and promotion of health. We study food pairing in recipes of Indian cuisine to show that, in contrast to positive food pairing reported in some Western cuisines, Indian cuisine has a strong signature of negative food pairing; more the extent of flavor sharing between any two ingredients, lesser their co-occurrence. This feature is independent of recipe size and is not explained by ingredient category-based recipe constitution alone. Ingredient frequency emerged as the dominant factor specifying the characteristic flavor sharing pattern of the cuisine. Spices, individually and as a category, form the basis of ingredient composition in Indian cuisine. We also present a culinary evolution model which reproduces ingredient use distribution as well as negative food pairing of the cuisine. Our study provides a basis for designing novel signature recipes, healthy recipe alterations and recipe recommender systems."

Food pairing works on the basis that foods with similar chemicals in them will taste well together. Indian cuisine works the opposite "more the extent of flavor sharing between any two ingredients, lesser their co-occurrence".  One reason this works is that the curries often made up of many different flavours (unlike most other cuisines that only one or two spices in each dish) and these blend together to make the unique flavours.

Here are just three curry powder recipes:

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

20 year old Rum in 6 days...

...the magic of chemistry at work!

Bryan Davis of Lost Spirits in Monterey, California is using chemistry to recreate the unique flavours that take years to form in oak barrels naturally.  By studying the chemistry involved he has developed ways to make them happen in mere days in a chemical reactor.  Patents pending...

"This Guy says he can make 20 year old rum in 6 days"
Christopher Null
April 8, 2015

Monday, March 30, 2015

putting out kitchen fires with sound waves!

In the 5 impossible things before breakfast category:

Two undergrads built a device that can put out an alcohol fire with sound waves!

Turns out low frequency sounds in the 30-60MHz level - the sound waves will disrupt the oxygen and separate the oxygen from the fuel long enough to extinguish the fire. They still need to scale it up and try it on other burning materials but, who knows, someday perhaps all stove hoods will have speakers installed....


Friday, March 27, 2015

Lobster - why does it change colour in cooking?

From Chemistry World:
Chemical clarification for lobster colour change on cooking
27 March 2015
William Bergius

The chemical responsible for the colour change was known, astaxanthin, but the actual mechanism was not determined until now.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Mathematical cake cutting from a 1906 Nature Paper

Here is a neat video on how to cut a round cake so you don't end up with those dry sides the next day:

The Scientific Way to Cut a Cake

This is based on a paper by polymath* Francis Galton:

My go-to solution is to cover the open sides of the wedge with plastic wrap but I may consider this idea next time I a bake a cake! (Mmmm... cake...) BTW the elastic option only will work well if you are using a fondant icing - it would be very messy with, say, a buttercream icing.

* a polymath is not necessarily someone good at math but someone who has a variety of interests and expertise in different subject areas.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Sensationalism vs chemistry

Slate has written an excellent rebuttal to The Food Babe.

The Food Babe,,  is a business now that sometimes stretches the truth re additives in food. She needs to alarm in order to sell her books, her weight loss program, her videos, and her industry partners' products (note how all her oils are from one company).

But the fear-mongering is quite blatant, for example in this story about oils she states:
Almost all toxicology research  focuses on the industrial use and inhalation of hexane, so no one knows exactly how dangerous eating it is – but it surely isn’t healthy.
So she is basically says that lots of tests have been done that have nothing to do with oils but she doesn't think it is safe based on zero studies.
In the Slate article,  I love how they use this example:
Did you know that oxidane, a major component of human urine, is added to coffee beans to enhance the aroma? Disgusting! Sorry if I made you pour your espresso down the drain. What I really should have said is that most people use water, whose formal chemical name is oxidane—and which indeed is the main component of urine—to brew coffee, its steam efficiently conveying the smell to your nose. Not funny? You would be right to think I’m being deliberately deceptive, mocking, even, by using an unfamiliar name for water and linking a food item with a bodily fluid that you wouldn’t think of drinking, and you’d be right to be peeved at me. It’s not amusing to browbeat people in this way, even less funny when you are a food company, reliant on public perception of cleanliness to stay in business.
While we need to be aware of the foods we eat and what ingredients are in them, just because they have "scary" chemical names does not mean they do not come from natural sources and are dangerous.  Companies have many reasons for choosing the ingredients and additives they use - sometimes they choose based on looks, taste and colour and sometimes they have options.  Yes, we should make sure they choose the best options for our health but we also need to make decisions based on knowledge not fear tactics.

So buyer beware - and that includes websites that purport to promote healthy living by using scare tactics instead of careful science.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


A timely Webinar from ACS!

Sweet Science: Chocolate Chemistry for Valentine's Day

Thursday, February 12, 2015 @ 2-3pm ET
Image of Chocolate
What separates good chocolate from the most exquisite chocolate? Celebrate Valentine’s Day and join Dr. Rich Hartel as he returns to share how tempering, crystallization, and chemistry can make all the difference when selecting your favorite chocolate treat.
Register Now Button
Get a small taste of what Rich has to say by joining his “Ask Me Anything” on reddit, which will take place on February 11 @ 12:00pm ET.

What You Will Learn

  • Where chocolate comes from and how it's made.
  • Characteristics of cocoa butter that make it unique, including polymorphism of crystal structure.
  • What is tempering of chocolate, why it's necessary and what happens if it's not done correctly.

Friday, January 9, 2015

too much of a good thing - sugar free laxatives...

Have you seen these ads?

Sounds too good to be true!  All the gummy and no sugar!!
Well, a lot of people thought so too...

This is one of the best reviews!

And here is the a wonderful description of why this happened and why moderation is everything: