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.