Category: Food and Drink

How do you eat your candy?

By Julianne Dalcanton | August 14, 2007 7:45 am

My temporary officemate runs down to the vending machine and buys a bag of gummi bears. He dumps them on the desk, sorts them by color, and then procedes to eat them in order of increasing bin size (i.e. the pile of 1 orange one, then the pile of 3 yellow ones, then the pile of 4 green ones, etc).

If I buy a bag of M&M’s, I sort them by color, then figure out a division that lets me arrange them in a triangle, with one color per horizontal row, but allowing colors to be repeated (i.e. it’s ok for 9 red M&M’s to show up as a row of 7, and then further up, a row of 2). I then eat off each diagonal, producing a progressively smaller triangle, but one that maintains the horizontal color structure till the tasty end.

My kids, who I suspect inherited a geek-streak a mile wide, also sort multicolored candy into patterns and make up an algorithm for eating it.

The non-scientists who I have asked about this habit look at me like I’m nuts. (So do people who grew up in large families, because someone was bound to snarf the candy before they could take the time to develop this particular neurosis.)

So, is algorithmic consumption of multicolor candy a geek phenotype?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Food and Drink

Dining in the Dark

By Sean Carroll | July 16, 2007 12:11 pm

Upon moving to a new city, one naturally pokes around a bit to find interesting things to do that one’s previous location may not have offered. Los Angeles, of course, is the modern Mecca of novelty and experience, so one is faced with an impressive menu of possibilities. But this one struck me as particularly clever: Dining in the Dark, which is just what the title promises. The idea is to take a relatively standard restaurant experience, but to turn out all the lights, removing that pesky “visual” aspect provided by the ambient photons. You save a bundle on decor, and you can charge extra for the novelty! Genius.

So naturally we had to try. And on Saturday we did.

This little video comes from a local TV station that solved the “How do we do a story on TV about something that happens totally in the dark?” problem by bringing in an infrared camera. It’s not held at a standalone restaurant, but only happens on weekends in a conference room at the West Hollywood Hyatt. (Saving on decor, remember?) The waitstaff guide you to your table, which is decorated with a few rose petals but otherwise as uncluttered as possible. (“Bumping into stuff” is a big part of the dark experience, but you get used to it.) The staff is generally very helpful, and you are encouraged to shout for them if you need something at your table, or wish to be escorted away — I’m pretty sure that the restrooms were not themselves dark, although I didn’t check. You were, however, expected to be able to pour your own wine from its bottle to the glasses without soaking the table. I managed.

The idea, of course, is to offer a different angle on the process of eating and enjoying a meal with friends. Deprived of sight, your other senses rally to the task, and you are more sensitive to the sounds and tastes around you. And it’s certainly not impossible to get by; blind people do it all the time. Actual blind people, of course, don’t have the option of stepping back into sight once the meal is over, and there was a danger that the whole operation would seem like some sort of creepy “blindness tourism.” But I never got that sense; the waitstaff themselves are all blind or visually impaired, and if anything the experience gives you just a tiny bit of insight into what their lives must be like — or would be like, if they lived in a world in which great efforts were made to accommodate their sightlessness.

The menu itself was simple, and purposely so: by concentrating on a few basic and recognizable flavors, the chefs offer you the opportunity to disentangle all of the ingredients for yourself, without seeing directly what they are. And the food itself was none too shabby; I can vouch that the truffle-infused macaroni and cheese would have been a hit under any circumstances. True, there was occasionally a temptation to bypass the traditional knife and fork and use one’s fingers. It may even have occasionally happened that one would mistakenly push a morsel off of one’s plate, and rescue it from the table with one’s hands; happily, there were no witnesses, and I’m not saying anything.

The above video, while evocative, really gives the wrong idea by letting in the infrared cameras. The foremost lesson of the dark dining experience is that it is really, really dark. That might come as no shocking news, but it makes you realize how very rarely in this world we are really plunged all the way into complete darkness. We are usually always accompanied by streetlights, or the glowing face of an alarm clock, or the stars in the sky. True and absolute darkness is a different experience, and one worth trying. I love those photons, but I would definitely do it again.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Food and Drink

Mmmm…Cold Pasteurized Burgers Anyone?

By John Conway | July 3, 2007 12:29 pm

Today is the last day left in the FDA’s public comment period regarding changes to the labeling rules for irradiated food. Given the other problems in the world, this may or may not have been on your radar screen, but if you eat meat it certainly should.

Imagine if there were a product, say a soft drink, that sickened upwards of 200,000 people every year, and killed thousands. How would the public react? Clearly there would be outrage on a truly massive scale, legislation, regulation, whatever it took to end the scourge. Just look at the outrage ensuing after the spinach crisis last year.

We have such a product in this country: meat. It is produced in conditions such that the main processing challenge in bringing it to market is simply keeping “filth” – the animals’ own excrement – from infecting the final product. The public has simply accepted the sickness and death as collateral damage, not a problem to be solved. Nothing must get in the way of the steady stream of 99 cent burgers!

The meat industry has a “solution” which I put in quotes because it may be worse than the problem itself: food irradiation. The minute most people hear that their hamburger is made from meat that was irradiated, they don’t want it. And if more read the label that is presently required (but proposed by the meat industry to be removed) then they might not buy it.

Food irradiation kills bacteria, but not all of them. The meat industry wants to irradiate food so as not to have to spend more money making meat processing safer at the slaughterhouse, which would raise the cost to consumers.

The real problem, though, is how radiation kills bacteria. Often the irradiation is performed using an isotope of cobalt which emits gamma rays – very energetic photons, more energetic than x-rays, which are also used for this purpose. These photons travel a long way through most materials and lose their energy by knocking electrons off the atoms of the material. The emitted electrons have a great deal of energy and knock off other electrons, sometimes resulting in breaking up the molecules of the material. These molecular fragments are called radiolytic byproducts. The radiation does not just kill bacteria, but produces new molecules in the meat itself never encountered in nature, some of which may be harmful. We actually don’t know very much about this possibility.

We do know that for irradiated fats, long-chain carbon based molecules, the radiolytic byproducts include 2-ACB, a chemical shown to cause colon cancer in mice. But that is just one of potentially thousands of different radiolytic byproducts of irradtiation. In effect, we are performing an enormous, uncontrolled experiment on millions of human beings – us – for the sole purpose of saving the already heavily subsidized meat industry a few pennies on the dollar. The effects could be devastating, healthwise, or maybe not. Is it worth the risk?

Even more interesting is a study of the change in flavor of irradiated meat products. The irradiated meat was descibred as tasting like “wet dog” or “singed hair”. Yum.

Food irradiation is banned in Europe, largely due to the above concerns. At a minimum, the labelling requirements should stay in place. The meat industry has lobbied to change the label to say “cold pasteurized” or remove it altogether. But we ought to be considering an outright ban on this very questionable practice.

I am not a vegetarian, but I used to be for about eight years, partly for reasons like this. I buy organic meat now whenever possible, and avoid fast food. I want to know what I am getting, and the meat industry doesn’t want us to know! Why don’t we let an informed market decide this one?

Here is a link to the FDA proposed rule change and public comment info.

Cheap, Crappy Calories

By Sean Carroll | April 26, 2007 5:33 pm

You know what’s a really big problem? The Farm Bill. The quintennial piece of legislation that steers billions of dollars into subsidies for farmers who mass-produce the raw materials of which junk food is made. Yeah, I know, not exactly a hot topic, nor our normal fare. But Michael Pollan in the Times lays out a devastating indictment of the current system, which encourages our economy to overproduce food that is incredibly bad for us, while busting the federal budget, ruining the environment, and hurting small farmers and developing countries to boot. (Via Marginal Revolution.)

Here is the basic econo-physics of the situation:

As a rule, processed foods are more “energy dense” than fresh foods: they contain less water and fiber but more added fat and sugar, which makes them both less filling and more fattening. These particular calories also happen to be the least healthful ones in the marketplace, which is why we call the foods that contain them “junk.” Drewnowski concluded that the rules of the food game in America are organized in such a way that if you are eating on a budget, the most rational economic strategy is to eat badly — and get fat.

This perverse state of affairs is not, as you might think, the inevitable result of the free market. Compared with a bunch of carrots, a package of Twinkies, to take one iconic processed foodlike substance as an example, is a highly complicated, high-tech piece of manufacture, involving no fewer than 39 ingredients, many themselves elaborately manufactured, as well as the packaging and a hefty marketing budget. So how can the supermarket possibly sell a pair of these synthetic cream-filled pseudocakes for less than a bunch of roots?

For the answer, you need look no farther than the farm bill. This resolutely unglamorous and head-hurtingly complicated piece of legislation, which comes around roughly every five years and is about to do so again, sets the rules for the American food system — indeed, to a considerable extent, for the world’s food system. Among other things, it determines which crops will be subsidized and which will not, and in the case of the carrot and the Twinkie, the farm bill as currently written offers a lot more support to the cake than to the root. Like most processed foods, the Twinkie is basically a clever arrangement of carbohydrates and fats teased out of corn, soybeans and wheat — three of the five commodity crops that the farm bill supports, to the tune of some $25 billion a year. (Rice and cotton are the others.) For the last several decades — indeed, for about as long as the American waistline has been ballooning — U.S. agricultural policy has been designed in such a way as to promote the overproduction of these five commodities, especially corn and soy.

I remember the moment it first dawned on me that Coke was significantly less expensive than orange juice. But making soda is a complicated chemical process, while oranges literally grow on trees! Of course, once you master that process, mass-producing the chemicals is fairly straightforward, while growing oranges requires a certain amount of patience. At the time I didn’t really appreciate the other aspect of the puzzle: we pay people to grow corn, which is turned into high-fructose corn syrup, which sweetens all of the processed food we find on our supermarket shelves.

Now, there does seem to be an obvious point missing in the article: the popularity of Twinkies over carrots cannot be put down solely to the greater density of calories per dollar. A lot of people like how Twinkies taste, deep-fried or not. But that doesn’t mean we should be actively subsidizing their production.

Pollan strikes an optimistic note at the end of his piece, suggesting that the importance of the Farm Bill may finally be percolating up to the national consciousness. (At least until the next time that a celebrity with fake boobs dies of a drug overdose.) It’s long been considered political suicide to even suggest messing with farm subsidies, especially with the Iowa caucuses playing such a large role in Presidential primaries. We’ll see if next year is any different.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Food and Drink, Health

Beer, Glorious Beer!

By Mark Trodden | March 27, 2007 9:11 pm

I’m taking a brief time out from slacking-off from blogging to point out a nice summary of the world’s favorite beverage from Roger Protz in The Guardian.

Having seen what the New York Academy of Sciences recently did with this topic, I’m thinking of trying to put together a future Cafe Scientifique on “The Science of Beer”. Hopefully, any speaker I get will be able to span the same range of opinions as Protz regarding U.S. beer, ranging from open disdain

Prohibition in the 1920s and 30s destroyed a brewing industry with a rich heritage of British and German-style beers. Only a handful of giants, led by Anheuser-Busch with Budweiser, saturated the vast market afterwards with thin and insipid interpretations of lager. The label on a bottle of Bud, for example, announces it is brewed from the finest rice, barley malt and hops. Rice is tasteless and sums up the beer. Other giant breweries use large amounts of cheap corn.

to outright adulation

… And Goose Island IPA from Chicago, on sale in Britain, may just be the best beer in the world.

Speaking of beer….

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Food and Drink

ZAPed!

By JoAnne Hewett | February 4, 2007 7:15 pm

Got Zin? Every year around Superbowl weekend, a few thousand Zinfandel enthusiasts trek to San Francisco for the annual ZAP Festival. ZAP stands for Zinfandel Advocates and Producers. I am a card carrying member and like to think of myself as a ZAP-bar (Zinfandel Advocate and anti-Producer). The festival is held at the Fort Mason Center in two huge warehouses that stick out on piers into the Bay. It is the largest wine tasting in the world! Roughly 300 wineries come and pour their stuff and it amounts to around 1000 different wines to taste, all in a single afternoon.

OK, even I admit, that’s impossible. The trick is to remember that this is a tasting and not a drinking festival. The wineries pour tastes, not glassfuls. There are spit buckets everywhere and in theory one is supposed to take a taste and spit rather than swallow. Although I doubt if anyone spit out the Turley Hayne Vineyard which retails for $75/bottle and is impossible to find. I had 3 tastes of that…had to calibrate my tastebuds, ya know. At the end of the day, I tasted about 50-60 wines and spit about half of them.

This year was my 13th festival and I have a Zinfandel Festival tasting routine. First, it’s essential to eat a large lunch. Never taste on an empty stomach. Second, I arrive early, about 30-45 minutes before the doors open. The line is manageable at that point, but quickly grows to a disaster if one is any later. Once I’m inside, I head straight for Turley. I like to calibrate my tastebuds with one of my favorite wines. That way, if anything else I taste afterwards holds up, I know it’s good juice. I try to taste a balance of wines that I know and wines that I don’t. I also like to taste the really expensive ones that I can’t afford to buy (like the Hayne Turley…). Afterwards, I walk around the city, take some blurry photographs, have some coffee, and eat dinner before driving home.

What is special about Zinfandel that causes thousands of fanatics to come from all over and attend this event? Besides the fact that it just plain tastes good, of course? Zinfandel is known as America’s Heritage Grape and is basically grown only in California. The origin of Zinfandel has been the subject of much scientific investigation and puzzlement and the quest makes for an interesting story. Hypotheses that it originated in the US were long-time favored. Researchers later discovered that Zinfandel is a genetic match to Primitivo, grown mainly in the boot of Italy. However, Primitivo has only been grown in Itlay for 150-200 years, which is a short time in the history of wine, so it seemed unlikely that it was Zinfandel’s true parentage. Researchers speculated that perhaps Primitivo was brought across the Adriatic Sea from Croatia. Bingo! In 2001, scientists working in the field in Croatia and at the Enology lab at UC Davis found a perfect DNA match between Zinfandel and the rare old Croatian grape of Crljenak Kastelanski. Other Croatian varieties such as Plavac Mali and Dobricic are Zinfandel’s brothers and sisters. It was first imported into the US in the 1820’s by a nursery on Long Island. I’m glad they changed the name – you gotta admit that Zinfandel is much easier to pronounce.

Zinfandel is grown in every wine region in California and some “old-vine” vineyards date to the 1880’s. Needless to say, there is a special taste to Zinfandel made from 100-yr old vines. Old-vine Zin yields characteristics like graphite, licorice and slate, and is often very spicy — mainly pepper – and earthy. These old vineyards tend to be known by name. Just mention the words Pagani Ranch, Geyersille, Duarte, Monte Rosso, Dickerson, or Grandpere and a Zinfandel lover’s eyes will light up. Newer vines tend to give a more jammy or plumy taste.

So, what were the new finds from the tasting? Sidejob Cellars was pouring their very first bottling and it held up well to the Turley. It will be released in March. They are so new, they don’t even have a website yet. Plungerhead Vineyards won the award for the best name and offered a good quality to price ratio. Another lesser-known favorite is Macchia from the Lodi area.

For people wanting to get started with Zinfandel, I recommend the three R’s: Ravenswood, Ridge, and Rosenblum. All 3 have a diverse set of bottlings at a variety of costs, starting with a Vintner’s Cuvee, then blends from a single County, and then single vineyard bottlings including some 100-yr old vines. It’s a great way to be introduced to the many variations of this marvelous grape!

Oh, and by the way, it goes without saying, of course, that Zinfandel is a red wine.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Food and Drink

The Best Things in Life Can Be Pricey

By Sean Carroll | January 17, 2007 2:08 am

For those of you who had better things to do than read blogs over the holidays, you missed out on the story everyone was linking to: this ten-part expose of the Noka chocolate company. It was a well-done piece, by someone who really knows his chocolate.

Apparently there is an important distinction between “chocolate makers” and “chocolatiers.” The former actually pick the cacao beans and turn them into chocolate, while the latter will buy basic chocolate (“couverture”) from someone else and turn it into truffles or into whatever other form you prefer your dark sinful goodness. A pretty good system, overall; no shame in representing either half of the pipeline, although many manufacturers do serve both functions. Noka is a chocolatier — one of the most expensive in the world. Hundreds of dollars per pound, minimum.

The problem is that Noka pretends to make their own chocolate from scratch, even though they don’t. They don’t quite come right out and lie, but they shamelessly weasel around the truth, trying to give the impression that they’re out there picking beans themselves. Unlike other chocolatiers, who are perfectly happy to reveal who is providing their raw chocolate, Noka keeps it a closely-guarded secret.

But there aren’t that many chocolate makers in the world, and Noka does make a long list of claims about its chocolate — enough, as it turns out, to uniquely pin down who their supplier is! It’s a tiny French company named Bonnat. Apparently, Noka doesn’t even do a very artful job at turning their couverture into delectable truffles; they just melt it down and squeeze it into different shapes. And then sell it at a markup of anywhere from 1,000% to more than 6,000%. But you do get a pretty sweet stainless-steel box, if you go for the more expensive stuff.

Noka and Bonnat chocolate

All in all, a nice bit of investigative reporting, and a pretty damning indictment of Noka’s spin machine. But I was frustrated by a couple of aspects of the expose. Most obviously, with all of the elaborate effort that the author (credited only as “Scott”) went to test and characterize Noka’s chocolate, at no time (apparently) did he directly address the most important question — how good does it taste? The impression is given that it can’t possibly taste any different from the basic chocolate one could purchase directly from Bonnat, and here and there a disparaging comment about Noka’s presentation is thrown in. But really, the entire point is how it tastes, no? I’m ready to buy the argument that it can’t possibly live up to the hype, but I’d like to see that hypothesis explictly tested, with a blind taste test or some such thing.

The other issue is more subtle, and almost certainly unintentional on the part of the author, who is clearly a chocophile. Unavoidably, by revealing the pretense behind a fancy-schmancy chocolate operation, the expose will confirm the suspicions of those who think that the whole concept of boutique chocolate is a scam, targeted at yuppies with more money than sense. Or any boutique food product, really. There are people out there — I won’t name names — who harbor a lingering suspicion that anything more upscale than a good Hershey’s chocolate bar is just an exercise in name recognition, totally divorced from considerations of quality. And that kind of talk makes my sensitive elitist-snob blood boil.

Not that they’re always wrong. One area in which quality definitely matters, I think we can all agree, is fine single-malt Scotch whisky. My own introduction to the pleasures of good whisky came, at all places, at a cosmology conference. It was in Britain (of course), and as an evening’s entertainment the conference hosted a whisky tasting. It was presided over by a gentleman from J&B, who guided us through sips of several different single malts. Even to my untutored palate, the differences were unmistakable, and I was hooked. But the J&B guy, speaking in a charming Scottish accent, told a revealing anecdote: at one point they had a specific blend being sold only in Japan, which was suffering from disappointing sales. So they changed the name, slapped a different label on the same whisky, and tripled the price. Sales skyrocketed. Sometimes it really is about the cachet.

Other times, it’s not. Which I will proceed to rigorously prove by means of a counter-anecdote. I was having dinner with a friend at a fancy restaurant, the Ritz Carlton Dining Room in Chicago. She ordered the wine, keeping its identity a surprise by asking for it by the number on the wine list rather than by name. The bottle was brought to us by a different server, who offered it to me for tasting and inspection (being that I was the guy, naturally). This wine was — amazing. Words fail me. Robust and spicy and deep, with a profound elongated finish, but at the same time subtle and multi-layered, not merely an overly-alcoholic novelty trick. We both agreed it was the best wine we had ever tasted.

So we were enjoying the wine, when she proudly says “I knew you’d love this Barolo.” To which I replied, “What are you talking about? This is a California Cabernet.” Which claim was revealed, by inspection, to be true. And which, rather than causing some minor bemusement, filled us with fear. Obviously we had the wrong bottle, but had we made a mistake in ordering by number? This was a fancy place — she was trying to order a $100 bottle of wine, but there were plenty on the wine list that broke the $1000 barrier. And we didn’t really want to spend the rest of the evening washing dishes.

So, with some trepidation, we asked to peek at the wine list again. Turns out that the bottle we were drinking came in at $300 — not what we had meant to spend, but not completely obscene. And we hadn’t, in fact, ordered the wrong number; there was a mistake on the printed wine list, and two completely different bottles had the same number. Fortunately, this being a classy place, the wait staff was horrified that we hadn’t received what we had ordered, and offered to replace it (we declined), and wouldn’t think of charging us the more expensive price.

But the relevant point here is: paying a lot of money really does buy you quality, sometimes. This was a pretty good blind experiment, since we had no idea what we were drinking. I’ve had a few $100 bottles of wine in my day (not too many — I don’t move in those circles), and this was unmistakably better. Now, we can argue whether the increase of quality as a function of price is really linear, or something closer to logarithmic. But don’t you dare start arguing that there’s some non-outlandish threshold above which everything tastes just as good, no matter how much you pay. Sometimes, if you want the truly good stuff, you have to fork it over.

Now go out there and indulge in some good chocolate! What are you waiting for?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Food and Drink

The Croft Institute

By Mark Trodden | October 20, 2006 1:42 am

If you are a scientist looking for a place to get a drink in Melbourne, you could do worse than visit The Croft Institute. This is a seriously freaky establishment that you get to by going up an alley that runs off another alley.

These are very dodgy surroundings indeed, and you are surprised when you finally enter the bar itself and find it to be a nice-looking, although odd, place. It is odd because, as described on their website

The Croft Institute is hidden up a series of laneways, on a site that was previously vacant for over two decades. Set over three floors, The Croft Institute houses a laboratory on the ground floor, a hospital themed waiting area and bathrooms on the middle level and a 1930’s styled gymnasium on the top floor.

There also used to be a licensed vodka distillery on the first floor, but when I visited there the other night (I only looked at the first floor) the bar staff told me they didn’t make their own vodka any more. Nevertheless, they made me a reasonable martini and served it in a proper glass, not a beaker, as I had half expected.

There are a few nice long, low couches to sit on, but the rest of the seating is on lab stools, pulled up to lab benches. It distinctly reminded me of being in high school chemistry class, because all the equipment is getting on a bit.

It is definitely a quirky place, and it got me thinking a little about other bars that must exist around the world, dedicated to science, or at least with science as a theme. If you know of one, please let us in on it in the comments.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Food and Drink, Travel

The Science of Coffee

By Mark Trodden | August 7, 2006 7:48 pm

For me, espresso is an integral part of every day. I typically start the day with a regular coffee, but then move on to an espresso mid-morning at work, followed by another either mid-afternoon or when I get home from work. I wouldn’t call myself a real coffee connoisseur, but I certainly know what I like, and for my money you just can’t beat a perfect cup of espresso with coffee in any other form.

I’m certainly not alone in this, and many of my colleagues and friends are more knowledgeable about coffee and are even more devoted to it than I am. But, as scientists, we are seldom happy with a gut reaction, and you’ll always find us seeking the why and how. For example, you’ll notice that I used the phrase “a perfect cup of espresso” above. What does that mean? What constitutes a “perfect” espresso, and how can one ensure getting it every time? A real answer begs for experimentation, a healthy dose of hypotheses, more experiments, refined hypotheses, …, – you know what I’m talking about.

Most of us coffee lovers focus, understandably, on the (uncontrolled) experimental part of this process, find what we like, and just live with the fact that we don’t really know what’s behind it. But if you’ve got enough scientist in you, you’ll never be completely happy with this, and will yearn for a more complete understanding. Luckily, such a scientific analysis exists!

Ernesto Illy is a fascinating character. If you know coffee, you’ll recognize his name from the highly successful Trieste-based coffee company, illycaffè, of which he is the Chairman. However, equally relevant to the topic at hand is that Illy holds a doctorate in chemistry and a background in molecular biology. He is fascinated with the science of coffee, and in June 2002 he wrote a wonderful article for Scientific American, titled The Complexity of Coffee (The article requires a subscription, but is also available on Illy’s website).

Since coffee comes in many forms, Illy focuses on espresso as a specific example. He discusses the importance of the perfect beans, what that means, and the role that modern technology is playing in improving speed and quality control in attaining them. He then talks about roasting, in terms that are music to a scientist’s ear

… residual water inside each cell is converted to steam, which promotes diverse, complicated chemical reactions among the cornucopia of sugars, proteins, lipids and minerals within […]. At high heat, from 185 to 240 degrees Celsius, sugars combine with amino acids, peptides and proteins according to a well-known caramelization process called Maillard’s reaction. The end products are brownish, bittersweet glycosylamine and melanoidins— which give rise to coffee’s dominant taste—along with carbon dioxide (up to 12 liters per kilogram of roasted coffee)

One part I particularly enjoy is the chart titled Cumulative Chemical Composition of Espresso with Increasing Extraction Time, which simultaneously tracks the concentrations of multiple compounds as a function of extraction time, side by side with a key that explains their role

Compound : Aroma
2,4-decadienal : RANCID
ethylgujacol : SMOKE
2-ethyl-3,5-dimethylpyrazine : CHOCOLATE
2-ethyl-3,6-dimethylpyrazine : CHOCOLATE
2,4-nonadienal : RANCID
methylsalicilate : CINNAMON
b-damascenone : TEA
DMTS : SULFUR
isovaleraldehyde : SWEET
a-ionone : FLOWERS
linalool : FLOWERS

But what I learned the most from was the discussion of the crema. When I make espresso at home, I’m deeply disappointed if I can’t achieve a wonderfully oily golden foam that I know, from experience, will correspond to a delicious cup.

Referring to this image, Illy explains –

the dense, reddish-brown foam that tops an espresso, is shown in an enlarged cross section. Composed mainly of tiny carbon dioxide and water vapor bubbles (large circles) surrounded by surfactant films, the crema also includes emulsified oils containing key aromatic compounds (particles with red borders) and dark fragments of the coffee bean cell structure.

and goes on to explain why the color, bubble size and thickness of the crema are all indicators from which one can discern the quality of the coffee.

The complete article is an absolute joy, and, although I brew his coffee and use one of his machines, I am most thankful to Ernesto Illy for revealing the science behind my favorite daily drug.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Food and Drink, Science

Thank You Evolution!

By Mark Trodden | June 28, 2006 6:46 pm

This will be old news to some people, but when I was back in England last week they were showing Guinness television ads that were short parts of an older ad that I had never seen, but about which my parents were raving. Fortunately, all things are available online, and this one is well worth seeing.

The ad combines two things I hold dear; a perfectly pulled pint of Guinness, and the theory of evolution. As described on the Guinness web site:

It starts with three friends enjoying a GUINNESS® beer in their local pub. We then follow them on an extraordinary backwards journey. The three guys travel back through time, as they walk they seamlessly go back down the evolutionary chain. They turn into Neanderthals, then apes, mammals, prehistoric fish, small dinosaurs and strange mole like creatures before ending up as mudskippers somewhere near the dawn of time. They take a sip from a muddy puddle and react in disgust.

Brilliant!

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