The 2017 UCLA Science & Food public lecture series is here!
World-renowned chef Massimo Bottura, UCLA professor Jenny Jay, Zero Waste Consultant and “Waste Warrior” Amy Hammes will participate in a panel discussion moderated by Evan Kleiman on “Food waste: solutions informed by science,” hosted by Dr. Amy Rowat, Science and Food, and the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative. The discussion will focus on measuring the environmental effects of food waste, how policy influences food waste and its relationship to hunger and the environment.
General admission tickets are available for $25 from the UCLA Central Ticket Office (CTO) . Tickets can be purchased from the UCLA CTO over the phone or in person and will not include additional fees or surcharges. The UCLA CTO is located on-campus and is open Monday–Friday, 10am –4pm. A UCLA CTO representative can be reached during these hours at 310-825-2101. Tickets can also be purchased online from Ticketmaster for $25 plus additional fees. A limited number of $5 student tickets are available to current UCLA students. These must be purchased in person at the UCLA CTO with a valid Bruin Card.
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Interacting with food is an incredibly sensual experience. One might imagine the smell of an oven roast, or picture an oozing chocolate lava cake, maybe even hear the crunch of a stale baguette. But what happens when you lose your sense of smell and taste?
Anosmia is a disorder where one loses their ability to smell. There are various forms of this unfortunate disorder: Congenital anosmia is when someone is unable to smell at birth, and hyposmia describes the diminishing sense of smell that develops over time. Our senses of smell and taste are interdependent, so if you lose one of these senses, you lose the other one too.
In understanding anosmia, it is critical to first grasp the science of smell. Whenever we breathe air, particles pass through our nose and bind to the olfactory receptors beneath the cribriform plate. The “nerve cells come into direct contact with the air we breathe,”  connecting the nose with the brain through the cribriform plate, a structure that resembles a honeycomb. This cribriform plate is crucial to our sense of smell, and any harm done to the plate can in turn damage the neurons that pass through it . Some of the individuals who develop anosmia or hyposmia are either subject to injuries of the head, nasal polyps, inhaling toxic chemicals, or an upper respiratory infection (URI)–such as a cold– that damaged the receptor neurons. Swelling of the nasal tissue as a result of inflammation may “stretch the receptor cells and damage their ability to function properly” . This is one potential factor, but further research is being conducted to understand more about the causes of anosmia.
As expressed by Nisha Pradhan, a college student who developed anosmia, her inability to smell is perhaps even affecting her memory, as she cannot recall certain scents from her past . While memories engage with all senses, though primarily with sight, we underestimate the role that smell has in providing a context for us to categorize our everyday life experiences; most importantly though its relevance personal health. Not being able to smell freshly baked cookies is unfortunate, but the inability to detect rotting milk or smoke from a nearby fire is dangerous. While in some cases anosmia can worsen, it is not always a permanent condition and can subside with time as nasal congestion or other issues subside. Scientists are currently conducting research to develop potential treatments for anosmia. The Monell Center—which focuses specifically on research relating to taste and smell– is testing to see if olfactory stem cells can be used to synthesize new olfactory neurons. Olfactory receptor cells have the ability “to regenerate from specialized stem cells across a persons lifetime.” These stem cells would be derived from healthy individuals and then be transplanted into the patient .
Though it may slip the crevices of one’s mind, the nose is a vulnerable organ essential in constructing our everyday perceptions of life around us. It allows us to retrace memories, map the physical world around us, and most importantly preserve well-being. Heightening our gastronomic experiences, our ability to smell and taste food is a gateway to more meaningful sensory, social phenomena and life without them could only become incredibly bland.
The Duncan grapefruit has been described as “the finest, sweetest grapefruit” in the world, but after 187 years as the reigning champion of the American breakfast, the grapefruit inexplicably disappeared from grocery shelves. After only a few decades, it seems like the Duncan is making a comeback in Maitland, Florida.
Meanwhile, a conflict over the essences of sweeteners like Equal and Splenda brings chemistry into the courtrooms.
Guest post by Earlene Mulyawan
Winter season is when comfort food seems to take priority over fresh produce. But eating local during winter season is easy! There are plenty of produce that are rich in nutrients and flavor during this time of the year. Winter produce can also be just as tasty and nutritious with some creativity and a little twist. Read on to learn about how these three winter vegetables.
Beets are round, little balls of vegetables that grow underground. They taste a little like dirt too, but in a unique sweet and earthy way. What gives these rooty vegetables their earthy flavor and aroma is an organic compound called geosmin, which is produced by microbes in the soil. It is also the main contributor to the strong scent that occurs when rain falls after a dry weather.
Beets are an excellent source of betaine, a nutrient that has potential to help fight inflammation, improve vascular risk factors and enhance performance . As a group, the anti-inflammatory molecules found in beets may provide cardiovascular benefits as indicated by large-scale studies, as well as anti-inflammatory benefits for other body systems . There are many ways you can enjoy eating beets: Eat them raw, roasted, as a salad topping, or pickled!
Brussels sprouts, along with kale, cabbage, and broccoli, are members of the cruciferous family of vegetables. However, many scientists favor the term “brassica vegetables” over “cruciferous vegetables.” Brassica vegetables are unique because they are rich in sulfur-containing compounds called glucosinolates.
Our body converts glucosinolates to indoles and isothiocyanates. Epidemiological studies indicate that human exposure to isothiocyanates and indoles through cruciferous vegetable consumption may decrease cancer risk, but the protective effects may be influenced by individual genetic variation in the metabolism and elimination of isothiocyonates from the body . Furthermore, a cohort study shows the inverse associations between the consumption of brassica vegetables and risk of lung cancer, stomach cancer, and all cancers taken together.
Of the case-control studies, 64% showed an inverse association between consumption of one or more brassica vegetables and risk of cancer at various sites . One cup of brussels sprouts contains only 38 calories, and provides us with more than the daily-recommended intake of Vitamins C and K, 125% and 243% respectively. There’s no doubt that brussels sprouts offer plenty of health benefits. A simple way to prepare brussels sprouts is to simply toss them in olive oil and salt, roast them in the oven. When properly cooked, they should be bright green with a slightly crispy texture, and delicious!
The health benefits of bright and cheery citrus fruits can help make your day a little brighter, as well. Citrus fruits are rich in Vitamin C and flavonoids. Flavonoids are a class of polyphenols found in various fruits and vegetables. There are over 5,000 different flavonoids. Naringin and hesperidin are flavonoids unique to citrus fruits. Naringin and its aglycone naringenin belong to this series of flavonoids and were found to display strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities. Some studies even suggest that naringin supplementation is beneficial for the treatment of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and metabolic syndrome .
Hesperidin facilitates the formation of vitamin C complex, which supports healthy immune system functions. It is useful, along with naringin, as a potential treatment for preventing the progression of hypoglycemia . These refreshing citrus fruits may just turn your frown upside down!
: Craig, Stuart AS. “Betaine in human nutrition1,2.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. N.p., 01 Sept. 2004. Web. 07 Mar. 2017.
: Mercola, Dr. “Six Amazing Health Benefits of Eating Beets.” Mercola.com. N.p., 25 Jan. 2014. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.
: Higdon, Jane V., Barbara Delage, David E. Williams, and Roderick H. Dashwood. “Cruciferous Vegetables and Human Cancer Risk: Epidemiologic Evidence and Mechanistic Basis.” Pharmacological research: the official journal of the Italian Pharmacological Society. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Mar. 2007. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.
: G van Poppel, and D T Verhoeven , H Verhagen , R A Goldbohm. “Brassica Vegetables and Cancer Prevention. Epidemiology and Mechanisms – Journals – NCBI.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1999. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.
: Alam, M. Ashraful, Nusrat Subhan, M. Mahbubur Rahman, Shaikh J. Uddin, and And Hasan M. Reza. “M. Ashraful Alam.” Advances in Nutrition: An International Review Journal. N.p., 01 July 2014. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.
: John, Aubri. “What Is Hesperidin (Vitamin P)?” LIVESTRONG.COM. Leaf Group, 16 Aug. 2013. Web. 07 Mar. 2017.
Researchers at UCSF have elucidated the structure of the receptor that makes our sensory nerves tingle when we eat wasabi.
As this receptor is important in our perception of pain, knowing its shape should help in the development of new pain medications. A company called Thinfilm, developed very thin, electronic label that tracks vital information about certain foods at each stage of the supply chain. This way, foods like sashimi salmon can have its temperature monitored from the warehouse to the grocery store, supplying information the consumer can use to decide whether to buy it.
The label offers a more accurate expiration date which could help decrease food waste and the number of cases of food-borne illnesses.
Dining out or shopping in a grocery store are seemingly straightforward: as the consumer, you make your selection and exchange money for goods. These interactions are based on an implicit trust that you get what you paid for. However, in recent years consumers have begun to demand more transparency with reports of mislabeled seafood at retailers and restaurants being greater than 70% in some instances .
Seafood is one of the most traded food items in the world, with approximately 4.5 billion people consuming fish as at least 15% of their source of animal protein . The U.S. is the second largest consumer of seafood in the world behind China and with the recent health recommendations from the American Heart Association elucidating the benefits of fish consumption, sales of this commodity have reached an all-time high . Increased awareness of the environmental burdens of the meat industry have further contributed to this move towards more seafood proteins . The opportunities for seafood mislabeling have consequently increased.
A recent study performed by the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UCLA sampled from 26 sushi restaurants in Los Angeles from 2012-2015. Led by Demian A, Willette and Sara E. Simmonds, this study found that a whopping 47% of samples were mislabeled. Similarly, From 2010-2012, Oceana, the world’s largest international ocean conservation organization, conducted a study investigating the prevalence of seafood fraud on a nationwide level. They collected 1,200 samples from 674 restaurants and markets in 21 different states and found that 33% of the samples were mislabeled. Figure 1 depicts a map generated from this study and the respective amount of mislabeling for each state sampled .
The types of substitution vary, often substituting cheaper fish such as tilapia for more expensive fish such as grouper, cod, and snapper . Among the different types of fish sampled in UCLA’s four-year study, it was found that all sushi fish types, except Bluefin, tuna were mislabeled at least once. Halibut and red snapper samples were mislabeled 100% of the time .
UCLA and Oceana’s studies relied on DNA barcoding technology to elucidate the true identity of the sushi samples. DNA is the genetic blueprint of life, with each organism having its own unique genetic code that can be used in its identification. A DNA barcode is a specific DNA sequence within the genome that is used to identify a species. The sequence chosen is one that is conserved throughout species generations but contains detectable levels of variation between species to serve as a species identifier . The specific sequence used was a fragment of the cytochrome c oxidase I (COI) mitochondrial gene that enables species to be identified without relying on any morphological indicators such as color or shape .
The basic process of DNA barcoding is outlined in Figure 2. First, a sample of the fish, which is approximately the size of an eraser on the end of a graphite pencil. Next, the DNA is extracted. This is achieved by the addition of buffers that both aid in breaking the cell membrane (which allows for the release of DNA) and denaturing the DNA , which involves the unfolding of its double-stranded helix structure and separation into two single strands, exposing the base pairs and making them available for replication.
Now that the fish DNA is isolated, the COI gene must be replicated enough times to in order to be sequenced, as well as visualized on a gel. This process is called polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification. This is accomplished using primers, or small strands of DNA that are recognized by DNA polymerase, the enzyme responsible for DNA replication. The primers used are called “degenerate primers,”  because they have flexibility in several base positions , DNA polymerase is used to extend the primers and replicate the DNA, effectively amplifying the amount of COI gene present in the sample .
A gel electrophoresis is then performed on the sample and a UV transilluminator allows visualization of the DNA banding patterns in each sample. The samples are then sent to a specialized sequencing facility that utilizes the PCR products with a reverse sequencing primer and compares the produced DNA sequences using an algorithm called Basic Local Alignment Search Tool (BLAST) that compares the samples to an established sequence database.
This produces a numerical value called the “E-value” that serves as an indicator of homology and is used in conjunction with the result of gel electrophoresis in the identification of each sample’s species . Figure 4 contains an image featuring the DNA barcodes of different species of fish. Each DNA base (C, T, G, or A) is designated by a specific colored bar, which are lined up in sequence and produce a specific barcode. Therefore, color variation indicates which bases differ amongst the species shown .
Besides the inherent dishonesty, there are many other negative effects of seafood mislabeling. Ocean conservation programs rely on accurate labeling in their calculations and recommendations, which can be skewed with inaccurate accounts of what species are being caught and sold .
Additionally, honest fisherman and businesses suffer as their correctly labeled fish are unable to compete with the low prices of mislabeled fish. Consumer health is also another issue. For example, white tuna was substituted with escolar 84% of the time, which is linked to serious digestive problems and consequently is banned in Italy and Japan . Mislabeling of pufferfish as monkfish has led to temporary neurological damage in some consumers in 2007 and a monkfish recall. Substitution among tuna species also led to elevated mercury levels in canned light tuna, which is usually recommended as a safer canned tuna for children and pregnant women .
How can DNA barcoding change the future of seafood mislabeling and the seafood industry? Although 90% of seafood in the U.S. is imported, only 1% is inspected for fraud . If DNA barcoding is used as a regulatory measure, it has the ability to strengthen traceability and therefore liability.
Currently, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly where in the food chain the mislabeling occurs, whether it is at the restaurant, retailers, or even earlier in the supply chain . By enforcing existing policies through inspectors, retailers, easy-to-use DNA barcoding kits, and a sense of accountability throughout the seafood supply chain, we can use science to move towards a resolution towards these fishy mislabeling practices.
About the author: Ashton Yoon received her B.S. in Environmental Science at UCLA and is currently pursuing a graduate degree in food science. Her favorite pastime is experimenting in the kitchen with new recipes and cooking techniques.
“Given humankind’s long history of struggling to find food, it makes sense that people are highly motivated to hunt it down, and that we experience intense pleasure when we finally eat it.”
According to Lauri Nummenmaa, a neuroscientist at Aalto University in Finland, this evolutionary drive to secure food could also mean that fatty foods affect our neuronal activity. Researchers found a weight-dependent pattern in the opioid receptors of healthy weight versus morbidly obese women.
If you have burgers on the brain, take some time to wonder: Will alternatives to meat ever become mainstream?
How obsessed with spicy are you? Ecologist Joshua Tewksbury from the University of Washington is willing to travel thousands of miles to Amboró National Park in central Bolivia just to answer one burning question: Why are chilies spicy? For those who prefer a different kind of spicy, a study in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry can shed light on why turmeric is a better spice than a home remedy.
Guest post by Earlene Mulyawan
Whether it is adding chili flakes to top off your pizza, Tabasco to your omelet, chili oil to your ramen, there’s no doubt adding these condiments can add flavor intensity to all our dishes. Interestingly, the burning sensation is actually not a taste, since the sensation does not arise from taste buds. Capsaicin stimulates nerves that respond only to mild increases in temperature, the ones that give the sensation of moderate warmth . Capsaicin sends two messages to the brain – intense stimulus and warmth. The burning sensation you feel when eating spicy food is due to the combination of these two messages.
What is the science behind all this magic? The answer to that is a supernatural compound capsaicin (or 8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide). Capsaicin is a common pungent molecule. It is found in capsicum fruits that are used in a variety of cuisines.
Pure capsaicin is colorless, odorless, and crystalline-to-waxy solid at room temperature. The Scoville Heat Scale for pure capsaicin is about 16,000,000 SHU (Scoville Heat Units). SHU is a measurement of pungency. Ghost pepper is approximately 1,000,000 SHU; cayenne is approximately 40,000 SHU. Capsaicin is a hydrophobic molecule, meaning that it preferentially partitions into fatty environments. When consumed, capsaicin binds with pain receptors in the mouth and throat, which are normally responsible for sensing heat . The taste buds on our tongue contain taste receptors. Taste buds sense tastants (taste molecules) and send the information from the tastants to the brain, where the molecule is processed as a certain taste. There are five main tastes: bitter, salty, sweet, sour and umami (savory) . “Spicy” or “hot” is not sensed by our taste buds; instead, they are sensed by pain receptors, which are also found in the tongue. These receptors send pain signals via our nerve fibers to the brain, where it is perceived as a sensation of pain and heat.
But how does capsaicin give us the sensation of “tongue on fire”? Capsaicin is the active component of chili peppers that produces a burning sensation in any tissue it comes in contact with. How does this signal get conveyed? There are three classes of nerve fiber in our central and peripheral nervous system – the ‘C’ type of nerve fiber are the ones that are stimulated by capsaicin – specifically the molecule binds to the vanilloid receptors (VR-1, TRPV1) on the nerve endings of the C-fibers. These receptors are ligand-gated ion channels that are closed in the absence of capsaicin. When they are stimulated by capsaicin, they open and allow an influx of sodium and calcium ions, which initiate an action potential across the fibers. This action potential is what allows us to feel the burn. Normally, physical heat stimulates these receptors. However, capsaicin can also interact with these receptors and activate proteins that cause the same signal to be transmitted to the brain into thinking that it is being burned.
How often we consume spicy food can affect the sensitivity of these receptors. If you consume them too frequently you can essentially “kill” your receptors. This is one of the factors that contribute to different people having a different spice tolerance level. The other factor is genetics. Our vanilloid receptors can be mutated such that they are less susceptible to capsaicin. Thus, it can be implied that we can inherit our tolerance for spices and also why different cultures and genetic populations can have different spice tolerances.
Although chili can add some flavor and magic to our dishes, it can also be unpleasant and painful for some people who are not used to it. When chili becomes too hot or too painful to handle, dairy products can come to your rescue. Understanding the physical properties of capsaicin can help to explain why milk can help rescue you from the fire on your tongue.
Capsaicin has a long hydrophobic tail, which allows it bind with high affinity to protein receptors on the tongue, which have hydrocarbon side chains of their own. This fatty tail of capsaicin also allows the molecule to diffuse through cell membranes, making the burn more pervasive and persistent. While water may offer a temporary relief, it is not entirely effective because capsaicin oil and water do not mix. In fact, water will actually spread the capsaicin oil instead of soothing the burn. By contrast, milk contains proteins and fat globules that the capsaicin can partition into. For example, casein is a milk protein that has a higher affinity to capsaicin and can compete with our lipoprotein receptors, surrounding capsaicin molecules and relieving the burn.
: Ann M. Bode and Zigang Dong. “The Two Faces of Capsaicin.” 15 April 2011.
: Ann M. Bode and Zigang Dong. “The Two Faces of Capsaicin.” 15 April 2011.
Guest post by Nessa Riazi
When thinking of an airy, sugary meringue, baked Alaska or pavlova may be the first words to come to mind, but smog? Not quite.
You may have heard of the term terroir which explores changes in flavors based on differences in geographical locale, but aeroir is a rather new phenomenon. How can one possibly explore the tastes of air– or rather air pollution? At the Center for Genomic Gastronomy, food scientist Nicola Twilley whipped up a simple solution for this fascinating question. Why not make smog-flavored meringues! Upon reading Harold McGee’s bible of food science– On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen– co-founder of the Center for Genomic Gastronomy, Zach Denfeld discovered that meringue foam is 90% air. Thus, emerged the ingenious idea of “harvesting” the air quality of various cities. In a quasi-sensory explosion for your taste buds, but more so a commentary on the politics behind urban pollution, Twilley and fellow scientists “harvested” air once the egg-white foam reached the ‘stiff peak’ stage.
The meringues were whipped up in various locations such as on rooftops, roadsides, and waterways.
In the process of recreating smog conditions, scientists injected calculated amounts of precursor chemicals into a Teflon smog chamber, where UV light was shone to catalyze the chemical reactions that form smog. As each city contains unique precursor emissions, varying in weather conditions from temperature and humidity to precipitation, each geographical region thus has a uniquely flavored meringue. For instance, in recreating the smog of an agricultural setting, students combined “ammonia and amines from feedlot manure lagoons and other organic waste…[mono-nitrogen oxides] NOx and incompletely combusted hydrocarbon emissions from cars, power plants, and industry…”  Harold McGee describes how these chambers were constructed to replicate air pollution around the globe, drawing chemicals emitted from tailpipes, smokestacks, and feedlots . Variations of smog can thus be created with the help of ultraviolet lights.
As scientists create meringues for various cities around the globe, we can better understand the how air quality and pollution can affect the flavor of foods we eat. The atmosphere in Atlanta is one of the worst air qualities, running alongside that of Los Angeles . Ten percent of emissions consist of terpenes–which are chemicals that stem from organic matter, whether that be pine trees or green matter that is decaying .
In addition to these fascinating studies, the Center for Genomic Gastronomy also publishes the journal, Food Phreaking, which explores up and coming experiments within food science and examines the places where food, culture, and technology intersect. As technology becomes progressively more intertwined with everyday life, our experiences with food can reach new and fascinating heights. Could tasting the cloudiness and mugginess of a smog meringue be the recipe for combatting air pollution?
 Smog Tasting: Four Years of Tasting Unexpected Ingredients. The Center for Genomic Gastronomy with Nicola Twilley. The Forager Magazine.http://www.theforagermagazine.com/4/7
 McGee, Harold. The Flavor of Smog. Lucky Peach Magazine. http://luckypeach.com/the-flavor-of-smog/
 Twilley, Nicola. Smog Meringues. Edible Geography: Thinking Through Food. http://www.ediblegeography.com/smog-meringues/ 30 May 2015.