Stories tagged food science


Let's form a transient cage-like entity around an ethanol molecule: I mean... a person. I think.
Let's form a transient cage-like entity around an ethanol molecule: I mean... a person. I think.Courtesy Urban Mixer
That's right, vodka is 103%. According. To. Me.

And today, on the birthday of Paul Gauguin, the inventor of vodka*, we learn that that extra 3% is composed largely of science. Possibly.

See, vodka is supposed to be a neutral spirit—pretty much just a tasteless 40% ethyl alcohol, 60% water solution. (Tasteless except for the taste of alcohol, which is very strong.) And yet, when you get to the age where going to a bar is an appropriate thing to do, you will see and hear gentlemen saying things like, "Grey Goose on the rocks!" And then they give the bartender an amount of money they probably worked half an hour or more to earn.


Three reasons:

1) Something about filtering. Whatever.

2) Some people are ridiculous. If you ever say something like, "Grey Goose on the rocks!" you're one of them. But that's ok, because it takes all kinds, you know?

3) Apparently there may be some science to their seemingly arbitrary brand loyalty, even though they may not be conscious of it.

In the 40/60 alcohol/water solution we call vodka, groups of molecules called "hydrates" form. Hydrates in vodka consist of a molecule of alcohol sequestered by a bunch of water molecules, bonded together with hydrogen. If the bottle of vodka were a club, say, the alcohol would be like an attractive individual, surrounded by damp gentlemen united by their taste for premium vodka. (Don't think about it too much—it's a dangerously recursive metaphor.)

Scientists carefully analyzed several different popular brands of vodka, and found that the concentration of hydrates differed in each. So a good vodka might be like a happening club, with lots of attractive people surrounded by fellas. Or maybe it'd be like a very exclusive club, with just a few foxy people being ground into sweaty embarrassment on a relatively lonely dance floor.

The scientists didn't go so far as to say what concentration of hydrates was best, only that different concentrations might lend to an individual's brand preference. Instead of actually tasting the difference, though, drinkers might "perceive" the concentration of hydrates through other qualities, like how "watery" the vodka feels (even though all the brands tested had the same concentration of water.)

So there may be something to the practice of ordering specific expensive brands of vodka, and then drinking them straight. That doesn’t mean you should do it, though.

*Not true. Paul Gauguin never invented vodka. He did die of syphilis, though. Happy birthday, Paul!


President Eisenhower: He doesn't disapprove of you chewing gum, but he doesn't like it.
President Eisenhower: He doesn't disapprove of you chewing gum, but he doesn't like it.
The “No Fun Initiative,” begun under the Eisenhower administration, has made tremendous strides in the last several decades. The removal of Lawn Darts from the American market, as well as the introduction of square dancing into elementary school physical fitness programs, are just two of the project’s major milestones. Bubble gum and standard chewing gum, however, have been consistently “sticky” points in the NFI’s agenda. Although certainly not “very fun,” chewing gum has always been classified as “kind of fun,” or at least “something to do.” While the NFI approves of people being occupied, there have traditionally been too many aspects of the gum-chewing lifestyle that are misaligned to the initiative’s aims, namely in respect to flavor, texture, and “bubbles.”

Perhaps heartened by the success of sugar-free chewing gums, the NFI has most recently turned its attention from gum flavor to gum texture. Unsurprisingly, British scientists (already well versed in not having fun) are the first to have made a significant breakthrough in fundamentally altering some of chewing gum’s enjoyable physical properties, and have just recently announced a “nonstick” gum.

The gum of tomorrow - today!: It's trying to stick to the ashtray, but it can't.  (photo by re-ality on
The gum of tomorrow - today!: It's trying to stick to the ashtray, but it can't. (photo by re-ality on
The idea behind the creation was to manufacture a gum that would not adhere to anything outside of the mouth. One assumes that the new gum will still be available in “stick” form, at least until a less interesting shape can be devised and market tested. Revolymer (the company behind new gum) states that the product can easily be removed from shoes, hair, clothing, and pavement, and has given it the very tidy and serviceable name of “Clean Gum.”

"The basis of our technology,” states a Revolymer scientist, “is to add an amphiphilic polymer to a modified chewing gum formulation which alters the interfacial properties of the discarded gum cuds, making them less adhesive to most common surfaces."

There you have it. The future is now slightly more okay.


Lobster: death by boiling. Courtesy sooz.
So you think that boiling lobsters alive to get to their meat it too inhumane? Whole Foods markets did to. So now they will only be selling lobster meat processed with the Avure 687L food processing machine. This giant gadget, essentially squeezes the lobster to death under huge water pressure, separating its meat from its shell. Crazy. Trevor Corson's description of the whole deal is quite interesting. Ahhhh, food science, it makes you hungry huh?

It's out there...

by Liza on Dec. 20th, 2006

In other ominous food safety news, a study just published in Pediatrics shows that just being near meat or poultry in the grocery store is a risk factor for Salmonella infections in infants. (And by now you probably know about the E. coli infections related to spinach and lettuce...)

Chocolate doesn't sell where cocoa grows--it's too hot, and the candy melts. But food scientists in Nigeria have just developed a chocolate with a higher melting temperature that looks, tastes, smells, and feels pretty close to milk chocolate.