Orange juice science

Reading ingredients in the quintessential American breakfast drink feels good. It’s simply “orange juice.” I get a mental picture of a factory smushing the tangy orange balls until nothing else drips out. Then it strains some or all of the pulp and bottles the bright, vitamin C-filled juice. Three steps. At least, that was the picture I had until I overheard a conversation on my plane ride back from Science Online last month. A woman from the orange juice industry was explaining something I never thought to wonder about.

“You know how oranges taste different at different times of year?” she asked her seat partner.

“Yes,” I thought. There’s nothing more disappointing than a tasteless, or worse, bitter, orange.

“Well, that makes orange juice taste different at different times of year too,” she said.

“That makes sense,” I thought. And then she came out with the zinger.

“Except that every bottle of orange juice you’ll ever buy at the store tastes exactly the same.” Read the juicy details…

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How “good” is garlic?

By Emily Eggleston

Tis the season of new year resolutions. Health supplements, gym memberships, and cross trainers are probably flying off the shelves as I type. Thus it is also the season to be wary of hype, particularly regarding dietary claims. This is the perfect opportunity to bring up my fragrant friend, garlic. There is a wide range of positive health claims associated with eating garlic. People have ventured that garlic might help with everything from controlling acne to fighting cancer. The laundry list of garlic health claims includes: suppressing tumor growth, promoting cardiovascular health, reducing LDL or “bad” cholesterol, and thinning blood. Many garlic advocates mention in one way or another that garlic has a very long history of culinary and medicinal use, seemingly justifying their health claims with the fact that garlic has been eaten for thousands of years. Some garlic promotion can get a bit, er, sensational. For instance one website suggests that garlic is “possibly the number one healing plant known to Man.” Here’s what a few scientists have to say about garlic:

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Nutmeg’s bright red secret

By Emily Eggleston

Nutmeg is the spice of holiday cheer. And it is one of the most beautiful ingredients in my kitchen.

Photo by Nikita Avvakumov

Slicing into a whole nutmeg reveals the rivers of dark brown winding across a light tan surface. And from that surface pours a watershed of flavor.

Until mid 19th century, the only producer of nutmeg was a small group of Indonesian islands, the Banda Islands. Then the British managed to transplant a few of the lucrative trees to well-suited colonial climates. One of their transplant locations was Granada which is now the second largest producer of nutmeg. Indonesia still reigns the world of nutmeg by supplying 75% of the market and Granada comes in next with 20%. Interestingly, the flag of Granada featured nutmeg for a short time (1967-1974) before they gained independence and crafted a new flag. Keep reading for the secret…

Multicultural smell test kicked pumpkin pie out

A slice of homemade Thanksgiving pumpkin pie s...

Image via Wikipedia

By Emily Eggleston

Hopefully you didn’t have a cold this Thanksgiving because a blocked nose means a bland meal. Taste is mostly smell. Without smell, we’re cast into a world limited to food texture, temperature, and minimal flavor differentiation.

The study of smells extends into ancient history, according Jayant Pinto, a nasal specialist (aka an MD in otolaryngology). In his 2011 publication on olfaction, he called smell the mediator of safety, nutrition, sensation of pleasure, and general well-being.

If you smelled one of the millions of pumpkins pies baking in the U.S. yesterday it may have conjured many associations. Family gatherings, Thanksgiving feasts of yore, cold weather, cozy desserts. For the Irish guest in attendance at my Thanksgiving dinner, the pumpkin pie tasted and smelled like nothing familiar. It was a new dessert to try.

Unbeknownst to me, pumpkin pie is not a universally recognized treat or scent. That was part of the challenge Richard Doty, Avron Marcus and W. William Lee ran into when they tried to craft a smell test that could be used all around the globe. Follow the scent…

Enzymatic sex appeal

By Emily Eggleston

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For the curious thinker, the slow apple eater, and the chemistry lover, the brownness of an apple is bound to pop up. I am here to reveal the sexy truth behind the discolored fruit. A bronzed beach bod and an over-aerated apple acquire darkness by producing the same pigment. Science communicators eat your heart out.

Since you were a small child, you’ve known apples turn brown in the open air. Even with a simple chemistry background, you might guess that oxidation is the culprit. And yes, oxygen plays a role, but let’s dig deeper. Read on to flesh out the truth

Artisanal sausage’s charged relationship

By Emily Eggleston

If there’s one thing a science education teaches you it’s that pH is crucial. The concentration of hydrogen ions has everything to do with, well, everything. So I wasn’t too surprised to find that pH is the star of the show in old world dry sausage techniques.

During an interview with Jeff Sindelar, assistant professor and meat extension specialist at University of Wisconsin – Madison, I was looking for a more explicit explanation of the science involved in artisanal meat curing. Turns out, it comes down to diffusing a very charged relationship between meat and moisture. To smoothly convince water to walk away, it’s important to understand two things: the chemical nature of water and the effect of pH. Ooo, tell me more!