The Tale of Tapioca

Tapioca Pudding by Dobrin Isabela, via Flickr

By Kate Prengaman

Here’s a question: What do tapioca pudding, bubble tea, Brazilian slash and burn agriculture, and subsistence farming in Africa have in common? The simple answer is in botanical latin: Manihot esculenta. Called manioc, cassava, mandioca, yuca, tapioca, and sago, people world-wide eat foods produced from the starchy tubers of the M. esculenta, a member of the botanically diverse Euphorbiaceae, which includes poinsettias. According to the UN, it’s the third most important food in the tropics, after rice and corn. However, it’s also poisonous- two cyanide compounds, linamarin and lotaustralin, require careful processing before the tubers can be eaten.  Continue reading


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…

Thanksgiving Science

My Dad, taking the turkey on one last flight around the kitchen

Happy thanksgiving everybody!  It’s my favorite holiday ever, because it’s a chance to celebrate food and family. We just eat, hang out, eat, hang out, eat, drink wine, and hang out. But, there’s also a lot of science to this celebration, so here are some highlights:

Does Turkey make us sleepy?  I’m sure that you’ve heard the claim that the tryptophan in Turkey is what makes you feel lethargic after the meal. Tryptophan is an amino acid that we have to eat, because our bodies can’t produce it, and it functions in the production of niacin, vitamin B3. Niacin plays a role in serotonin production, and serotonin helps us feel happy and relaxed.  However, do we feel happy and relaxed after Thanksgiving dinner from consuming all of that tryptophan? Continue reading

The Story of Soy

Edamame, or soybeans, Japanese style with salt, by Framboise, via flickr

By Kate Prengaman

Soy has become both famous as a health food and infamous as a health risk after it’s introduction to the western world as an alternative protein. Health claims include that soy protein products can help lower your cholesterol and prevent cancer. Soy supplements have been touted for menopausal women as estrogen supplement. On the other hand, that same estrogen in soy has been considered a serious risk, potentially making our children gay! (Just kidding, this claim has no scientific merit)  But what does the science really say about soy consumption and our health?  Continue reading

Enzymatic sex appeal

By Emily Eggleston






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

The Weekly Potluck: Nov 13th

Compiled by Kate Prengaman

Here’s some highlights of food science news out this week: We’ve got suspicious honey, pesticide rich fish, the McRib, hot peppers, and soy protien as cruel and unusual punishment.

Your honey might be cheating on you! An investigative report from Food Science News shows that a lot of mass market honey is not actually honey. Natural honey contains pollen from the flowers the bees visited, allowing researchers to identify where the honey was produced.  They found 76 percent of the grocery store honey had been ultra-filtered to remove the pollen.  This is dangerous because it means that the honey can not be traced to a producer or region.   Want another bite?

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!

Beer Drinking and the Science of Taste

Collection of Beer Coasters by Steven Burke

By Kate Prengaman

From a dark, malty stout to a bitter pale ale, there are a lot of flavors to taste in beer.  But, it can be hard to understand and appreciate these flavors unless you understand the science of how we taste.

“We tend to be somewhat oblivious,” Jon Roll said during a presentation at the first Wisconsin Science Festival in September.  A University of Wisconsin professor of Bacteriology, Roll teaches classes in beer brewing. By learning about taste, he said, “I became much more aware of things I was not aware of before. I had more appreciation of the differences.” thirsty for more?