ISSpresso & Outredgeous


Italy’s favorite coffee, Lavazza, and Italian aerospace firm, Argotec, came together to manufacture an espresso machine suitable for space flight; astronauts can finally enjoy decent coffee while in orbit. Also now available in space? Fresh red romaine lettuce, dubbed “Outredgeous”, grown and consumed in space, and apparently tastes kind of like arugula.
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Kent Kirshenbaum

Dr. Kent Kirshenbaum received his PhD in Pharmaceutical Chemistry at UCSF, is an NSF Career Award recipient, and is currently a professor of Chemistry at NYU. His research focuses on the creation of new peptide-based macromolecules that can be used as research tools or therapeutic strategies. In 2012, he filed a patent for a foaming agent which acts as a vegan substitute for egg whites, making vegan meringues a delicious possibility.

See Kent Kirshenbaum March 8, 2016 at “The Impact of What We Eat: From Science & Technology, To Eating Local”

Kent Kirshenbaum

What hooked you on cooking?
Spending time with my mom got me hooked on cooking. She exemplified the “slow food” concept, and she’d take days to make a pasta sauce. I grew up in a drafty house in San Francisco that was cold all year around, and being near her at the stove was the warmest place to be. Once my wife and I had kids, I realized how satisfying it was for me to provide my family with sustenance through cooking and culture through cuisine.
My dad got me hooked on science. He studied metallurgy and worked for a mining company. He would go on business trips and bring me back samples of different minerals to play with. It was kind of like the situation described in the book “Uncle Tungsten” by Oliver Sachs.
The coolest example of science in your food?
Mayonnaise. You take two immiscible liquids – oil and water, and find a way to get them to mix. How do they do that?? Add an emulsifier, provide some energy and voila! It’s just a shame the product itself is so repugnant.
The food you find most fascinating?
Fermented butters. Such as smen, the fermented butter of North Africa and “bog butter” from the British Isles.
What scientific concept–food related or otherwise–do you find most fascinating?
I’m fascinated by the relationship between the sequence, structure and function of proteins.
In the kitchen, transglutaminase — also known as meat glue — is a compelling example of enzymology. Nixtamilization is an amazing concept, and the word “nixtamilization” itself is like a really short poem.
Your best example of a food that is better because of science?
Either Pop Rocks or the clean water that comes out of my home faucet. Although I’m not sure either of them really qualify as a foodstuff.
We love comparing the gluten in bread to a network of springs. Are there any analogies you like to use to explain difficult or counter-intuitive food science concepts?
When explaining specificity in the sensory perception of food, I use the “lock in key” analogy to describe how ligands engage protein receptors. Although the analogy is imperfect, it begins to get the idea across.
How does your scientific knowledge or training impact the way you cook? Do you conduct science experiments in the kitchen?
Because I am trained as a chemist, I am fastidious about following a published protocol (recipe) and I tend to be absurdly precise about volumes. I love experimenting with food – we filed a patent application on new way to make vegan meringues. But when it comes to cooking at home I tend to be a traditionalist.
One kitchen tool you could not live without?
My home water carbonation system. I love sparkling water that I can generate from the New York City public water supply and doesn’t need to be shipped from a European spring.
Five things most likely to be found in your fridge?
Harissa, capers, preserved sour cherries, home-made stock and parmesan cheese. I get anxious if my supply of Reggiano is running low.
Your all-time favorite ingredient? Favorite cookbook?
I’m a spice guy. Right now I’m fixated on sumac and cardamom. My favorite cookbooks is “Where Flavor Was Born” by Andreas Viestad which explores how spices are used across the region of the Indian Ocean. It inspired me to visit a cardamom plantation in Kerala, India.
Other favorites include “In Nonna’s Kitchen” and “Cucina Ebraica”, because these books connect me to the memories of my mother and her mother.
Your standard breakfast?
A cup of black coffee and a baked good that I enjoy on my walk from home to my lab. New Yorkers have a bad habit of walking and eating. On the weekends, bagels and smoked salmon. No doughnuts. Never a doughnut. Maybe a beignet. But only in New Orleans.

Science & Food UCLA 2016 Public Lecture Series


The 2016 UCLA Science & Food public lecture series is here!

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.


The Impact of What We Eat: From Science & Technology, to Eating Local
Chef Daniel Patterson, Dr. Paul B. Thompson, & Dr. Kent Kirshenbaum

Tuesday, March 8, 2016 at 7:00pm
Schoenberg Hall, UCLA



Microbes: From Your Food to Your Brain
Sandor Katz, Dr. Rachel Dutton, & Dr. Elaine Hsiao

Wednesday, May 11, 2016 at 7:00pm
Schoenberg Hall, UCLA



Curbing Carbon Emissions in Dining: A Conversation with Zero Foodprint
Chris Ying, Peter Freed, & Chef Anthony Myint

Thursday, May 19, 2016 at 7:00pm
Schoenberg Hall, UCLA

The Future of Food: The History of and Recent Advancement in Space Food


A typical meal in space in the eighties. Photo credit: NASA (UC Science Today)

When most of us think of space food, what comes to mind are probably those silver packets of freeze-dried ice cream you find in science center gift shops. Surprisingly, freeze-dried ice cream only made it to space once, on the Apollo 7 mission in 1968 [1]. Although at one time this may have resembled what astronauts actually ate in space, the development of space food has advanced light years since then (pun intended).


Food cubes and tubes from early Project Mercury (1953-63). Photo credit: NASA (

Space flights initially lasted mere minutes and were not long enough to necessitate consumption of a meal. However, as flight duration began to increase, scientists began to develop snacks for in-flight consumption. During NASA’s Project Mercury (1958-63), astronauts began to test what the physiology of eating, or how chewing, drinking, and swallowing function in space. The food was largely unappealing, mainly consisting of dehydrated cubes of solid food and semi-liquid mixtures in aluminum tubes. Technology improved when freeze-drying was introduced during Project Gemini (1961-66). Freeze-drying produced better taste, color, and texture, as well as maintained the integrity of food shape. To rehydrate the food, water guns were used to inject water into the freeze-dried packets [2].

The process of freeze-drying capitalizes on the chemical principle called “sublimation,” the phase shift from a solid to a gas, bypassing the liquid stage; as shown in the diagram below, this is achieved by specific ranges of pressure and temperature, depending on the substance [3]. Space food developers utilized this principle to turn the water in freeze-dried foods into vapor [2]. The freeze-drying process occurs in three stages: freezing, primary drying, and secondary drying. In the freezing stage, the product is cooled to below its eutectic point, or the lowest temperature at which the solid and liquid phase can coexist. In the primary drying phase, the pressure is lowered and just enough heat is applied to cause sublimation. The secondary drying phase removes any unfrozen water molecules [3].


Diagram of water phase behavior. Photo credit: Soham Shukla (IJPSR)

With the application of freeze-drying, space food development rapidly advanced. Hot water for rehydration and improved packaging both immensely improved the taste and efficiency of meals during Project Apollo (1969-72). Menus continued to grow and conveniences such as food warmers and dining tables further improved the gastronomic experience on flights during the Skylab and Space Shuttle programs (1973-79, 1981-2011) [2]. Today, the majority of what astronauts eat looks a great deal like what we eat here on Earth. Food and drinks are commonly powdered or freeze-dried, which simply requires the addition of water. Thermostabilizing is another common technique, which results in food or beverage products in pouches. Prior to every mission, astronauts attend a “tasting” of sorts where they select their meals and create their own personalized menu [1].

There are certain challenges that arise in space that must be overcome in space food. Food must be compact and lightweight as it currently costs a whopping $10,000 per pound to send food into space [4]. Packaging must efficiently deliver food without risk of spillage. Stray crumbs or liquids can float into equipment and cause massive damage, or be inhaled by astronauts [2]. Nutrition and preservation are also key factors as food must be able to keep for long periods of time while maintaining nutritional value. The diagram below shows how rapidly the numbers of acceptable thermostabilized foods decline within 5 years. All types of thermostabilized food products were analyzed, including vegetables, starches, fruits, desserts, and meats. The level of acceptability was determined by flavor as well as analysis of chemical reactions detected by colorimeter readings. Some products retain acceptability for a longer period than others. For example, meat was acceptable for 3 years or longer while some vegetables only lasted 1 year.

On long-duration flights, the nutritional value of foods is lost due to the oxidation of vitamins and fatty acids during long-term storage and radiation exposure [5]. This is of particular concern on lengthy missions, where bone density and vision can be negatively affected if the diet does not contain proper amounts of vitamin D and folate [6].


‘Shelf life’ of thermostabilized space foods. Photo credit: Cooper, Douglas, and Perchonok (Journal of Food Science)

Another problematic area involves the astronauts eating experience. In space, taste buds react differently and flavors are muted and more bland, almost like when you have a cold and cannot taste as vividly [7]. On early missions when space food was in its infancy, it was common for astronauts to lose their desire to eat, as the food was bland and difficult to prepare. Many ended up losing body weight, which in turn affected crew performance and the overall success of the missions [8]. Also very importantly, good quality food is linked to the well-being of astronauts. Dealing with homesickness, demanding physical missions, and an unknown environment all take a toll on the crew’s mental health. Providing tasty and familiar foods can improve quality of life on board [6].


Space “cheeseburger.” Photo credit: Terry Virts (Serious Eats)

The next step for space food? Mars. Food scientists are currently working to discover how to feed astronauts on a mission that would have a minimum 2.5 year duration (6 months to Mars, 18 month surface mission, and 6 month return journey to Earth). This will likely require that a portion of food be grown during the surface mission [9]. In August 2015, the first-ever crop grown in space, red lettuce, was ready for tasting! The lettuce was grown in the VEGGIE plant growth system on the International Space Station, a system composed of rooting “pillows” and LED light as solar replacement [10]. Will we eventually be able to grow foods and develop a safe and functional food system on Mars’ surface? With companies such as NASA and Elon Musk’s SpaceX looking to Mars as the next location for human tourism and eventual colonization [4], growing food in space will incontrovertibly become a requirement in the future.


Red romaine lettuce grown on the International Space Station. Photo credit: NASA (

References Cited

  1. Billock, J. “The Dark Side of the Spoon: What Astronauts Eat in Space.” Serious Eats. Serious Eats, 18 June 2015. Web. 19 January 2016.
  2. Casaburri, A.A., Gardner, C.A. “Space Food and Nutrition.” Educator’s Guide. NASA. Washington, D.C. 1999. Print.
  3. Shukla, S. Freeze Drying Process: A Review. International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Research, 2011; 12: 3061-68.
  4. Evans, J. Space Farming. C&I Agriculture, 2015; 10: 20-23.
  5. Zwart, S.R., Kloeris, V.L., Perchonok, M., Braby, L., Smith, S.M. Assessment of Nutrient Stability in Foods from the Space Food System After Long-Duration Spaceflight on the ISS. Journal of Food Science, 2009; 74: 209-17.
  6. Martin, B. “Unpack a Meal of Astronaut Space Food.” Smithsonian Magazine June 2013: Print.
  7. “Taste in Space.” NASA. NASA, 6 February 2015. Web. February 15 2016.
  8. Cooper, M.m Douglas, G., Perchonok, M. Developing the NASA Food System for Long-Duration Missions. Journal of Food Science, 2011; 76: 40-8.
  9. Lane, H.W., Bourland, C., Barrett, A., Heer, M., Smith, S.M. The Role of Nutritional Research in the Success of Human Space Flight. Advances in Nutrition, 2013; 4: 521-23.
  10. “Meals Ready to Eat: Expedition 44 Crew Members Sample Leafy Greens Grown on Space Station.” NASA. NASA, 7 August 2015. Web. 5 February 2016.

Ashton YoonAbout 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.

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Pulse Trend & Lentil Geology


The UN has declared 2016 as the year of pulses and chef Michael Smith has stated that pulses will be the food trend this year. However, many North Americans, as traditional meat lovers, may not be familiar with pulses, which are grain legumes such as kidney beans, mung beans, and chickpeas. As part of an effort to raise pulse popularity, Carol Henry from the University of Saskatchewan is researching their many benefits, including their ability to lower cholesterol. Over at McGill University, researchers used dry lentils, another edible pulse, to study the formation and deformation of a geological phenomenon found in glacier beds, landslide bases, and gougey faults.
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The International Year of Pulses


Photo credits: (flickr/Jessica Spengler)

The 68th United Nations General Assembly has declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses. [1] Pulses – that throbbing sensation of your carotid artery after a workout or during a first date, right? Nope. The UN suggests we celebrate the pulses that are leguminous crops harvested solely for their dry seeds. All lentils, and all varieties of dried beans, such as kidney beans, lima beans, butter beans and broad beans are pulses, as are chick peas, cowpeas, black-eyed peas and pigeon peas. Seeds that are harvested green, like green peas or green beans are classified as vegetable crops, not pulses. Legumes used primarily for oil extraction, like soybeans, are also not pulses. [2]

Why are pulses getting a year-long, world-wide campaign?

A global push for pulse production would address many problems of our global food system. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’s campaign highlights these key benefits to pulse cultivation [1]:

  • Pulses are highly nutritious – they are excellent plant source of protein, and contain the B vitamins that our bodies require to convert food to energy
  • Pulses are economically accessible and contribute to food security at all levels – from farmers to consumers
  • Pulses foster sustainable agriculture, thus addressing agriculture’s role in climate change
  • Pulses promote biodiversity in agriculture


Now that we know the basics of pulses and why they’re important, let’s get scientific.


Photo credits: (flickr/Kelly Garbato)

Pulses in the nitrogen cycle

Pulses are legumes, or plants in the family Leguminosae. Thanks to their symbiosis with many members of the diazotrophic, or nitrogen-fixing bacterial genus Rhizobium that live in their roots and feed them with nitrogen from the air, pulses have a particularly high protein content compared to non-legumes. [3] Within the bacterium, atmospheric nitrogen (N2), which is typically unusable to plants, is converted to ammonium (NH4+) via the activity of the enzyme nitrogenase. The nitrogen of ammonium is converted to other more complex compounds that are beneficial to humans, like amino acids – the building blocks of protein. In exchange for fixing nitrogen, the bacterium receives food from the plant — carbon in the form of glucose (C6H12O6).


This remarkable bacterial symbiosis also enriches the soil in which pulses grow with nitrogen compounds like nitrite (NO2) and nitrate (NO3), which is the preferred nitrogen source for other green plants. For this reason, farmers who crop-rotate with legumes don’t need to apply nearly as much fertilizer as farmers who don’t. [3]

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Pulses in a changing climate

Many pulses are also hardy and drought tolerant crops – lentils, broad beans, peas, and chick peas are all native to the Fertile Crescent of the Near East, and have adapted to sprout quickly and reproduce in the rainy season before the hot, dry summer [3].

Anatomy of the pulse

All food seeds consist of three basic parts: an outer protective coat, the small embryonic portion that develops into the mature plant, and the storage tissue that feeds the plant embryo. [3]The bulk of the seed consists of storage cells are filled with particles of concentrated protein and granules of starch, or organized masses of starch chains.

Cooking and starch retrogradation

When we cook pulses, hot water permeates the starch granules. As the water molecules work themselves between the starch chains, the granules swell and soften. When the pulses later cool down, the starch chains bond to each other again in tighter, more organized associations, resulting in firmer granules. (This process is called retrogradation.) [3] Consider leftover lentils or beans: they’re always harder and drier the next day, and they never get quite as soft as when they were first cooked. This is because during the process of retrogradation, some starch molecules form granules that are even more tightly associated than the bonds in the original starch granule. They form small crystalline regions that resist breaking even at boiling temperatures. [3]

Retrogradation of starch might foil your plans for leftover lentils, but it does do our bodies good: Our digestive enzymes cannot easily digest retrograded starch, so eating it results in a more gradual rise in blood sugar compared to the effects of non-retrograded starch. [3] Our intestines need help breaking down this tough starch, and the beneficial bacteria in our large intestines are happy to be of assistance. Just as the diazotrophic bacteria in soil work in harmony with leguminous plants, our intestinal bacteria digests what we cannot. Thus the retrograded starch functions as a prebiotics, or food for the probiotic bacteria in our guts. Well-fed gut bacteria make for healthy digestive tracks and happy bowels.

Will this pulse promotion save the world and fix the global food economy? Perhaps. We can all do our part by making a hearty spinach dal for dinner tonight, and sweet red bean paste for dessert.


Works Cited

  1. “”Save and Grow in Practice” Highlights Importance of Pulses in Crop Rotations and Intercropping.” Pulses – 2016 | 2016 International Year of Pulses. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2016.
  2. “What Are Pulses? | FAO.” What Are Pulses? | FAO. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 15 Oct. 2015. Web. 05 Feb. 2016.
  3. McGee, Harold. “Seeds.” On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. New York: Scribner, 2004. N. pag. Print.

Elsbeth SitesAbout the author: Elsbeth Sites received her B.S. in Biology at UCLA. Her addiction to the Food Network has developed into a love of learning about the science behind food.

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Black Sesame Seeds on Heavy Metal Cleanup

Black sesame seeds: more than just a tasty garnish on sushi rolls and rice. Photo credit: Arnold Gatilao (arndog/Flickr)

Black sesame seeds: more than just a tasty garnish on rice. Photo credit: Arnold Gatilao (arndog/Flickr)

Heavy metals, such as cadmium, lead, and mercury, leach into our food supply through the air and water; these undesirable additives come from industrial processes such as mining, smelting, battery manufacture, electroplating, and pesticide production. Cadmium and lead are the chief contaminants of rice, wheat, and foods containing these cereals [1]. Mercury is often found in seafood, but cadmium and lead can also be present in smaller amounts [2]. Even trace amounts of these heavy metals can be extremely toxic to human health, since they have extremely long biological half-lives, or time required for half the absorbed metals to leave the body: 10 years for cadmium [3], 30 days for lead [4], and 60 days for mercury [5]. Thus, there is an increased risk of chronic poisoning due to heavy metal accumulation in tissues and organs, which can lead to impairment of the immune and central nervous system [6].

Current protective measures against dietary exposure to heavy metals involve chelating agents, which are compounds that can bind to metal ions. Chelating agents include cereal fibers from wheat, rice, and oat bran, as well as polyglutamic acid, which is the main constituent of nattō, Japanese fermented soybeans [7]. Although edible, the efficacy of these particular chelating agents has so far only been evaluated for removing heavy metals from water and soil.

What about the heavy metals we’ve already ingested? In a collaboration among researchers in Italy and Austria, ground black sesame seeds (Sesamum indicum L.) were shown to effectively bind to cadmium, lead, and mercury under simulated physiological conditions.

A major challenge in using chelating agents is that they also bind to many essential ions in the body, such as calcium (Ca2+), zinc (Zn2+), and iron (Fe2+); this can result in deficiencies, which can have negative health effects. Unlike other chelating agents used for heavy metal detoxification, which cannot differentiate between essential metal ions and toxic heavy metal ions (cadmium (Cd2+), lead (Pb2+), and mercury (Hg2+)), black sesame seeds exhibited selectivity towards the heavy metals. In mixtures that contain heavy metals plus essential metal ions, the ground black sesame seeds bound to far more heavy metals than essential metals. Interestingly, low levels of iron increased the amount of cadmium and lead bound to the sesame seeds. While other chelating agents, such as thiamine and becozinc, risk deficiencies in essential metals [8], the preference of black sesame seeds to bind to toxic heavy metals make it a favorable dietary supplement for heavy metal detoxification.

The ability of black sesame seeds to bind to toxic heavy metals may be attributed to lignans, a type of phytochemical commonly found in plants and a major component of sesame seeds. To determine how the heavy metals were binding to the ground black sesame seeds, the study compared the binding abilities of ground black sesame seeds against model phytochemicals, caffeic acid, ferulic acid, and coniferyl acid, which represented sesame seed lignans after digestion in the stomach. Of the three model pigments, caffeic acid was observed to remove the most heavy metals, suggesting that digested sesame seed lignans may have a similar chemical structure to caffeic acid.

Lignans in black sesame seeds are responsible for heavy metal binding. Left: Model pigments representing digested lignans were compared to ground black sesame seeds (BSP) for heavy metal removal. Right: Caffeic acid and the suggested binding sites for cadmum (Cd2+), lead (Pb2+), and mercury (Hg2+)

Lignans in black sesame seeds are responsible for heavy metal binding. Left: Model pigments representing digested lignans were compared to ground black sesame seeds (BSP) for heavy metal removal. Right: Caffeic acid and the suggested binding sites for cadmum (Cd2+), lead (Pb2+), and mercury (Hg2+)

There are additional benefits to lignans in sesame seeds! As a major category of phytoestrogens, lignans are known to be effective antioxidants. Moreover, sesame seeds specifically contain the lignans, sesamin and sesamolin, which studies have shown to also contain pharmacological benefits such as antihypertensive, anti-inflammatory, and anticarcinogenic properties [9].

For those worried about chronic dietary exposure to heavy metals, prevention may be as tasty as black sesame seeds sprinkled on sushi rolls.


References cited

  1. Cuadrado C., Kumpulainen J., Carbajal A., Moreiras O. Cereals contribution to the total dietary intake of heavy metals in Madrid, Spain. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, 2013; 13: 495-503.
  2. Falcó G., Llobet J., Bocio A., Domingo J. Daily intake of arsenic, cadmium, mercury, and lead by consumption of edible marine species. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2006; 54: 6106-6112.
  3. Godt J., Scheidig F., Grosse-Siestrup C., Esche, V., Bradenburg P., Reich A., Groneberg D. A. The toxicity of cadmium and resulting hazards for human health. Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology, 2006; 1: 22.
  4. Gulson B., Stable lead isotopes in environmental health with emphasis on human investigations. Science of the Total Environment, 2008; 400: 75-92.
  5. Yaginuma-Sakurai K., Murata K., Iwai-Shimada M., Kurokawa N., Tatsuta N., Satoh H. Hair-to-blood ratio and biological half-life of mercury: experimental study of methylmercury exposure through fish consumption in humans. Journal of Toxicological Sciences, Feb 2012; 37(1): 123-130.
  6. Woimant F. Trocello J. M., Disorders of heavy metals. Handbook of Clinical Neurology, 2014; 120: 851-864.
  7. Siao, F. Y., Lu J. F., Wang J. S., Inbaraj B. S. Chen B. H. In vitro binding of heavy metals by an edible biopolymer poly(γ-glutamic acid). Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2009; 57: 777-784.
  8. Tandon S. K., Singh S. Role of Vitamins in Treatment of Lead Intoxication. The Journal of Trace Elements in Experimental Medicine, 2000; 13: 305-315.
  9. Kim J. H., Seo W. D., Lee Y. B., Park C. H., Ryu H. W., Lee J. H. Comparative assessment of compositional components, antioxidant effects, and lignan extractions from Korean white and black sesame (Sesamum indicum L.) seeds for different crop years. Journal of Functional Foods, 2014; 7: 495-505.

Alice PhungAbout the author: Alice Phung once had her sights set on an English degree, but eventually switched over to chemistry and hasn’t looked back since.

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