Cranberries are harvested in late autumn, just in time to celebrate the holidays. Whether you prefer to enjoy cranberries in a jam, as a sauce from the can, juiced, dried, or fresh, there’s no denying that cranberries are festive. They’re tart, dark red, and pair really well with a turkey dinner (according to science). Read more
Nutmeg is a key note in October comfort favorites such as pumpkin spice lattes and spiced bread. The spice is warm, sweet, and spicy, perfect for the gradually colder days of autumn. Take a closer look at nutmeg, however, and you might find a disquieting surprise. Are you prepared to take a whiff of nutmeg science? Read more
Summer would be incomplete without carnivals and bright, fleecy, sugary cotton candy. For a snack that’s nothing but sugar and air, there’s a surprising amount of physics and chemistry involved. Below are seven science-heavy facts about this feathery-light confection.
Editor’s note: The original post stated that 1 ounce of cotton candy is 0.105 kilocalories, when in fact, it is 105 kilocalories, which is equivalent to 105 Calories. Thanks to our astute reader, Allison of the Internet for catching that! The post has now been updated (08-18-2015 10:06 p.m. PST)
They’re green, nutty, and floral, the perfect summer combination. Pistachios are used in many summertime favorites around the world, from can’t-get-enough-of-‘em Turkish delights to the Indian Subcontinent ice cream kulfi to the Italian frozen dessert spumone. They’re even perfect for cracking open for snacking while watching the ballgame. If pistachios aren’t the quintessential summer flavor, here are seven reasons why they should be: Read more
If you’ve ever made the mistake of devouring three bowls of James Beard’s Garlic Soup a few hours before The Job Interview Of Your Life (I’m not speaking from experience here), you will recognize the frantic moment in which you pray that 1) the handful of mints burning in your mouth have superpower strength, or 2) your interviewers cannot smell, or 3) whoever you’re meeting had four bowls of garlic soup. Ahhh, the allure and woe of garlic. Why do you hate me if I love you so much?
Known for its distinct aroma and taste, Allium sativum – or garlic, as most of us know it – makes dishes sweet and pungent while it turns breaths foul and fetid. But what exactly causes garlic breath? More importantly, how do you get rid of it?
The Breakdown of Garlic Breath
Garlic contains many sulfur compounds, but the ones most responsible for garlic breath are: diallyl disulfide, allyl methyl disulfide, allyl mercaptan, methyl mercaptan, and allyl methyl sulfide (AMS). The gases released by all of these compounds, except forAMS, originate in the oral cavity when we mechanically crush garlic in our mouths, so brushing your teeth and tongue will reduce the presence of the mouth-originated odors. However, good dental hygiene doesn’t usually entirely get rid of the smell because AMS is what causes unwelcome garlic breath, and this can linger for several hours or even days.
AMS is a sulfur compound formed inside the body from allyl mercaptan, so instead of originating in the mouth, AMS is produced in the microflora of the gut. The resultant gas quickly evaporates into the bloodstream, which then diffuses to the lungs and infuses each breath of air that leaves our bodies with traces of strong-smelling allyl methyl sulfide. And if that isn’t wonderful enough, the compound is also released through pores of the skin, which is why you may notice a lingering body odor after garlic-heavy meals. Unfortunately, AMS does not get metabolized in your gut and liver like many other molecules that we eat, so it takes much longer for AMS to breakdown – which is why the AMS stays in the body for many hours later. 
SOLUTIONS: When brushing your teeth (sadly) isn’t enough
EAT THIS: Parsley, Spinach, Mint, Apples, Pears, plus any fruits and veggies that are prone to browning (think avocados, bananas, potatoes, etc.)
WHY: These foods contain an enzyme called polyphenol oxidase. (The same enzyme is what makes your fruit salad look brown!). When this compound is exposed to oxygen, it reacts in a way that reduces both the odors of the volatile compounds and the formation of more AMS. 
DRINK THIS: Green Tea, Coffee, Ku-Ding-Cha (a bitter-tasting Chinese tea), Prune Juice
WHY: These drinks contain a polyphenolic compound called chlorogenic acid, which is another chemical that works to deodorize garlic-derived sulfur compounds on human breath. 
ALSO DRINK THIS: Lemon juice, Soft Drinks, Beer, Hot Cocoa (and other acidic foods/beverages)
WHY: When garlic cloves are cut or crushed open, they release an enzyme called alliinase that facilitates the reactions which produce compounds responsible for the smell of garlic. Because these drinks have a pH below 3.6, they quickly destroy alliinase and minimize the formation of garlic volatiles. 
DRINK THIS INSTEAD OF WATER: Milk!
WHY: While drinking water works extremely well for reducing garlic breath, milk works even better because of its extra fat, protein, and sugar. Specifically, whole milk is effective in the reduction of the hydrophobic compounds diallyl disulfide and allyl methyl disulfide because of its high fat content. Note that drinking milk during a garlic-heavy meal does a better job of killing garlic breath than drinking milk afterwards, because the milk is able to directly react with the volatile compounds when it is mixed with garlic. 
Makes me think garlic ice cream might actually be a genius all-in-one odor-neutralizing dessert!
Suarez, F., Springfield, J., Furne, J., Levitt. M. Differentiation of mouth versus gut as site of origin of odoriferous breath gases after garlic ingestion. Am J Physiol. 1999; 276(2):425–30.[http://ajpgi.physiology.org/content/276/2/G425]
Munch, R., Barringer, S.A. Deodorization of Garlic Breath Volatiles by Food and Food Components. Journal of Food Science. March 2014; 79(4): C536-533.
Hansanugrum, A. Barringer, S.A. Effect of Milk on the Deodorization of Malodorous Breath after Garlic Ingestion. Journal of Food Science. August 2010; 75(6): C549-558.
Ah, spring. The perfect time of the year to take a stroll, smell the roses, and then stop by the local bakery to taste the roses. Whether in Persian or Middle Eastern desserts such as rose-flavored raahat or baklava, or French-inspired rose scones and marshmallows, roses have an elegant flavor that is a delicate mix of sweet and floral. In celebration of spring, here are 7 things about the flavor of roses to mull over while enjoying a cup of rose hip tea: Read more
Ever put a slab of pork shoulder or beef brisket on the smoker for a BBQ, only to eventually hit “The Plateau”? Physicist Dr. Greg Blonder has the explanation for why the temperature of these meats will rise steadily for a few hours before it inexplicably stops and stalls at several degrees lower than the ideal 190°F. Fortunately, his explanation also comes with a solution. Once that dilemma is solved, check out the science that makes meat so delicious.
Imagine rolling out of bed on a Saturday morning, shuffling into your kitchen, and tossing a few strips of streaky bacon into a skillet. After a few minutes, you’ll hear a delightful crackling and sizzling, soon followed by a complex and savory aroma that could lure even the most resolute of vegetarians to the kitchen. As time passes, you peek into the skillet and notice the bacon begin to brown and bubble. After an agonizing wait, the bacon has finally reached a desired color and crispness and is ready to be consumed. You eagerly bite into a strip of bacon and are met with a pleasantly smoky taste, crunch, and a melt-in-your-mouth sensation. Bacon is a delight to eat, but it’s even better when you understand the science of why it’s so delicious.
There are two major factors that can explain why bacon has such a devoted fan base, with the first and more obvious factor being its aroma. Scientists have identified over 150 compounds responsible for bacon’s distinctive smell. As bacon cooks, there are a couple of different things going on. The Maillard reaction, the browning that results when amino acids in the bacon react with reducing sugars present in bacon fat, produces several desirable flavor compounds. This same browning reaction is also what forms the darkened and crunchy exterior on a pretzel or provides a stout beer with its characteristic color and taste.
During this process, bacon fat also melts and degrades into flavor compounds of its own. The compounds produced from the Maillard reaction and from the thermal degradation of bacon fat combine to form even more aroma compounds. In one study, scientists used gas chromatography and mass spectroscopy and revealed many of these aroma compounds to be pyridines, pyrazines, and furans, which were also found in the aroma of a fried pork loin that was tested. Pyridines, pyrazines, and furans are known to impart meaty flavors, so what actually sets bacon apart from the fried pork loin is the presence of nitrites. Nitrites are introduced into bacon during the curing process and are believed to react with aroma compounds in such a way that dramatically increases the presence of other nitrogen-forming compounds, including those meaty pyridine and pyrazine molecules. Ultimately, we can thank the high presence of nitrogen compounds as well as the interplay of fat, protein, sugars, and heat for bacon’s savory and unique aroma .
Now imagine that you’re eating breakfast. You alternate between bites of fluffy pancake drenched in maple syrup and mouthfuls crispy bacon, and maybe you’ll also have a side of velvety scrambled eggs. Here, you have a variety of textures on your plate –which brings us to our next concept to explain why bacon is so revered—mouthfeel.
Mouthfeel is described as the physical sensations felt in the mouth when eating certain foods. Bacon delivers a crunchy contrast to the softer textures found in scrambled eggs or pancakes in a mouthfeel phenomenon known as dynamic contrast. The brain craves novelty, and sensory contrasts will often increase the amount of pleasure that the brain derives from food, which is why you can find bacon as a textural accompaniment in many classic, creative, or sometimes questionable combinations. In a strip of bacon, you’ll see that it consists of lean meat that is heavily marbled with fat. During the cooking process, fat renders off leaving behind a product that simultaneously crisps and melts in your mouth when consumed, a texture combination that is rivaled by few other foods.
The melt-in-your-mouth phenomenon of bacon illustrates another nuance of mouthfeel, which is vanishing caloric density. Vanishing caloric density can be blamed for why it’s so easy to mindlessly consume massive amounts of popcorn, cotton candy, or other foods that seem to melt in your mouth. Upon ingestion of these foods, it is believed that the brain is tricked into thinking that you’re eating fewer calories than you actually are. Foods with vanishing caloric density have low satiating power but high oral impact, so your brain urges you to consume more, as it finds them more rewarding .
Between its tantalizing aroma and its delectable mouthfeel, it’s no surprise why bacon mania has so aggressively swept the nation.
- Timón, M., Carrapiso, A., Jurado, A., van de Lagemaat, J. A study of the aroma of fried bacon and fried pork loin. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 2004; 84:825-831.
- Witherly S. Why Humans Like Junk Food. iUniverse, Inc.; 2007.
About the author: Mai Nguyen is an aspiring food scientist who received her B.S. in biochemistry from the University of Virginia. She hopes to soon escape the bench in pursuit of a more creative and fulfilling career.
Want beer foam that doesn’t dissipate right away? Microbiologist Tom Villa made a genetic discovery in yeast that could create beers with longer-lasting beer foam. This yeast, however, doesn’t quite affect the taste, so find out where beer flavor comes from.
How does sipping a cup of lavender tea with honey sound? Soothing? Fragrant? Then imagine stumbling upon an open field of lavender flowers. The lavender plant, genus Lavandula, comprises 39 flowering plant species, all of which are easily recognized by that trademark color and signature fragrance. The most popular species of lavender is L. angustifolia, commonly known as English lavender and lauded for having the sweetest fragrance among lavender plants. Lavender flowers are primarily grown in order to extract the essential oil for both medical and culinary uses.
The distinctive purple flower is popular for its calming abilities, extensively used in aromatherapy alongside other herbs. Lavender is additionally famed for its healing properties. French chemist, René-Maurice Gattefossé realized the usefulness of lavender oil as a healing essence when he plunged his burned arm into a tub of liquid containing lavender oil, later noting quick tissue regeneration with little scarring [1,2]. Following Gattefossé’s observation and subsequent experiments using lavender oil in military hospitals during World War I, lavender is also used today as an antiseptic and anti-inflammatory . As an herb, lavender of course has a dedicated fan base in the culinary world; the fragrant flower is the star of recipes such as lavender cake, lavender shortbread, and even lavender and honey roasted chicken.
Analysis of lavender oil reveals the primary compounds responsible for the scent are linalyl acetate and linalool (pronounced lin-ah-low-awl). Both have been cited to contain various pharmacological properties that aid in relaxation, such as anti-anxiety, anti-depressant,  and relaxant of vascular smooth muscles .
Minor volatile components that contribute to the scent of lavender essential oil include (E)-β-ocimene, (Z)-β-ocimene, terpinen-4-ol, 1,8-cineole, camphor, and limonene.
But make no mistake. There’s nothing “minor” about these compounds when it comes to lavender flavor. According to the flavor network by physicist Albert-László Barabási, North American and Western European cuisines like to pair ingredients that share many flavor compounds. Camphor confers a woody, evergreen scent and is one of the primary volatile compounds in dried rosemary leaves; this makes lavender and rosemary a comforting combination. Further, linalyl acetate, linalool, and many of the minor volatile components of lavender oil can also be found in lemon peels and lemon essential oil . Lavender and lemon are such celebrated culinary companions that the two are practically best friends.
Want to try cooking with lavender for the first time? Relax; it’s not as challenging as it seems. Just take a deep breath and try out this simple lavender sugar recipe.
- Tankeu SY, Vermaak I, Kamatou GPP, Viljoen AM. Vibrational spectroscopy and chemometric modeling: An economical and robust quality control method for lavender oil. Industrial Crops and Products, 2014; 59: 234-240.
- René-Maurice Gattefossé. Oils and Plants. Accessed 2014, December 21.
- Koto R, Imamura M, Watanabe C, Obayashi S, Shiraishi M, Sasaki Y, Azuma H. Linalyl acetate as a major ingredient of lavender essential oil relaxes the rabbit vascular smooth muscle through dephosphorylation of myosin light chain. Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology, 2006; 48(1): 850-856.
- Oboh G, Olasehinde TA, Ademosun AO. Essential oil from lemon peels inhibit key enzymes linked to neurodegenerative conditions and pro-oxidant induced lipid peroxidation. Journal of Oleo Science, 2014; 63(4): 373-381.