The Chemistry of Food… And Alcohol

After three weeks of taking The Chemistry of Food, I can honestly say that I am much more able to communicate intelligently about food and the distillation of alcohol. I feel like I have received many fun facts about everyday foods with which I would not have come into contact had I not taken this class. Facts are fun and all, and I feel like that is mostly what we got from Culinary Reactions and The Inquisitive Cook, but that is not all I gained from this class. I also learned the concepts of cooking and macromolecules through class discussions and lectures. I am very conceptual in my learning so I am very thankful for the overall techniques and ideas we learned about the interactions between foods.

My least favorite part of the class was the absurdly large reading assignments. While all my friends were talking about how easy their Centre Term class had been, I was stuck there reading more than 150 a night. Frankly, for a while I thought this class was going to suck a whole lot. Eventually, however, the reading subsided and my group and I were able to focus on the video. After hearing that we had to make a 30 minute video, I thought there was no way I would be able to do that. After all, I struggled to get five minutes out of a Spanish video last semester. Now that my group and I have finished our video, I have realized that it really wasn’t all that much work, and most of it was pretty fun.

My favorite part of The Chemistry of Food was our trip to Marksbury Farms. Specifically, I thoroughly enjoyed it when Landon asked the owner if he knew why Chipotle does not serve queso. I found it unbelievably hilarious because who in their right mind would think that the Marksbury Owner would know ANYTHING about Chipotle’s business model and product ideas. I will rip on him about that for decades.

If I had to give advice to future Chemistry of Food students, I would tell them to get ahead on the reading if you want to have any social life at all. The reading kept me from going out during the week multiple times and it was devastating. I do not want future students to miss any parties during Centre Term because Centre Term is all about partying, after all.

Bourbon: Time is of the Essence

After visiting large and small bourbon distilleries in Kentucky, I have realized that there are some major differences between the two. Specifically, I will compare Wilderness Trace, a small distillery, to Maker’s Mark, a massive bourbon producer. The first major difference was Wilderness Trace’s lack of tradition in comparison to Marker’s Mark. Maker’s did everything in their process for a reason, with the reason most of the time being that they had been doing it that way for many years. They were very intent on keeping the honor of their founder alive through their processes. For instance, Maker’s still uses the exact yeast strand that was used over fifty years ago by their founder. Tradition is in their marketing as well. Their seal, label, and bottle were all created over fifty years ago by the founder’s wife. Their product could sell solely off of its name because of all of the history and tradition behind it. Wilderness Trace, however, does not yet have a name in the bourbon industry. They cannot rely on traditional methods of making bourbon because they, simply, do not have any traditions yet, as they have only been open for eight weeks. Their focus is heavy on the chemistry of the bourbon process instead of tradition. Without a name in the industry, Wilderness Trace will have to rely solely on the taste of their bourbon to sell bottles. Hopefully, in ten or twenty years, Wilderness Trace will have a name that ensures the consumer that their product is top tier. A second, less important difference between Wilderness Trace and Maker’s is that Maker’s pays tour guides to take people around their facility, while Wilderness Trace’s tour guides are the same people that make the bourbon. This means that at Maker’s you will be receiving bourbon facts from a guy who really does not know all the ins and outs of the bourbon, but at Wilderness Trace, you will interact with the people who truly know about the bourbon. It is not much of a difference, but it shows the major difference between the two distilleries: TIME. Maker’s has had over fifty years to grow and make money, while Wilderness Trace is still trying to find their identity. It is really unfair to compare the two distilleries because making bourbon takes time. . . In some cases more than five years. If we could stop time at Maker’s for 50 years so that Wilderness Trace could catch up, then we could more fairly compare their bourbons. Like I always say, time is love. Love is tradition. Good tradition makes a good bourbon.

What’s your favorite flavor, baby? Methyl Salicylate!

Methyl Salicylate is the flavor that we all know as wintergreen. It is an ester made up of salicylic acid and methanol. Methyl salicylate is found in nature in the form of wintergreen oil. Wintergreen oil is a substance found in the leaves of evergreen plants. The oil is produced by plants as a pheromone, meaning that plants use it to communicate with other plants. In plant language, the presence of wintergreen oil means that there are disease ridden plants close by. Using the oil as a pheromone, plants protect each other from poison. Wintergreen oil is also used in nature by plants to ward off predators. The strong scent of the oil scares away any potential predators for fear of eating something bitter and pungent. The substance we find in our foods, however, is not entirely the same as that found in plants. Evergreen plants contain wintergreen oil which is 98% methyl salicylate. Contrarily, our foods contain compounds of 100% methyl salicylate accompanied by other flavors to help tone down and specify the wintergreen-esque flavor. Flavor companies use methyl salicylate instead of wintergreen oil because it is much cheaper to synthesize methyl salicylate than it is to glean the wintergreen oil out of evergreen leaves. Methyl salicylate is found in gum, mouthwash, toothpaste, and dipping tobacco in concentrations as low as .001% and as high as .04% as regulated by the FDA. The scent and taste of the methyl salicylate is easily noticeable in these products, especially when it comes to dipping tobacco. It is no secret that straight dipping tobacco smells and tastes extremely unpleasant. However, when methyl salicylate is added to the dip, it becomes much more pleasant smelling, while staying about the same in taste. When the wintergreen dip is in your mouth, you are actually tasting straight tobacco flavor, but the scent of the methyl salicylate is enough to trick your brain into thinking that your dip is actually wintergreen flavor. Methyl salicylate is also used to help with muscle soreness, as it contains a salicylic acid, which is a main component of aspirin. Methyl salicylate can be found as a main active ingredient in Bengay. I would advise against using too much Bengay, because there have been reported deaths by those who overused it, as one teaspoon of methyl salicylate has the same amount of salicylic acid as thirty 300mg tablets of aspirin. As long as you do not overuse Bengay, methyl salicylate is harmless. In fact, it is better than harmless. It’s delicious!

I Will Remember You. Will You Remember Me?

I have learned many things so far this Centre Term. I have learned about macromolecules such as lipids, carbohydrates, and proteins with respect to their function in cooking as well as their interactions between one another. Really, I have learned so much this Centre Term, that I am bound to forget some of it. One thing, I will never forget. I will never forget how much we depend on corn farmers in our food industry.

Corn is in EVERYTHING. It is in the animal meat you are eating. Odds are, the meat you are eating was raised on an all corn diet. Similarly, that soft drink you are drinking undoubtedly contains compounds gleaned from the starch in corn. High fructose corn syrup can be found on nutrition labels in any isle of the grocery store. Test it out sometime, and you will be surprised how many foods contain high-fructose corn syrup. With everything we eat being related to corn, the people who grow this omnipotent crop must be rich, right? False! Corn farmers are forced to overproduce so that prices are lower for consumers. Based on how much they produce, the government gives them a subsidy to cover the loss of overproducing. Sadly, the subsidy that corn farmers receive barely covers, if it does at all, the costs of overproducing. Because of the great economic losses faced by corn farmers, fewer and fewer farmers are choosing corn as their crop of choice. Subsidies should produce a positive economic incentive. The current subsidies provided by the government for corn farmers are not effectively encouraging more people to join the corn farming industry. I am not saying the subsidy amounts should improve (the government spends enough already), but something should be done to encourage these corn farmers to keep producing our most important crop. Let’s remind our corn farmers how important they are to us by paying them more. It is the least we can do.

If you do not want to pay corn farmers more for their crops, then buy truly organic food that is raised in its natural, grass-fed environment. When you buy truly organic food, you are increasing consumer demand for grass-fed animals, while lessening consumer demand for the production of corn. If enough people buy organic, corn demand will drop, causing the government to stop their demands for overproduction, allowing the supply of corn to retreat back to economic equilibrium. With the corn industry at perfectly competitive economic equilibrium, profits will be maximized without help from the government. I, personally, will choose to buy more organic because it restores economic equilibrium naturally without help from the government. I will remember you, corn farmers. Will you remember me?

Bourbon: The Drink of Champions

Bourbon, whether on the rocks, straight, or mixed with coke, is the classiest drink in the history of humanity. Serve it up at any party, and you’re for sure going to have people talking. How do we get this beautifully simply, yet wonderfully delicious beverage? After visiting the Wilderness Trace Distillery, I have realized that there are multiple ways to answer this question depending on preference. There are a few aspects of bourbon that all distilleries adhere to. For instance, all bourbon will be distilled at a proof of less than 160 and it will be stored in a brand new barrel. However, there are aspects of production that differ greatly between the many distilleries found in the Kentucky area. Bourbon distilleries must make their bourbon out of at least 51% corn, but in the other 49%, many different combinations of grains are used. Wilderness Trace prefers to cover the other 49% with wheat, but some distilleries prefer to cover the 49% with rye. It just comes down to preference in taste. The next area of preference comes when deciding at what proof the distillery wants to bottle their bourbon. Based on their target result, the distillery will fluctuate temperatures in their distillation process to achieve their desired amounts of water and ethanol. The distilleries will also differentiate on whether they use sweet or sour mash to start fermentation. The most common option in this case is to use sour mash, but Wilderness Trace uses a sweet mash. No matter the differences in tastes preferences, all distillers go through the same major steps in creating their bourbon.

Wilderness Trace was very intriguing to me. I did not even realize when I walked in that it had only been open for seven weeks. With it only being open seven weeks, the distillery has not even put any bourbon into circulation yet because the bourbon has to age in barrels for 5 years. They must be very confident that they have a good product if they are willing to delay their profits five years after production. Meanwhile, they do produce vodka and rum, but I have a feeling that bourbon will bring in the most money, being a Kentucky company and all.  It was also interesting to me when one of the heads of the business explained that they sometimes use bacteria in the bourbon to stop bacteria growth. The idea seemed rather counterintuitive to me until he explained it in more detail, explaining that some bacteria produce lactic acid, lowering the pH, and ultimately killing the other bacteria. The trip to Wilderness Trace helped me to see how intricate and complex the process of making bourbon really is. No wonder it is so expensive.

My Newly Found Respect

After reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma, visiting Marksbury Farms, and watching Food, Inc., and learning about GMO’s, I have definitely changed the way I view food. My change in view has been brought about mostly from my newly acquired knowledge about the production of food. I never knew all the different things that actually go into making our food the way it is today. I now have the utmost respect for farmers and food producers who really try to make their food the natural way. They could very easily sell their farm to a giant corporation in hopes of greater profits and easier production processes, however they insist upon making food the way it should be made. It shows a true farmer’s genuine care for his crops and animals that is not found in the meat packing plants of giant food corporations. The differences in animal treatment and crop respect between the two extremes of the food industry are astounding. The natural farmer is completely transparent, allowing you to come see how your food is made, while the corporate giants try their hardest to disguise their production process. On the Marksbury Farms pamphlet, it says, “Trust and integrity through closeness and transparency: Our farmers, our retail store, and our processing team are all proud of what they do and love sharing it.” I can imagine that if a large food corporation had a pamphlet, it would state, “we make our food with care and love… but please do not go looking for it, because you will not find it.” However, giant food corporations are not that honest with us. As we saw in Food, Inc., some of the animal farmers that are at the bottom of giant food corporations are fully aware that they are not raising an animal in the correct environment, and they are embarrassed. The natural farmer is proud of his work, while the industrial farmer is often anything but proud.  I respect natural farmers because they stand by what they believe in: making food the way it was meant to be made.

Crisis of Individualism

In the book, The Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry, an argument is made concerning the multiple crises of America. Berry argues that our mistreatment of the environment is due to our character, agriculture, and our culture. The argument that stood out to me the most was his view on character. However, it did not stand out to me because I agreed with it. It stood out because he attacks all of the wrong aspects of American’s character. Berry attacks specialization, claiming that it leads to people who are only masters of one trade (Berry, 1977). While specialization does lead to a person being efficient at only one job, when society puts together all of these jobs, the country reaps great benefits of lower prices and high employment. Thanks to specialization, there are jobs that do not even require a high school degree because all of the training is on the job and it is very repetitive. Berry continues to argue that a specialized worker “is probably the most unhappy average citizen in the history of the world. He has not the power to provide himself with anything but money” which is constantly inflating (Berry, 1977). Without these “unhappy” workers, we would not be able have and enjoy many of the products we take for granted today. On top of that, I know multiple factory, specialized workers who also work their own farm every day. Berry paints a wide generalization of all specialized workers, and frankly, it aggravates me. Thomas Jefferson’s agrarian society will never come to pass in America, and he needs to accept that. All of this is to say, specialization is not the area of our character that causes environmental problems. It is our innate individualism that leads to the mistreatment of the environment. We all want to be the best. Many times, we strive for greatness at the expense of the environment. Similar to the conservation agencies that invest in businesses with terrible conservation histories, people love to say something about their character to make themselves look good, only to turn around and act in ways that contradict their words. We say we want to help the environment, but then we realize it is going to take much from ourselves to really make a difference, so we move on to other things in the interest of ourselves. If we could get people to understand that helping the environment is essentially the same as helping yourself, then people would be much more likely to truly conserve. Really, it is a crisis of individualism.

Berry, Wendell. (1977). The Unsettling of America.

GMO’s are My Bro’s

Genetically modified organisms. It sounds scary. Genes seem like the last things that should be mutated, don’t they? According to Webster’s Dictionary, a mutation is defined as the act or process of changing. In today’s society,  “mutation” and “change” both have negative connotations. First, mutation is generally frowned upon because of all the sci-fi movies about crazy mutant being taking over the universe. Second, its synonym, change, is not liked because people associate change with stress and anxiety, as in changing jobs or changing cars. However, in this case, mutation is a great word! The genetic mutations forced upon organisms such as tomatoes and corn are actually helpful to us, as they can increase shelf-life or allow us to eat foods out of season. GMO’s are easy to like if you take them for what they are worth. . . They’re essentially just better versions of the original foods we have been eating for thousands of years. But the issue is not that simple. If I brought up the idea of GMO’s to my family at the dinner table, I could almost guarantee you that my father would be very skeptical. He’s extremely conservative, and like I said earlier, “change” has a very negative connotation in society; especially when it comes to devout rightists. Many credible science minds have looked further into the effects of GMO’s on our health and the environment. According to Forbes (2013), hundreds of members of the science body have come to the conclusion that GMO’s are as safe if not safer than conventional or even organic foods. It turns out, our fear (if you have any) of GMO’s comes from simply not knowing enough about them. Do not be the guy or girl who resists change simply because you are afraid. Do some research and figure out if the change is really something to worry about. If genetics experts can change the genetic makeup of multiple plants to make them more appealing to us, the least we can do is open up to the idea that the food industry might force us to change the way we view food.

Work Cited

Entine, Jon. (2013). Forbes. 2000+ Reasons Why GMO’s are Safe to Eat and are Environmentally Sustainable.

 

Midterm Check-up

After attending one and a half weeks of The Chemistry of Food, my outlook on food and food-related problems has changed dramatically. . . Well, I did not have much of an outlook in the first place. Anyhow, my knowledge about the carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids found in foods has increased astronomically. I feel as if I can actually understand and communicate about the nutrition labels found on all foods. My newly found confidence in understanding the components of the foods I eat makes me want to look at the nutrition facts on all the foods I buy. Before this class, I would throw whatever food I wanted to into my cart at Wal-Mart without even thinking about looking at its label. Now, I like to look for how many grams of trans fats are in the food as well as looking at the ingredients to see if high-fructose corn syrup is present in the food. I used to not understand the difference between the various kinds of fats such as saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and trans fats. Now that I know that our bodies are unable to get rid of trans fats, I keep an extra sharp eye out for them. However, thanks to current food regulations, I could still be getting some trans fats out of the “zero trans fats” foods, but I can get over that.

Similarly to trans fats, I have also learned the reason why some people are unable to digest lactose. I learned that some people have not evolved to the level of being able to break the beta-glykocidic bond between the glucose and galactose present in the lactose molecule. Now, this seems to have very little relevance to me since I can perfectly digest lactose. However, it is very important to me because my favorite character on my favorite show, Leonard Hofstetter on The Big Bang Theory, is lactose intolerant. My newly acquired knowledge about lactose digestion will allow me to impress my friends next time we are watching The Big Bang Theory and Leonard’s lactose intolerance is brought up. It’s really the perfect fact to pull out when trying to impress a girlfriend’s parents, and for that I am eternally grateful. Thank you, Chemistry of Food.

Where’d My Food Come From? I Don’t Care…

In the book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan is asked if he finds it odd that people put more work into choosing their mechanic or house contractor than they do when choosing who grows their food. The question, in a very straight-forward way, points out that Americans know very little about who grows their food. For me, I do not particularly care who grows my food as long as it is not poison and it tastes good. Thankfully, the USDA and FDA take care of my poison fears. I will say, however, I do get a little fuzzy feeling when I am eating food that I know was grown on a local farm. I feel this way because in all reality, it is not very realistic to expect to know who grew all of your food unless you live on a self-sustaining farm, while also refusing to ever go out to eat. With more and more people moving into the city and away from life on the farm, fewer and fewer people can find an easy way to find the man or woman growing their food. Mostly because much of our food is produced in California on massive, industrial farms (Pollan, 2007). The reason people put more work into choosing their mechanic or house contractor is because it is much more realistic geographically. If you drive down a single main road in a medium to large city, you will see multiple places to get your car fixed or to get a bid on a house repair. However, you will not see a single food- producing farm until you make it out past the suburbs, and probably into another city altogether. Because of the world we live in, it is not surprising that we do not know who grows our food, however it is very surprising that it is so hard to know for the for people who really do care. It is easier to meet the man who puts things inside your vehicle, leading to vehicular health than it is to meet the man who makes the things you put inside your body, leading to bodily health. Maybe we just do not care about our bodily health as much as we should. Maybe we have a massive obesity problem. We need to get people to start caring about their food again. I need to start caring where my food comes from.

Work Cited

Pollan, Michael. (2007). The Omnivore’s Dilemma.