Chemistry of Food in Review

For me, the Chemistry of Food was a challenging, yet useful class that I will take many concepts and tidbits of knowledge away from. There were definitely aspects that challenged me, but then again, there were things in the class that I thoroughly enjoyed. I feel that because I took this class, I will be better prepared to make more educated decisions about the nourishment I put into my body.

I’d like to go ahead and get the negatives out of the way so that we can end the blog post and Centre Term as a whole, on a positive note. Personally, some of the information we were presented with just did not make a whole lot of sense. I had trouble with some of the biology concepts incorporated in the class due to the fact that I have not had any biology classes since my freshman year of high school. Though the class is called the Chemistry of  Food, there is still much biology involved in cooking processes.

Many aspects of the class were challenging, but kind of fun at the same time. I’ll be honest here. When Dr. Haile first introduced the idea of a video project, I began to dread it. I’d never really had any experience with filming much of anything, and I just thought it would be a terrible project. However, through the help of my group mates Mitchell and Julia, it actually turned out to be a very fun project. Couple that in with the fact that I did learn a lot of chemistry and the treats we made were delicious, it was a pretty productive three weeks in my opinion.

My favorite part of the class was getting to eat our “experiments” that we performed. The bread experiment where each group made different types of bread was really intriguing, as I learned that gluten plays a huge role in how breads can be unique of one another depending on the ingredients used. A close second to the bread experiment was the trip to Maker’s Mark distillery. I was fascinated at the process as a whole. It was really cool to see something that impacts Kentucky so greatly being produced right in front of my eyes. When I am 21, I definitely plan on returning so that I can actually taste the bourbon!

To any future students wanting to take the class, it is not a terrible idea, especially if you love food like I do. While it is challenging, it is still a useful class. Personally, my eyes were opened by The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food Inc. I feel that any future student who is exposed to this media will be enlightened to what really goes on in the food industry as well.

Distilleries

During the time spent in the Chemistry of Foods, we were lucky enough to be able to visit two bourbon distilleries. They were Maker’s Mark, which is in the Podunk town of Loretto, Kentucky and Wilderness Trace, which is right in our own back yard here in Danville. However, the two distilleries were very different, and gave us a different taste for how bourbon can be produced in different ways. However, at the end of the day, it was still good ‘ole Kentucky being produced in both places!

The most obvious difference between the two bourbon-making companies was the scale of production. Wilderness Trace is brand new, as it has only been open for eight weeks. As a result, they are surely still trying to get off their feet and get their name involved with the major players of the bourbon industry. This is evident, as their headquarters are relatively small. Their whole operation fit in one building. However, even though they have only been open for a short amount of time, it was evident that they and their employees were very eager, yet serious and dedicated to making a great bourbon.

Maker’s Mark on the other hand, was a large operation, rich in customs and traditions. The facility is mainly on a large farm. However, on my drive home, I drove through the actual city of Loretto and was fascinated by the fact that there were about twenty bourbon-aging barns right in the middle of the city. It was apparent too that the people of Maker’s Mark meant business during their production. During the process, they were very prompt, precise and focused, as it was clear that they wanted to continue to produce a great bourbon, like Maker’s Mark typically does.

A small detail that I found interesting was in the logistics of how each company goes about producing their bourbon. Like most companies, Maker’s Mark used a sour mash in the beginning stages of production. However, at Wilderness Trace, they used a sweet mash. Thought Wilderness Trace’s bourbon is still a while away from being bottled (it must age 3-5 years), I would be very interested to see how the different types of mash affected the flavor of the bourbon.

I did like the fact that both distilleries supported the local economy. Obviously, to make bourbon, over 51% of your grain must be corn. Both companies bought their corn, as well as many of their other ingredients for grain, fairly locally. Bourbon is a staple in Kentucky. In my opinion, for it to continue to be a staple, the companies, no matter how large or small, should be buying their grains locally.

As you can see, I learned so much from each visit. To be honest, I had no clue how bourbon was made before this class. However, after visiting both distilleries and seeing how each company specifically makes their bourbon, I have gained a better understanding. I will go out on this note: Maker’s Mark will continue to experience great success, and Wilderness Trace will eventually work its way to being a player in the bourbon industry as well.

Methyl Anthranilate

The compound Julia Fox and I have chosen to cover is methyl anthranilate. This is the main flavoring compound in grape foods, drinks and medicines.

The chemical formula for methyl anthranilate is C8H9NO2. It is combustible, but in liquid form, is clear to pale yellow. It has a melting point of 24 degrees Celsius, while its boiling point is about 256 degrees Celsius. A full concentration of the methyl anthranilate gives off a fruity, grape-like smell, and continues to do so even at 25 parts per million (ppm). This is obviously where the flavor comes from.

There are several uses for methyl anthranilate. Some are obvious, and others are not so obvious. Obviously, grape candies of all kinds are flavored by methyl anthranilate, as are grape sodas. It is also the flavoring agent in many medicines and syrups (many of which service children), such as Claritin. There are also a few types of perfume that use methyl anthranilate, which makes me curious if they actually smell like grapes. Bird repellent contains methyl anthranilate as well. It is applied to areas where birds flock to keep them away. In turn, methyl anthranilate protects corn, sunflowers, rice and fruits because birds commonly like to poach these items. It is of note however that the repellents do not actually harm the birds or other organisms, which makes it a safe use.

Naturally, methyl anthranilate occurs in grapes. Along with flavoring grape items, it is also used as an apple-flavoring agent. It is secreted by the musk glands (near the genital region) of dogs as well as foxes.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not list methyl anthranilate as harmful because it does not impact birds or other organisms negatively. Because of this, it is listed as a generally regarded as safe (GRA) compound. While we as humans put many bad things into our bodies daily, consuming methyl anthranilate (in products it occurs in of course) cannot necessarily be deemed harmful to us.

Overall, methyl anthranilate is a useful flavoring agent and chemical in general. It has other uses besides those of actually flavoring food and drink. It does not seem to be particularly harmful, and will surely be a useful chemical in the future. There have never been any recorded problems with this substance.

One Thing I’ll Never Forget…

There are a multitude of concepts and facts throughout the chemistry of food class that will stick with me permanently. However, there is one such concept that will stick out in my mind more so than any that we have learned or been exposed to so far. The whole meat producing process and the dirty tactics involved in it will forever be embedded in my brain. Watching Food Inc. really opened my eyes to many of the evils that are associated with food.

One of the biggest things that sticks out to me is how underhanded and mafia-like the companies are. It seems so crooked and unjust to me how they have a pact with the government to deport illegal immigrants but only in small increments in order to make sure production does not decline. To me, it is criminal to even give them jobs if you know that you will end up having them arrested later on. If the government really cared about illegal immigration in that sense, they would not allow the company to continue to hire these immigrants. The people are just trying to support their own families and make their own lives better, yet are being exploited by these companies. They are simply being used. This is wrong, and I personally will never forget how they are being unfairly treated.

Another image that is seared into my brain is the brutality and cruelty, as well as the carelessness that is associated with the raising, slaughter and processing of animals. Yes, they are animals, but they should not be being raised to where they cannot live healthy lives. Sure, they are needed for their beef production, but they should at least be able to walk (some cows were ground-ridden because of their diets and treatments). I also will be forever reminded of the nastiness that is in the processing plants. It is crazy to me that thousands of cows could be in one hamburger that we eat. There is so many precautions that are not taken that should be. No wonder people get sicknesses such as E.Coli. Seeing the undercover footage, it is no secret that the processing plants are inhumane, disgusting and germ ridden.

Though just about everything in this class will be of use to me in some way in the future, the movie Food Inc. as a whole and some of the concepts it covered will forever stick out in my mind.

The Process of Making Bourbon

During the last few days of class in the Chemistry of Food, part of our focus of learning has been on how bourbon is made. Dr. DeMoranville’s class (Chemistry of Beer, Wine and Bourbon) came in and gave us all the ins and outs of the process, as well as other neat facts about bourbon.

For one, like many products in our food and drink world, you must start with water. Typically, bourbon distilleries start with spring water. This is good due to Kentucky’s climate (hot in the summer, cold in the winter). From there, depending on the distillery and where they buy their crops from a mash of either barley, corn or rye is made. In order for it to be considered bourbon though, the grain must be 51% corn. The other 49% is the company’s choice.

After mashing, the grain, whatever the distillery chose it to be, is grinded up or milled into a fine powder. This is done because by milling the grains into a fine powder, it is easier to cook and does so at a quicker rate.

From here, the water mentioned before, comes into play. The mash that is now present is put into a large container where they are combined. It is again of note that most bourbon distilleries use Kentucky spring water for their process. Also of note is that there are a couple different types of mash. Depending on the company, one may use sour mash (more common), but one may also use sweet mash (which Wilderness Trace Distilleries uses).

From here, the mash is added to the yeast. The yeast feeds off of the sugars in the mash. In turn, carbon dioxide and alcohol are created. The mash is fermented. At this point, it is basically beer, with about a 10% alcohol content. It is put into another large container called the beerwell by some companies.

After this, the beer travels to another large container where it is heated to 205 degrees Fahrenheit. The liquid does not boil, but the alcohol does turn into a vapor. After heating, the vapor cools. From here, it turns back into liquid. Distillation continues to occur until the bourbon is 160 proof. It is not considered bourbon if it was not 160 proof at one time. However, after condensation, the bourbon is brought back down to a lower proof–one that is a bit more drinkable.

After distillation, the bourbon is put into barrels. The barrels are made of fine oak. After they are put into barrels, they age for 3 to 5 years. When they have finally aged, they are bottled up and sold to consumers like you and I!

Wilderness Trace was a very interesting place to me. For one, I found it interesting that they use a sweet mash while many other companies use sour. Also, due to the fact that they have been open for a mere seven weeks, I think it is interesting that we will not be able to drink any of their products that they have made for another few years. I also found it interesting that the wheat they buy is from a farm just a mile and a half down the road. Anytime you can run your business by partnering with local businesses, it is a good thing.

Sources I used to assist me:

http://www.jimbeam.com/about-bourbon/process-flowchart

http://www1.american.edu/ted/kentuckybourbon.htm

Food Will Never be the Same

Throughout the chemistry of foods class, we have been exposed to materials such as The Omnivore’s Dilemma, watching Food Inc. and learning about GMOs. It is also of note that the class toured Marksbury Farms in Garrard County, Kentucky. I was unable to attend that trip, but was filled in with pictures and vivid descriptions by my fellow classmates who did attend. Through my exposure to such materials, I have really changed the way I will view and think about food. Before this class, I never really gave any thought about where or who my food came from–I simply just ate it. However, from now on, I will carefully examine my food and where it came from.

For one, in the reading of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I was totally unaware of the huge impact that corn has on so many things we not only eat, but buy as well. Sure, I knew corn was used in things such as beer or corn syrup, but I really had no idea that it was in just about everything we eat! For example, according to Forbes in the web article found at http://www.forbes.com/pictures/ffhm45jfm/toothpaste/ , corn is used to make toothpaste, yogurt, make up, aspirin and even diapers! While some of those are not food products, I feel that this only reiterates that corn is virtually everywhere in our lives, and it shows the true impact that it has on us, as well as the food we consume.

Also, watching Food Inc. really opened my eyes as well. According to the movie, only five companies control 80% of the beef that is produced. This is a mind-boggling statistic, as it really shows you how companies can totally control us without even knowing it. Watching the movie also exposed me to the fact that there is so much greed even in the food industry. The fact that they hire illegal workers, yet have an agreement with the government to only arrest a certain number per day so that they do not slow down production is truly evil and should be stopped. Those poor people are only wanting jobs and are being victimized by greedy companies. Companies such as Monsanto are also criminal in the sense that they pursue (many times wrongly) farmers for patent infringement when they know that they can not pay to win their court case. Also, the conditions at many of the factories and processing plants were absolutely atrocious. It is a wonder more people do not get sick from diseases such as E.Coli because there is so little care or effort put into actually making our food clean. The next time I am going to take a big bite into a hearty, juicy cheeseburger, I will for sure have flashbacks to the movie Food Inc. and just hope that I am not biting into a manure-ridden patty.

Learning about GMOs or genetically modified organisms has also enlightened me as well. Honestly, before this class, I had no clue what they even were. After reading more about them, I feel a bit more educated. While there are definitely some cons and potential problems, I personally feel that GMOs are the future of food. Personally, if ever asked, I will encourage those who inquire to consume GMO products. I believe the idea as a whole is a terrific innovation not only for food, but for science and humanity as a whole.

The materials we have been exposed to thus far have been very insightful as well as interesting. I feel much more educated about what I am putting into my body. Because of this, I will monitor what I intake more closely than ever before. Food will not be just food to me anymore. From now on, it will be more of a science and that I should more closely examine what I actually eat!

Wendell Berry’s Valid Point

In The Unsettling of America, Wendell Berry presents a few points and arguments for an America in crisis. Of the three, which were character, agriculture and culture, I found that character was the only one that actually made sense to me, and the only one that I could kind of agree with. In fact, while I really have no stance on the crisis of agriculture, I strongly disagree with the crisis of culture as he related it to his home Henry County, Kentucky (New Castle for you geography buffs out there) as a farming community.

I absolutely concur with Berry’s point that companies and people are selling out one another in order to make more money. In my opinion, greed of more money is fueling some of the wrong doings going on in the corporate world of America, especially pertaining to food. The movie we watched, Food Inc. directly relates to this sentiment, as it was exposing companies such as Monsanto for doing anything in its power, whether it is right or wrong, in order to make a dollar. I was baffled when Berry wrote, “The Sierra Club, for example, had owned stocks and bonds in Exxon, General Motors, Tenneco, steel companies “having the worst pollution records in the industry,” Public Service Company of Colorado, “strip mining firms with 53 leases covering nearly 180,000 acres and pulp-mill operators cited by environmentalists for their poor water controls.”” (page 17). The Sierra Club, according to Berry also on page 17, is supposed to be a leading conservation effort company. However, all of the corporations that Berry mentioned were all those of pollution and destruction of the environment. They are also very profitable. It would seem that the Sierra Club is contradicting itself, when in reality it seems to be only out for the money. To me, this is a great example of the crisis of character that Berry is trying to promote. If you truly are for something, then should you not actually follow through accordingly? The Sierra Club is one of many that go back on their word only to make a quick buck.

I also would like to point out that I completely disagree with the fact that Berry basically says big business farming is a crisis of character of sorts. Personally, as I have stated in a previous blog post of mine, I think large-scale farming (to a certain extent) is good for America. The more crops that are produced, the better it is for us as a nation and the world in my opinion. Berry says, “That is because the best farming requires a farmer–a husband-man, a nurturer–not a technician or businessman.” (page 45). Berry has it all wrong here. Farming is a business. If demand for certain crops continue to skyrocket, then why is it wrong to meet that demand in anyway you can, whether it be farming in more of a business like manner, or even creating new genetically modified organisms? Berry is wrong when he says more is not good. I disagree on page 48 when he basically says it is not efficient to farm by big machinery. If the demand is there, why not provide for those who are willing to pay or who need it? It simply is not a crisis in my eyes.

Berry does make some valid and strong arguments, but I simply cannot agree with many of them. I believe he is an intelligent man obviously, but some of his points are a bit far fetched or irrational in my opinion. However, I do believe he hit the nail on the head in his bit on the crisis of character.

GMO Products: It’s What’s for Dinner

GMO products, or genetically modified organisms as they are also referred to, are all throughout the foods we eat today. Because of this, oftentimes, we eat products that contain GMOs for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They are apparent all throughout our diet. Personally, I was not aware of them before I stepped foot in this class. Now that I have been taught a bit about them, I would still consume GMO products and even set them on the dinner table for my own family to consume as well.

While I personally think GMOs are not a bad thing, there are many people in our nation who are very skeptical of them. The big reason is because companies such as Monsanto or Dupont are trying to hide the GMO label off of supermarket and restaurant foods. (Cate Woodruff. A List of Food Companies that Hide GMOs. 22 August 2012). They want to hide because people are unsure of what a GMO is, and because of a lack of knowledge, the general public can be scared off by them.

However, a GMOs simply, “are plants or animals that have been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants and animals. These experimental combinations of genes from different species cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding. Virtually all commercial GMOs are engineered to withstand direct application of herbicide and/or to produce an insecticide.” (http://www.nongmoproject.org/learn-more/). Basically, they are organisms engineered to last longer or withstand a certain condition. Take for example the GMO apples we read about in the article This GMO Apple Won’t Brown. Will That Sour The Fruit’s Image? By creating genetically modified apples, it is reducing cost by 35 to 40 percent because much of that money went to antioxidants in order to keep the slices from browning. This is according to Neal Carter, president of Okanagan Specialty Fruits.

The example I cited above is only a small one. There are so many GMOs that we consume, that it is almost impossible to stay away from them. So far, there does not seem to be any immediate harm done from these organisms. People would be amazed if they actually knew what they were eating and what it contained. Personally, I will let my family eat GMOs at the dinner table. I feel like they are going to become even bigger in the future, and will become an even larger part of our diets. Until conclusive evidence comes out that GMOs are harmful for humans, I will still continue to consume them and will encourage others, including my own family, to as well.

Food: More Scientific Than We Give Credit For

The first half of the class “Chemistry of Food” has been a very eye-opening and enlightening experience for me personally so far. Before this class, I was like most typical Americans. I would eat just about whatever was put in front of me without paying any attention or giving any thought to what it was actually compromised. Even through the first few days of class, my thinking will be forever transformed when I am eating from now on. Scientific principles will now play a huge role in the decision making process of what I put in my body from now on.

As I mentioned earlier, science is obviously huge in our food. I never gave much thought as to how chemistry played such a pivotal role in food. For one, I never really realized about how many types of sugar molecules there are. Sucrose, glucose, etc. are all fairly new concepts to me. Because of this class, I will closely examine the technical names for sugar. It seems that in many ingredients lists, there are technical names that disguise what an ingredient actually is, and sugar with its many different aliases is a prime example.

I also am very interested in the fact that foods can be oxidized and reduced in a sense. Typically, I thought only chemicals like iron or silver were oxidized or reduced in a basic chemical equation, but it turns out oils and fats are oxidized according to Culinary Reactions. It blows my mind that chemical reactions are actually happening as the food I am getting ready to eat is being prepared and cooked. Next semester, when I am sitting in Chemistry 132 looking at a chemical equation trying to decide which ion is being reduced or oxidized, I will be reminded that oils in the pizza I ate for lunch that day will have underwent some of the same processes.

The book Omnivore’s Dilemma has also changed my views on food as a whole. I was unaware of the impact that corn had on us, and how prevalent it was in a typical person’s diet. It is everywhere! Looking at my personal diet and how I eat, I can trace much of what I consume back on the food chain to corn. As I continue on, I will take a closer look at the food chain, and what meat I am actually consuming has been eating as well.

The 60 Minutes video we watched today also opened my eyes. It almost seems like a scam as to how foods are flavored and engineered to taste a specific way. I honestly had no clue that factories flavored simple items like chicken with artificial flavors. I guess with science anything is possible. I really had no idea that science was as advanced as it was to make a certain flavor such as raspberry taste many different ways. This may sound a bit silly, but I guess I just thought raspberry was raspberry, and did not really give any extra thought to the fact that it could be flavored differently.

Science is truly amazing. It has such a great impact on the food we eat. Science IS the food we eat. Before this class, I had never given much thought on the science that compromises are food. Personally, I am fascinated. I could have elaborated on everything that has amazed me so far that I have learned during the class, but we’d be here all night if I did that! Hopefully, with the next half of the class will come even more information and knowledge that will help me make more informed decisions about the food I am putting in my body.

 

Pollan’s Meal: Is it Really That Different?

At the beginning of chapter 14, Pollan talks about gathering the supplies and ingredients for that evening’s dinner. He was to be making it for some old friends of his. Throughout the first few pages, it is evident that Pollan thinks his “local ingredients” (page 262) are somehow better in a sense than ones shipped across the country. He even takes a jab at transporting meat long distances when he says, “After all, it was the sin of flying meat across the country that had brought me to Swoope in the first place…” (Page 262).

I refer to the jab he took because I think it is slightly hypocritical. Pollan marveled in the first part of the book at the ingredients in his meal at McDonald’s in the sense that they all relied heavily on corn. The jab he takes at meat transportation also hints at the practices of many restaurants, particularly fast food, as it is a well known fact that they ship their meat in from many places. Basically, Pollan gives off a sense that he thinks his meal he is preparing is somehow better than a regular old meal because it was “local” or “homegrown”.

I think Pollan’s own research and words work against him here. Was he not the person who outlined all of this information about how corn affected so many foods and products not only around America, but the world as well? Yes, the chickens he bought may have been raised near where he was. However, those chickens had to eat too. You know what they most likely ate? You guessed it.. Corn. Based on what Pollan wrote in the earlier stages of his book, I would go out on a limb and say that the corn the chickens were eating was from somewhere not near where they were being raised. In a sense, it is a bit ironic and hypocritical. Yes, the chickens are not technically being shipped across the country for processing, yet the nourishment they receive is.

It is also of note that Pollan says that Virginia does not have chocolate, and he needed to get Belgian chocolate for the soufflé he was going to make (page 263). He wanted a local flare to his meal. Yes, chocolate is obviously unavailable in Virginia, but he went out of his way to purchase Belgian chocolate, which is obviously made in Belgium.

Pollan would like to think his meal he prepared is different from those at a typical fast food restaurant like McDonald’s. While his meal in undoubtedly more nutritional and a bit more local, aspects of it too still require cross country shipping. Again, this country’s diet hinges partly on corn, and his meal, especially the chickens, are no exception. I feel that he is a bit paradoxical when he criticizes the meat transportation business. I know that he is disgusted with the brutality and gore of it all, especially at the chicken factory (page 263-264), but he should at least acknowledge the fact that chickens, as well as other animals, rely on corn being shipped from across the country in order to feed them. In a way, the main course of his meal is not local at all, which completely contradicts the point Pollan was trying to make.