Posts Tagged ‘Food’

A night of chocolate at the RiAus

// February 3rd, 2011 // Comments Off on A night of chocolate at the RiAus // Science Communication

Chocolate Truffle

Image by Digital Sextant

Love chocolate? Tonight at Adelaide’s RiAus the spotlight is on gluttony and chocolate addictions.

It’s sold out, but you can watch the livestream here from 6:00 Adelaide time and have your own chocolate tastings at home.

Brendan Somerville from Haighs will talk about what makes chocolate so good. Chocolate has been around since the Aztec’s were big, originating some 3000 years ago in South America. Back then it was a bitter tasting drink, and nowhere near the delight we enjoy today.

Last year the cacao tree genome was sequenced, creating a blueprint of the source of chocolate. With it trees could be altered to become resistant to disease and to produce higher quality chocolate.

As well as using science to improve chocolate, we use it to justify eating just one more piece. Like red wine, chocolate in the right doses can be good for you. The medicinal powers ascribed to the “food of the gods” include:

Chocolate can suppress coughing.
Chocolate can lower blood pressure
Chocolate reduces stress

But there’s a downside, namely sugar and fat and a potential for addiction. The best chocolate to eat is small quantities of very dark chocolate, low in the bad stuff but high in the good stuff. Fortunately this is my favourite.

In the world of Food Porn Daily and Not So Humble Pie, any one of us can become a weapon of mass chocolate consumption. Cravings and addictions aren’t just limited to chocolate, I know for a fact they extend to Banana Caramel Cream Pie, particularly the one at Café Paparizzi in Malvern. So far I’ve managed to resist, but it’s only a matter of time.

Or is it? Dr Robyn Vale is also speaking tonight about how to resist temptation and avoid food cravings.

But purely for medicinal purposes, I think you should have a bit of chocolate while you watch the livestream.

So what are you craving right now?

Rhododendron Poison – Truth behind the science of Sherlock Holmes

// December 27th, 2009 // 11 Comments » // How Things Work, Poisons, Science in the Movies

I saw Sherlock Holmes last night with SexyMan, the cinema was packed and we sat in the second row from the front. I watched the movie like a fan watches a tennis match, but surprisingly it was still good!

It might have helped that any great expectations had been dashed by a friend on facebook, but nonetheless I thought it was an enjoyable, action-packed, fast-paced fast-talking very sexy flick.

But then I’m not a film critic. I am, however, a science geek. This post has been carefully written to avoid spoilers, but if you want to play it safe go and see the movie and come back in 3 hours. K?

At one point in the movie they talk about rhododendron poison, but don’t explain at all what it is.

Rhododendrons (and azaleas, the dwarf (midget) version) are a moderately toxic group of plants. If you’re out strolling the mountains near the eastern side of the Black Sea in Turkey, or generally in the USA or UK, then don’t eat this plant:

Rhododendron ponticum.

Not all members of the genus are poisonous, but play it on the safe side and don’t eat random plants.

It’s not HUGELY poisonous, about 100 grams need to be ingested by a 25 kg child to seriously poison them, but it is a problem for livestock – particularly sheep, goats and cows – who munch on the flowers and get seriously sick.

Of course, if you boiled it down and concentrated the liquid… well that’s a different story. The toxin is water soluble, so it can be extracted from the leaves and flowers.

The toxin is called grayanotoxin. It binds to specific sodium ion channels in cell membranes (which I’ve talked about before) and prevents inactivation, causing persistent activation of muscle and nerve cells. This causes a range of symptoms based on where the activated cells are located, such as muscle weakness, vomiting, sweating, salivation, seizures, and either dangerously slow or dangerously fast heartbeat, depending on the dose. In the end, it can cause death.

Don’t think you’re safe just because you don’t make a habit of eating plants – the toxin is also found in the nectar of flowers, and bees that feast on them can make “mad honey.” It took out an army in 401 BC lead by Xenophon of Athens against Persia – hundreds of soldiers vomiting and unable to walk for a day. No-one died, unlike in 67 BC, where the army of Mithradates IV killed Pompey the Great’s soldiers while they were incapacitated. It’s biological warfare, victory has never tasted sweeter.

Mad honey is still a problem today – not so much the stuff in a grocery store (which is diluted and problem tested and stuff) but organic honey direct from the beehive can be risky. Plus some men use it as an aphrodisiac. Idiots.

That’s the rhododendron poison, making a comeback after 2400 years on a big screen near you! What did you think of the movie? There were lots of sciencey deductions made that weren’t very well explained, so if you have any questions, post a comment and I’ll do me best!

“It tastes like burning!” How (and why) chili brings the heat

// December 21st, 2009 // 2 Comments » // How Things Work, Poisons, Science at Home

Capsaicin Necklace

Last night I made spicy Dhall for dinner, because lentils and peas may be high in protein, but they’re also really lame. I used a recipe from an old English cookbook from the 70’s with all pounds and ounces. Couldn’t be bothered converting stuff, so I made it up along the way. Hell, that’s the only way to cook. Here’s a quick recipe.

That this will make a vegetarian high protein meal that doesn’t taste like boredom.

1. Boil lentils or split peas or whatever in water until soft.
2. Melt 50 g of butter and cook an onion, a chili and some cumin, coriandar and cinnamon in a separate pan.
3. Combine the shizz in both the pans together with a can o’ tomatoes and add spices till it tastes good.

It took a bit of experimenting spice-wise to get it nummy, but the final result supported my hypothesis. There was much noms.

During the cooking process I had to remove the chili seeds and membranes ‘cos that’s the done thing, and the whole “delicately extract with a knife” thing really wasn’t working for me (I prefer the roughly stabbing kind of knifery) so I just took it out with my fingers. Big mistake. They were burning all night. As I laid in my bed and cried “WHY?” I wondered “why?” What’s the SCIENCE?

The one responsible for the ouchy-pain is a long guy called capsaicin (and a few of his brothers), mainly found in the membranes around the seeds. It’s flavourless and works by activating pain receptors in nerves, specifically the receptor TRPV1 which usually opens at temperatures above 43 C. Opening causes positive ions to enter en masse, causing the membrane to depolarise and the neuron to fire, discussed here in Frankensteiny detail. There are loads of different pain receptors in your body – each one triggers at a different temperature or pressure. Some are linked directly to motor nerves, so you can react to a hot pan by pulling your hand away faster than you’re brain can say “Ow!”. When you have some chili (or get it all over your skin like I did) your nerve cells actually think you’re on fire.

Making big molecules like capsaicin is a pain in the ass, so there has to be a butt-kicking reason to do it or plants wouldn’t bother. Even if they liked it spicy like Cartmans hand.

My name is Jennifer Lopez I eat tacos y burritos

The heat of a hot chili doesn’t stop humans eating it (quite the contrary), but a mouse or a cow might be less inclined to munch a bunch once they’d tried some. That’s good, because herbivores are fond of chewing things which destroys the seeds. Birds are unaffected by capsaicin and can happily eat chili peppers all the time, good for the plant again – birds aren’t great at chewing, but they are VERY good at flying around and crapping out seeds.

Capsaicin is also an antifungal and antibacterial, and protects the plant with it’s awesome microbe fighting power. It also protects your curry from the evils of mould and might even impart some health benefits. The molecule keeps shape at high temperatures, which is why you can cook the hell out of a curry and it will still taste spicy. It doesn’t dissolve in water, so you’re better off drinking milk if you feel the burn, casein protein acts like a detergent and captures the chili into small ineffective globs. I guess drinking soap would work too, but milk is probably tastier. Ever tried soap? (Some smell so good I can’t resist. You’d think I would know better by now.)

This post would not be complete without a plea for someone to send me chili chocolate icecream. I had it once and I must have it again! The search will never cease until I am in it’s hot chocolatey frozen embrace once again. Seriously, have you ever tried it? It’s the spiciest thing I’ve ever had and paradox in a waffle cone.

Oven baked pizza that gets you baked!

// December 17th, 2009 // Comments Off on Oven baked pizza that gets you baked! // Drugs, Just for Fun

Dude this pizza has weed in it

You’d expect it in Amsterdam, but now the trend has reached America. Pizza, lasagna, cheesecake with a good helping of weed. It’s not illegal if it’s medical!

It’s a medical marijuana dispensary slash eatery called Ganja Gourmet, and it just opened in Denver. You need a card from a doctor to buy the food, as written on the tie-dyed shirts of employees “Our food is so great, you need a license to eat it!!!” On the other hand, 90% of the food has been take away for the first week, so how well are they controlling that? According to this, the council is considering making eating or smoking cannabis on site illegal – so take away only. Isn’t that only going to make it worse?

Aside from possible issues in dosage control I think this is a great idea, particularly for people with cancer who feel nauseas and have trouble eating. Plus where does it say we have to take all the fun out of medicine? Do we have to grind everything up into a flavourless pill for maximum un-enjoyment? The health benefits of having fun, laughing and sharing a meal shouldn’t be underestimated, think of clown doctors! And with all the crappy drugs and hospital stays and radiation and chemo and hairloss and all that goes with cancer treatment, they SHOULD get a special pass to a groovy cafe where they can take drugs no one else is allowed to take. There has to be some silver lining!

So take away or dine in, you can have your high and eat it too.

Hat tip to Dr_Leigh on Twitter. Picture from somewhere in Cambodia, not connected to Ganja Gourmet. Apparently they’ve been doing the special topping for a while now!

Not So Humble Science Cookies

// December 17th, 2009 // Comments Off on Not So Humble Science Cookies // Just for Fun, Science Art, Science at Home

Science and dessert… oh yeah. The two best things in the world, barring only the horizon blue and bare and far from shore. Not So Humble Pie is making incredible science inspired cookie and cupcake art, these pictures look absolutely unequivocally delicious and come with recipes! My mouth is watering just thinking about them.

brain cupcakes
Brains… Brains… Mmm… Ganache

Gel Electrophoresis Cookies
Gel electrophoresis, separating DNA based on size and taste

Atom Cookies
Not made for splitting

Petri Dish Cookie
Better than your average agar

I’m going to make the labcoat toting gingerbread for Christmas. In fact, I’ll make them ALL and have a giant sugar-high science party! RSS her, it’s even better than daily food porn.

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