Tag archives: food and science
By Matin Durrani
As Physics World editor, I spend most of my time covering science that I have never been involved in. I might write articles about astrophysicists, interview atomic physicists or edit features by particle physicists, but it doesn’t mean I’ve ever done any research in those fields.
It was therefore a pleasant change last Friday to attend a summit organized by the Institute of Physics, which publishes Physics World, on physics in food manufacturing. Back in the 1990s, I did a PhD with Athene Donald at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge on the physical properties of mixtures of gel-forming biopolymers – materials that apart from being interesting from a fundamental point of view are also relevant to the food industry.
Many foods, after all, are complex, multicomponent mixtures – and if you can understand how they behave, then you can create foods that are healthier, cheaper and perhaps even tastier too.
By Matin Durrani in Baltimore, Maryland, US
A couple of years ago my colleague James Dacey decided to give up eating chocolate, crisps, biscuits and cakes over Lent and it’s a virtuous – if very dull – decision I’ve been following every year since (even if James has long since strayed from the path of righteousness).
It was therefore with a dollop of smug satisfaction that I attended a talk at this year’s APS March meeting by Rongjia Tao – a physicist from Temple University in the US. He has developed a way of cutting the amount of fat in chocolate without, apparently, losing any of the taste.
Now, reducing the fat content in chocolate might seem straightforward – you just get rid of the fat, right? But it’s a harder problem than you’d think for chocolate manufacturers, who have to send liquid chocolate – a suspension of spherical cocoa particles in a melted fat of cocoa butter and other oils – down pipes and tubes.
By Michael Banks, Tushna Commissariat and Matin Durrani
Chocolate, the food of the gods, is more popular now as a sweet treat than ever before. And while more and more people know their 70% cocoa from their truffles, “lecithin” still isn’t a word that pops up often. It is an ingredient that plays a key role in chocolate-making and other foods. But this fatty substance has long confounded food-scientists and confectioners alike – we don’t know how this ingredient works on a molecular level and confectioners have had to rely on observations and trial-and-error methods to perfect recipes.
Now, though, chocolatiers have had help from an unexpected field – that of molecular biology – to figure out chocolate “conching” – the part of the chocolate-making process where aromatic sensation, texture and “mouthfeel” are developed. In a special issue on “The Physics of Food” published in the Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics, Heiko Briesen and colleagues at Technische Universität München, Germany, use molecular dynamics to model and simulate how lecithin molecules, made from different sources, attach to the sugar surface in cocoa butter. “I’m quite confident molecular dynamics will strongly support food science in the future” says Briesen.
By Hamish Johnston
It has been a cracker of a summer here in south-west England, with lots of sunshine and temperatures in the mid-twenties just about every day. Not surprisingly, I have been eating my fair share of ice cream, but unlike this concoction whipped up by a physicist-turned-chef in Spain, the stuff you get in Bristol does not change colour when you lick it!
By Hamish Johnston
The physics of how the contents of a microwaved pastry can become “hotter than the Sun” is the subject of an entertaining and informative blog entry by Ethan Siegel. He looks at the physics of heating “microwave pockets”, those roof-of-your-mouth-scalding savoury treats that appeared on shelves in the 1980s. He explains why the outer portion of a pocket can be extremely hot, while the interior remains frozen – and why pockets often explode when heated through.
Siegel’s been a bit cheeky and republished this entry from 2009, but I suppose it’s timeless and I’m sure you can still buy microwave pockets somewhere! His blog is called Starts With a Bang and the entry is entitled “Throwback Thursday: The physics of hot pockets”.
As the crisis in the Ukraine drags on, scientists are beginning to worry about the effect it could have on scientific collaborations involving Russia and the West. Several websites are reporting that Russia is threatening to ban US astronauts from the shuttles that travel to the International Space Station (ISS). Indeed, the Independent quotes Russia’s deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin as saying that it would be possible for Russia to independently operate its portion of the ISS, while the US would not be able to do so. Indeed both toilets on the ISS are Russian, so it could get very messy up there!
By Hamish Johnston
On Tuesday I was feeling particularly pleased with myself over the April Fool’s piece that I penned. It was about a fictitious microwave-oven ban organized by radio astronomers at the UK’s Jodrell Bank Observatory. But now it looks like I might have a bit of microwaved egg on my face because two of my colleagues visited Jodrell Bank this week and guess what? Astronomers there have built a Faraday cage around the microwave in their tearoom to stop it from interfering with their equipment. Louise Mayor took the above photos: click on the image to read the reminder to microwave users.
By Tushna Commissariat
Early this week, a story in the Telegraph caught our eye – NASA is planning on sending turnip, cress and basil seeds to the Moon to germinate them! This is most definitely not the first time that plants have been grown beyond the realms of Earth. Indeed, potatoes were grown on board during a 1995 Space Shuttle mission and many experiments involving germinating seeds were done on the International Space Station. The goal of these studies was to understand the effects of microgravity on plant growth. But now, NASA plans to take this one step further in 2015 with their Moon Express mission, which will include the Lunar Plant Growth Chamber that will carry seeds and enough air and nutrients to allow the seeds to sprout and grow. Will fresh salad be on an astronaut’s menu soon?
By Matin Durrani
And so to the physics department at Bristol University last night, which played host to “The Great Physics Bake Off” organized by PhD students Janina Möreke and Sara Carreira. The aims were simple: to showcase the cake-baking talent of the department, have some fun, and at the same time raise money for IOP for Africa – the scheme run by the Institute of Physics, which publishes Physics World, to boost physics education in some of the poorest countries in the world.
By Michael Banks in Boston
Here is a good quiz question. What contains more water: a cucumber or a glass of milk?
If you happened to guess the humble cucumber then you would be correct.
At least that is, according to Nathan Myhrvold, who says the water content of a glass of milk is around 85%, while for a cucumber it is more like 95%. This is because milk is made up of other things such as proteins and fat.
Myhrvold, who has a PhD in physics, was speaking at the 2013 AAAS meeting in Boston where he gave a plenary lecture to a packed audience on the science of cooking.
Myhrvold is the brains behind the recently published six-volume, 2400-page tome Modernist Cuisine that took him and his staff of eight researchers around five years to put together.
Apart from talking about the novel cooking techniques he has developed such as making crispy chips in an ultrasonic bath and spinning peas in a centrifuge to bring out more flavour, Myhrvold had some tidbits of information we could all put to use.