‘Til I See You Again, Chemistry of Food

January28

It’s a bittersweet goodbye as I write my final blog post for this class. It seems that just yesterday, we were walking into a 3-hour class with people we had never seen, and now, we have all drawn closer than ever. It will be nice to get a break from all the reading but there will be so much that I miss.

One aspect, in particular, that I enjoyed in this class was the small classroom setting. By only having 17 people in the room, we were able to easily break into groups and ask all of our questions with plenty of time to do so. No one was yelling and there weren’t many awkward silences. Quite frankly, it was peaceful and refreshing to be in a room with students who wanted to learn and weren’t afraid to speak up and ask questions. I also enjoyed the cooking experiments we participated in. I learned so much about cooking that I didn’t before and I can’t wait to try out some of the recipes at home. Not only was the cooking fun, but I was able to understand why I did this and that a certain way. I think that’s the most important part.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed this class, there were times when I was bogged down with stress. What contributed to this the most was the excessive amount of homework given every night. Reading after reading after reading. It also seemed as if it never stopped. I understand the reasoning behind making us read most of it, but it was still trying to find time to finish it all even if this was the only class we had all semester. And I actually enjoyed a lot of the reading that we did. It taught me information that is very valuable to life and health.

If I could give any advice to incoming students, it would be: DON’T STRESS. That is the worst thing you can do. Instead, take your time, plan accordingly and remember the goal. The point of this class is to learn, not to get the best grade. I think many of us lose sight of that. I will never forget the memories I’ve made in this class. From the beginning to final premiere of our cooking show, this class was all worth it. So, in the words of Carrie Underwood, “This is not where it ends. I’ll carry you with me, ’til I see you again.” So long, Chemistry of Food, so long.

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Looking for Bourbon? Kentucky is Your Guy…

January26

After having the opportunity to visit two distilleries this past week, I think it’s safe to say that Kentucky knows its bourbon. After all, we do produce 95% of all the bourbon in the nation. Wilderness Trace Distillery had just opened and currently, their distillations were all taking place in one room. That was definitely an example of small-scale production compared to what we saw at Maker’s Mark. There, we walked from building to building, each designated with their own jobs (Mash Tubs, Fermenting, Distilling, Barrel Holding, Bottling, etc.). But both seemed to have the same goal in mind: create a spirit that was appealing to the human palate in order to better serve the people.

Wilderness Trace started our tour by giving us an overview of the actual chemistry behind their bourbon making. We were able to hold some of the barrel pieces used to store their alcohol and even take a gander at some of the ingredients to start the fermentation. Once we sat through that simple training, we were taken into the room where the whole process took place. Each machine had a given job that was explained to us and we got to look inside to see what it looked like. Since they just opened, Wilderness Trace only had a few barrels of bourbon filled that still had to age for 4-5 years. I really enjoyed being able to see how simple it can be to make bourbon and how it starts out. I know within a few years, their business will have grown full-scale.

Maker’s Mark was quite a different story as far as atmosphere goes. They have been in business for several years so the production here was seen on a much larger scale. We were taken from building to building to see each of the same processes we saw at Wilderness Trace. What amazed me was how in unison all the workers were. Not only do the machines play a big role in the production, but without workers, this business would not be the size it is today. The best building I think was the first one where the grains are brought in. When you walked in, it smelt of fresh baked bread. I thought it was interesting to see how the grain is brought in and then checked to make sure it isn’t genetically modified corn or has any imperfections.

From both of these places, it is easy to see that we are citizens of a lovely state and we should be Kentucky Proud. These distilleries were able to show me the great side of learning about alcohol. It is very obvious that these people love their jobs and they want to bring that joy to others in the process of learning about bourbon. In the future, I hope to tour all the distilleries on the Bourbon Trail!

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Ethyl What?

January25

What comes to your mind when you hear the term Ethyl Butyrate? Well, at first, I had no clue what it was, not even an inkling. But after some in-depth research,  I was able to find out that Ethyl Butyrate is actually a colorless liquid chemical that naturally occurs in some fruits but can also be synthetically made. Its odor is very similar to that of fresh oranges. So, why do we need to know about it? Here comes the fun part: it is put in your orange juice to give it that fresh smell and make up for all that was stripped away during the preservation process.

It’s quite interesting actually the process used to make orange juice. In a simplified version, what happens is oranges are squeezed into a barrel. Once that barrel is full of juice, all the oxygen is removed from it, preventing the orange juice from spoiling even if it is kept in the barrel for years. However, the bad part of that process is that when all the oxygen is removed, all the flavors, odors and nutrients are removed as well, leaving you with tasteless juice. In order to restore those flavors and smells, Ethyl Butyrate is added along with the other ingredients present in “flavor packs.” Feels good to know that your orange juice doesn’t actually have any of the flavor from real oranges, doesn’t it? Not really! I actually felt kind of betrayed at first, but anything juice manufacturers can do to make money will be done. That’s their main goal.

As far as benefits and problems of Ethyl Butyrate, we found that it’s a very cheap chemical, which is why it is used so often. However, that does mean that when juice manufacturers label their juices as “100% orange juice”, they are lying. Yes, it is the exact juice from the oranges, but all the nutrients and flavor are gone once the oxygen is stripped away, leaving you with much less than real orange juice. Consider an example. When you buy Minute Maid OJ from the store, it tastes the same time and time again , right? That’s because the flavor packs and the ingredients in them (including Ethyl Butyrate) have been chemically processed to make them taste that way. If the real orange juice was used, it would not always taste the same because all oranges taste different. Yet, Minute Maid still gets to slap “100% Orange Juice” on their drinks.

The FDA didn’t state a minimum quantity of Ethyl Butyrate that could be used in juices, but instead just says the smallest quantity possible to get the intended results. Not only does that give juice manufacturers so much freedom, but it also amazes me at how careless our government can be regarding such important standards. Although Ethyl Butyrate seems harmless now, there is no telling what research will bring to our attention at a later point. For now, keep drinking your Orange Juice (in moderation) and you should be fine. But, don’t be fooled by the labeling system. The cheapest one probably tastes the exact same as the 100% one.

 

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What I’ve Taken Away From This Class

January22

The Chemistry of Food has taught me so much about food culture. From boiling points to myoglobin, this course has taken me from the beginning stages of food being made to the end stage of how it can affect our future. Plus, the course was shoved into 3 weeks which made it even more intense, but I personally think more beneficial. What I think has affected me most, however, was a comment made today about the ability to learn.

As we have journeyed through elementary school and high school, we all have been taught several different subjects that most of us don’t even remember. However, those two stages at the beginning are what brought us to our college journey today and without them, we would not be here. When we were asked today why we were at Centre College, the first answer that popped into my head was to get an education. Even though that may be true, what I failed to realize was that I have been getting an education all my life. The most important part of getting an education, however, is the part we all struggle with: learning how to learn and how to solve problems. In elementary school, we were shown how to solve the problem but could always ask the teacher if we needed extra help. We didn’t need to learn how to learn because we were kids. We just wanted to be grown-ups. Now that I’m in college, I see the true meaning behind each of those. Although I’ve been taught so much, it won’t matter whether I remember it in the future or not because I will most likely be forced to learn it again. What does matter is that I teach myself the process that learning takes on so that I can practice it in all my future endeavors. We never stop learning. Therefore, learning how to learn is vital to our success not just now, but for as long as we live. In college, the teacher isn’t just there to repeat to you how to do something; sometimes, you have to take it upon yourself to learn how to solve the problem. If I’ve learned anything my first semester in college, it’s that and this class has also validated that fact for me. Although I am not alone, it is important that I learn how to do it myself because I won’t always have someone there to tell me. That is not only a college lesson but a life lesson as well.

Although I very much enjoyed being able to experiment with flavors, gluten, protein and creams, I think that speech given today is one aspect I will never forget from this class. This class has taught me to learn just for the fun of it and not to worry so much about the grade. In the end, that is what learning is all about, isn’t it? We learn to be knowledgeable, but in order to reach that goal, we must first learn how to learn and I think this class is definitely one of the first stepping stones to that process. Once we learn how to learn, problem solving will come along as well and those skills will be used forever in life. I have to admit, I am sad this class is ending. Yet, this is not the end and the memories we’ve all made will be cherished forever.

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The Many Facets of Bourbon

January21

Living in Kentucky, it’s a sin if you don’t know how Bourbon is made. Well as a Kentuckian myself, I didn’t know the ends and outs of it much until after my visit to Wilderness Trace Distillery today. Through a short chemistry lesson and a tour of the facility, I could easily explain how bourbon is processed now.

First, a grain mixture commonly known as mash is mixed with water and yeast. This ground up grain mixture has to be 51% corn and the rest must consist of rye, wheat or malted barley. Once the sour mash is created and fermented, it is then distilled to alcohol. Not pure alcohol by any means, but around 65-70% alcohol. This distillation process can be done using a pot still or a column still. Wilderness Trace uses the traditional column still. As it’s in the column still, the alcohol is run up and down, going up as alcohol and coming back down as a vapor. It does this continually until the alcohol reaches the correct proof. Once the desired proof has been obtained, the spirit is placed into a newly charred American oak barrel for aging. During this process, it gains color and flavor from the sugars present in the charred wood. Also, as it ages in the barrel, some of the alcohol evaporates and oxidizes, causing  a change in flavors as well. In Kentucky, for a bourbon to called a “Kentucky Bourbon”, it must be aged here for at least a year, however, most distilleries age them for 4-5 years.

Wilderness Trace just recently opened their new distillery around 7 weeks ago, but from their expanse of knowledge, it was evident that each of the employees were well educated on alcohol distillation and even the chemistry behind it. I learned that copper is used in the distilling process because it acts as a catalyst. If stainless steel were used, it would emit a black color from the sulfur reaction and cause the alcohol to turn black. However, copper reacts with sulfur and protects the alcohol from that foul color and taste. I also learned that when making alcohol, other by-products are made as well. At this time, many are conducting research to see how these by-products can be used elsewhere in order to extend profits. Wilderness Trace doesn’t just make bourbon, they are also producing vodka and rum to sell as well. We were told that vodka is one of the purer alcohols, which is why it has such a clear color and the proof is usually somewhat higher in it.

Alcohol can be a beautiful thing if used in the right way. Being able to learn the process of how it is made and seeing it made it all the more real and is definitely not something I will forget. A lot of people look past the real art there is in making alcohols and I am thankful that we were fortunate enough to be able to experience it. Nonetheless, I feel more like a true Kentuckian now that the making of bourbon is in my repertoire.

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One Spoonful At A Time

January20

Being a part of this class has opened my mind to so many new aspects of food that I had never really given much thought to before. I would say I am a changed person, or at least I’m changing my way of life…one spoonful at a time. It’s a continuous process, really. The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan made me realize that all my food comes from corn because “I am what I eat eats.” Food, Inc. made me not want to eat meat ever again. The visit to Marksbury Farms gave me newfound hope that maybe I can trust that what I am eating is good if I get it from that meat-processing plant and not Wal-Mart. Learning about GMO’s reassured me that GMO’s are soon to change the face of this earth and we might as well jump on board if we want to stay afloat.

With all that being said, I haven’t changed my dieting much at all. As I pile my plate high with chicken from the local grocery, broccoli with lots of butter and mashed potatoes, I think about how much corn I am about to consume. It’s amazing the amount of corn we eat every day without even knowing, but Pollan gave me much needed insight on that. After watching how several farmers refused to show their chicken houses and how companies, like Tyson, refuse to give comments on how their chickens were treated in Food, Inc., I was set on not eating meat for a while. Yet, the next day, I found myself eating baked chicken for dinner and as I shoved it in my mouth, it only slightly ran through my mind that this chicken could have been tortured. And what did I say in response? “That chicken sure does taste good right now and that is all that matters.” I guess what I am trying to say is that even though my logic and thinking may have been altered a bit, I haven’t changed my eating style hardly at all. I still want all the foods I wanted before. Now I’m just more aware of what is in them and the process gone through to get to that stage.

Food is an amazing product. When you think about it, humans have been able to create/grow/produce foods that have different flavors and shapes that keep us energized and satisfied. It still amazes to read that corn has saved America’s life. Where would we be without it? Even though we possess this power, we’ve still managed to screw it up quite a bit with the ever-growing technology of this world. But, have any of us really done anything about it? No. Now that I am aware of the situation with today’s farmers, of course I think something should be done to save their jobs, but that hasn’t motivated me to do anything further than pray for them. I have learned so much about the ways of the food world, but, once again,  I haven’t let it change me that much. I think of food differently, without a doubt, but to get me to put down that extra piece of bread or pie is going to take a much longer process. It would have to be slow and strenuous, one small spoonful at a time.

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The Crisis in America

January17

Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America brought up three convincing arguments over the ecological crisis that America is experiencing and why it’s failing. Specifically, Berry mentioned a crisis of character, agriculture and culture. In my opinion, all three are intertwined that make one huge mess of a nation that we have to try and fix.

To begin, Berry described how the problems began. It all started when “the concept of country, homeland, and dwelling place becomes simplified as ‘the environment’, that is, what surrounds us” (Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America, pp. 22). Once Americans started seeing the earth as just a part of the world or as what is “surrounding us”, a division was instantly created between it and ourselves. The problem here is that our nation and us are one, we create each other, depend on each other, literally pass through one another. We cannot make it without each other, it is not possible. Berry said it best when he stated, “All who are living as neighbors here, human and plant and animal, are part of one another, and so cannot possibly flourish alone”(Berry, pp. 22). When the world started thinking our home is just the environment, the world started declining and still is. None of our problems can be solved until we all transform our characters to think the way we used to. Of course, this would mean a lot of work, but it is not something that we can make others do. Rather, “the use of the world is a personal matter, and the world can be preserved in health only by the forbearance and care of a multitude of others…Organizations may promote this sort of forbearance and care, but they cannot provide it” (Berry, pp. 26). Therefore, as much as we try personally to care for nature, we can’t do it alone and sadly, the people in the world seem to be unconcerned with it.

Berry seemed to make the crisis of character his strongest argument, but the other two fall in line right behind it. Actually, Berry almost creates a  true slippery slope as he explains the next two parts. Since America obviously needs a reality check, their culture and agriculture is also being affected negatively as well. Food is a cultural product and it cannot be produced solely by technology. However, our culture, as technical as it is becoming, fails to realize that. Big businesses and such only see dollar signs, so they aren’t concerned that they are changing our ways of life. And not just mine and yours, but every farmer, planter and  gardener that there is. Life will not be the same for them anymore. That affects culture and agriculture as well. I can remember when I used to pick up bales of hay by hand with my family because that was the only way we knew how. Now, I see nothing but tractors and hay balers all around that do all the work for you. I agree with Berry, where is this world headed? Eventually, the nation’s problems will be too big to defeat. If we stay at this rate, you’re looking at unemployment rates shooting through the roof and a world that is so selfish, it will no longer be called “the land of the free.” What a sad day that will be.

Berry, Wendell. The Unsettling of America. Sierra Book Clubs. San Francisco, 1997.

 

 

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Genetically Modified Organisms or Au Naturale?

January16

Which do we prefer today: GMO’s or organic foods? Well, to fully understand either one, you have to be informed of the definition of each. GMO’s are plants that have 2 beneficial genes that have been inserted into them. One of the genes has been taken from another source that may or may not have been grown from bacteria or a virus. and the second gene is inserted to create an antibiotic to kill any of those viruses. Once they are inserted, the genes change the genetic material of the plant and the plant becomes longer-lasting, resistant to harsh pesticides and, in the future, use them to cure illnesses. Organic foods are foods that are produced using methods of organic farming with limited modern synthetic inputs like pesticides and chemical fertilizers. These would be the foods you grow yourself or know where they are grown and no chemicals are use to enhance them.

If the question of whether we should have GMO’s in our foods was brought up at the dinner table, I believe I would say yes. That is completely scandalous of me, especially since I am a fan of Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America, but I haven’t seen enough of the bad side of them to truly be against them. So far, no studies have proven that GMO’s are a danger to our health. Actually, they help us out because our food can last longer, making it tougher and more resistant to rotting. I think I would rather pay the extra dollar or two for foods that are going to last me twice as long. I’m not saying that I will never ever raise a garden. Gardening is such an art and a great habit, especially since I would know what’s in my foods since I would be the one growing it. However, it seems illogical to completely get rid of a seemingly good thing just because you’re afraid of the risks.

Where would anyone be if they didn’t take risks? I wouldn’t be at Centre College and you may not be reading this blog. But because we work up the courage and strength, we are willing to take risks that may potentially backfire. I think that is what life is all about, taking risks and learning from them. It’s a very scary thought to think that engineers are using transgenic methods to make our foods last longer, but why knock it so soon? Let’s at least give it a chance to see what traits or qualities it can bring to our world.

You may have done significant amounts of research about GMO’s and still be convinced that they are unnecessary risks. That is fine, that’s why USDA organic labels are being made. But for those still unsure (especially the ones in my family), do the research to see for yourself what GMO’s really are and then make an educated decision. Growing your own foods is just fine, but we have to be prepared for anything. GMO’s could be the future of our food industry and I would like to know all the details of them before I start indulging. As of now, I feel informed and I have made my decision to keep eating them because I don’t see the real cause for worry, yet.

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The Benefits of Learning About The Chemistry of Food

January15

We’ve officially reached the mid-point of CentreTerm and I can’t say that I’m sad its almost over. CentreTerm has kept me very busy and added a lot of stress, so it will be nice to get a break after January 27th. Yet, this class has definitely changed my views regarding foods and the chemistry behind them. I’m even beginning to enjoy discussing the different chemical bonds present in different foods and how they can affect our bodies.

One major change this class has provided for me is the trait of being open-minded. I have a particular set of taste buds and I don’t usually like to experience new items but this class has opened a whole new array of foods, homemade ones at that, that have given my palate a new playing field. Because we only have four senses of tastes, getting to experience each of them was certainly a treat and it helped me to reason that combining some foods can make wonderful treats. When I usually think about chemistry, I think of bonding, acidity and test tubes but this class has allowed me to see another side of it, which deals with food. And I love learning about food and why it tastes a certain way. Learning about science in this way has definitely shown me the fun parts and given me useful information that will last a lifetime.

One other aspect that has changed about me is that I actually caught myself looking at food labels today. No one forced me to do it, I was just curious as to what I was really eating. Without a doubt, I can now see that science can be enjoyable and fun if we all just take the time to use it to benefit us. I am all about finding ways to better myself, whether it’s health or mental-related, and seeing the chemical reactions that take place in some of the foods I eat has given me so much insight. Not to mention, these are life lessons that we are learning here. I told my family today that trans fat never leaves your body and FDA regulations allow some trans fat to be in foods even if it says on the label that it has none. I probably wouldn’t have known that had I not taken this course or wanted to expand my knowledge of what I am really eating.

Overall, my whole perception of “boring and hard” science has totally changed to fun and interesting. And I know that as the class continues, I will continued to be amazed. Our first field trip is approaching which brings even more excitement since we will get to see some actual food processing. Let the fun continue!

 

-haley158

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Grilled Chicken or Chicken Nuggets?

January14

Michael Pollan’s  The Omnivore’s Dilemma relates the experience of two meals the Pollan family encountered. The first was from McDonald’s and consisted of fast-cooked food. The second meal was home cooked with locally grown eggs, corn and chicken. Which do you think was the preferred choice of his?

I think I can speak for all when I say this: the second home cooked meal was definitely the option he preferred. The fast food meal he first experienced wasn’t exactly as grand as he wanted it to be. Pollan’s son, Isaac, was happy to be getting McDonald’s since he didn’t get it often and he ordered what most kids his age would order: Chicken McNuggets, a double thick vanilla shake and a large French fry. Judith, Pollan’s wife, opted for the Cobb salad with Caesar dressing, a healthier option even though she wasn’t all that excited to even be eating at McDonald’s. Pollan ordered a cheeseburger with a large French fry and a large Coke. What was amazing is that their total was only $14.00-much cheaper than if you took the time to cook all the foods they just ordered. It was “packed and ready to go in four minutes”, thus proving true to its name of fast food (Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, pp. 110). This scenario proves that fast food is convenient and so convenient that Pollan and his family ate it in their car.

However, the second meal was one that Pollan cooked himself for a group of people and it was way better-tasting than any fast food could ever be. He was able to gather all the major food items from the farm he had been visiting instead of at the grocery store. The meal consisted of apple wood smoked grilled chicken, sweet corn cobs, a lemony rocket salad and a chocolate soufflé for dessert. What stood out as  a major difference between the two meals was the flavor change. The fast food was decent but it had no real taste. In fact, when Pollan asked his son what the nuggets tasted like, he responded, “They taste like what they are, which is nuggets” (Pollan, pp. 112). Sadly, the link between the nuggets and the new white meat chicken in them was not made, most likely because they tasted no different. With the chicken from the second meal, Liz, one of Pollan’s friends, agreed that the chicken tasted more “chickeny.”

I think Pollan’s two meals vary a lot  and I would totally side with the second meal as having a more homegrown taste. Fast food taste like it’s processed while a home-cooked meal is more appetizing and taste “more in character” (Pollan, pp. 271). All fast food to me taste the exact same, mainly because the flavors aren’t differentiable. Really, how can they be when you’re pressured to have food ready in 5 minutes? Any of us would gladly choose grilled chicken over chicken nuggets because we know the two are incomparable. Finally, what’s great about having locally grown food is you know exactly what those animals have been fed and you can even picture it in your mind. And quite frankly, there’s no greater feeling (at least in the food realm) than knowing that the hamburger you’re eating is from the cow on your farm who has been grass fed with no chemicals. It’s refreshing to hear.

 

-haley158

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