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Monthly Archives: December 2015

Ah, good old lactic acid. It and I are pretty good friends.

Also known as carboxylic acid, it’s constantly produced in us humans (and other animals) in a process called homolactic fermentation, and is commonly associated with exercise. Why? Well, our bodies are always creating it to some degree, but during intense exertion when our bodies are forced to break down fuel when oxygen is not present, lactic acid concentration increases so much that lactate enzymes in our bodies are like “whoa” and are unable to flush it out efficiently.

This causes the tell-tale aches and pains associated with a long run or an intense weight lifting session.

But did you know that lactic acid is also found in some of the foods that we eat?

Thanks to teeny-tiny microscopic lactic acid bacteria, which also ferment glucose to lactic acid, we have products like yogurt, cheese, sourdough bread, and wine!

We should all thank our lucky stars for lactic acid, even if it is the cause of some of our post-exercise soreness. Here are some recipes and meal ideas that incorporate it’s goodness 🙂

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And… bonus!

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Hello, world! I have an innovative muffin recipe to share with you today. One of my favorite things about baking is that although once you’ve perfected a recipe, you should follow it precisely, when you’re experimenting to create something new a little bit of haphazardness is welcomed. But, tip: be sure to keep note of the little “pinches of this and that” that you add. Because when you come up with a winner, you’ll probably want to recreate it!

Luckily for you, I’ve written down one of my new favorites.

Secret ingredient? Sweet potato!

No, not your average orange yam. These are delicious, but a little watery. In contrast, one of my prized baking secrets are Japanese yams. They provide a similar function as a banana would, without being overpoweringly “banana.” Banana is wonderful, and has its’ purposes, but when you want a neutral, yet sweet flavor, white or Japanese sweet potatoes are your best bet!

White sweet potatoes still provide fiber, beta-carotene, and other trace vitamins and minerals, so they make for a very nourishing ingredient in a delicious dessert! Or snack… or breakfast.

IMG_1143Preheat your oven to 375°F and mix your wet ingredients. Here we have a half cup of 2% greek yogurt, one egg, 1/4 cup of sugar free vanilla syrup (you can use honey or maple syrup), and a heaping half cup of white sweet potato. Mash the sweet potato well and mix all of them together.

  • 1/2 cup (100g) greek yogurt
  • a little more than 1/2 cup cooked sweet potato (125g)
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) liquid sweetener, such as honey, maple syrup, or sugar-free syrup
  • 1 egg

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Now, for dry ingredients. Here we have:

  • 1 scoop of protein powder (I used Cellucor Cinnamon Swirl Whey)
  • 1/2 cup of oat flour
  • 1/2 cup of fava + garbanzo bean blend flour
  • 1/4 cup of coconut flour
  • 1/2 cup of my secret flour (though pretty much any flour will work here)
  • 1/2 cup of sugar of choice (i use a stevia + erythritol blend)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/3 tsp sea salt

Now add your wet ingredients to the dry, and mix well. It needed some extra liquid, so I added a 1/2 cup of almond milk.

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Divide and add the batter into as many dividers as you like. I made 12.

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Now here is where you can get creative! This time, I did four of each flavor:

  • Blueberry muffin: some blueberries and a little lemon juice
  • Cinnamon chocolate chip: exactly what it sounds like 🙂
  • Apple maple pecan: maple glazed pecan pieces and homemade dehydrated apple slices

Just add whatever ingredients you like, and mix them in! This way you can have many flavors at once.

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Bake these in the oven for about 20 minutes, so that when you stick a toothpick or knife in, it comes out clean. Let cool for about 10 minutes, and then enjoy!

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In the last blog post I shared information about the sensation of taste; the concept of how it is transduced by our cells from a chemical sensation to a neural message that is sent and received by the brain for processing. This next post will shed more light on how our other senses play a role in how we taste food.

With the popularity of sites like Pinterest, Chowhound, and Yummly, it should be no surprise that we truly do “eat with our eyes!” Here’s why: our brains are visually wired. Our brains love visual content. Did you know that we interpret visual information faster than the language associated with it? This might explain why cookbooks with pictures are far more inspiring than those which only include text.

One key element that rounds out the experience of taste is the color of the meal. For instance, we are attracted to red foods because it signals calories. Food that is red inadvertently gets the mind to believe that it has more sugar and nutrients. This was made apparent with a few studies where subjects perceived white wine as tasting much sweeter because it was sipped under red light as opposed to blue or white light[1].  And white wine that had been dyed red was able to trick enology students in the same way.

While color certainly adds to the experience of the meal, it is considered to be inconsistent and contextual across cultures and current trends. What’s more, our own individual expectations and already-constructed associations similarly impact appetite[2]. While bright pops of color—say, in our cereal bowls or on our plates of 5-star cuisine—used to be considered “trendy” and were widely used, more companies are opting for natural food dyes that impart a more modest hue to our favorite foods. It goes to show how food can be somewhat of a fashion statement.

The pleasant crackle of bacon frying in the pan, the infamous crunch of a potato chip, the little rice puffs that whisper as they get submerged under milk. The melodies that meals make also influence our perception of their deliciousness. According to Charles Spence, award-winning researcher at Oxford University, people use sounds all the time as a way to assess the tastiness of a food[3]. He has conducted numerous studies surrounding artificial application of crunch to potato chips, the enjoyment of a carbonated drink relative to how frequently one can hear bubbles popping, and just how important the crispiness of bacon is for the ultimate enjoyment of a BLT. In every study, there is one confound, and that is this—sound is a crucial part of the eating experience because it indicates texture, quality, and freshness. It helps the brain decode what it is that we are eating in the first place.

 

[1] Oberfeld, Daniel, Heiko Hecht, Ullrich Allendorf, and Florian Wickelmaier. “AMBIENT LIGHTING MODIFIES THE FLAVOR OF WINE.” Wiley Online Library. June 26, 2009. Accessed December 20, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-459X.2009.00239.x.

[2]Fleming, Amy. “How We Tate Different Colors.” The Guardian. March 12, 2014. Accessed December 20, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2013/mar/12/how-taste-different-colours.

[3] Sifferlen, Alexandra. “Why We Like Food That Makes Noise.” Time. March 26, 2015. Accessed December 20, 2015. http://time.com/3759953/sound-flavor-taste/.

As an introduction to my blog and my prelude into the world of blogging, I decided to expand upon something within the realm of food science that relates to everyone: the mechanism of flavor. The neat thing about taste is that although we all have different preferences, the physical process that our bodies use to convert the different molecules and ions of an assortment of foods into something that we recognize as “pizza!” or “liver…” is, for the most part, the same across all humans! (Note: it gets a little more complicated when we include super-tasters and people with taste disorders.)

How you experience a food or drink begins with a process called gustation – a fancy word for taste. Taste is a highly orchestrated sensory event that combines all the chemical and physiological aspects of sensation, transduction, and perception. It’s much more complex than meets the eye (or mouth!) and interweaves many stimuli to create an experience that we call, flavor.

As you might guess, it starts with the taste buds. But did you know that within each individual taste bud inside your mouth, there are 50-100 taste cells that contain special “hairs” to detect all five taste sensations? These hairs, called microvilli, increase the surface area of the cell to allow it to take in sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami (and rumored to be another taste, olegustus) molecules that lead to the sensation of one of millions of different foods [1],[2].

In the case of sweet, bitter, and umami molecules, they bind to a receptor protein within the membrane of the microscopic taste cell. Salty and sour taste molecules, or ions, travel through transmembrane protein channels to reach the taste cell. Once this occurs, a series of events unfold which ultimately leads to the sensory message being sent to the brain.

Flavors of food and other substances are also created through gustation’s two other “sister senses,” smell (olfaction) and even nerve stimulation from pain or temperature change (nociception).

Foods like wasabi and horseradish aren’t sensory experiences but irritations! These foods stimulate the nasal passages and result in a burning sensation in the nose and throat, and watering eyes. When we eat chile peppers, we actually experience pain due to nociceptors in the mouth being triggered by a compound called capsaicin. The capsaicin activates this pain receptor and a message is sent to the brain resulting in an array of physical symptoms, such as increased heart rate and sweating.

wasabi… ice cream?

Maybe you enjoy cold, left-over pizza, but what about a cold egg omelet? Often times we associate certain meals with distinct temperatures. So, why does your favorite thin-mint cookie or sugar-free gum give you the shivers? Certain ingredients impart “cool” effects – such as sugar alcohols like sorbitol, xylitol, and maltitol or from substances like spearmint or menthol. They trigger specific ion channels within nerve cells that are responsible for signaling that you are experiencing cold! The same mechanism works for spicy foods like hot sauce that possess the ability to turn ‘on’ ion channels that are also activated by hot temperatures [3].

Ted-ED Video on the “science of spiciness!”

The gustatory and olfactory systems are both alike in that they are both chemical senses, operating using a chemosensory system to extract stimuli from the environment and make meaning out of it, unlike the other senses, which primarily use mechanoreceptors and photoreceptors to transduce physical stimuli into a response.

In fact, it’s easy to confuse smell for taste. It happens all the time – for example, the odor of vanilla is often associated with sweetness. This is why vanilla extract is often added to baked goods, as its aroma intensifies our perception of sweet [4]. Odor of a food also amplifies how we experience texture, because the two brain cortices that regulate sensation and perception for smell and touch—the olfactory and somatosensory—are linked. Creamy foods are perceived to be sweeter than their gritty or crunchy counterparts, regardless of whether sugars are present. However, though there are around five or six basic tastes that humans can distinguish, like “sweet,” scientists have predicted that we can smell anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 different odors [5]! That can lead to a lot of different flavors. Reception and transduction of olfactant molecules occurs in a similar series of events that taste molecules do; the molecules bind at a protein receptor site on olfactory nerve cells. A cascade of intracellular events occurs, and the signal message is routed directly to the forebrain where they are “decoded” and recognized as a particular smell [6].

These sensory qualities  coupled lead to the emergent property of flavor, but how a food is perceived by a person relates to a few other factors, including its’ presentation and how it sounds, as well as one’s individual psychology. In part two, I’ll divulge more delicious secrets on the experience of eating!

[1] “Molecular Basis for Taste — Tastant Molecules.” Molecular Basis for Taste — Tastant Molecules. 1999. Accessed December 15, 2015. http://www.edinformatics.com/math_science/science_of_cooking/taste_molecules.htm.

[2] Running, Cordelia A.; Craig, Bruce A.; Mattes, Richard D. (July 3, 2015). “Oleogustus: The Unique Taste of Fat”. Chemical Senses 40 (6). doi:10.1093/chemse/bjv036. Retrieved December 14, 2015.

[3] “Molecular Basis for Taste — Tastant Molecules.” Molecular Basis for Taste — Tastant Molecules. 1999. Accessed December 15, 2015. http://www.edinformatics.com/math_science/science_of_cooking/taste_molecules.htm.

[4] Sakai, N., T. Kobayakawa, N. Gotow, S. Saito, and S. Imada. “Result Filters.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. June 1, 2001. Accessed December 15, 2015. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11565908.

[5] “TASTE AND SMELL.” Taste And Smell. Accessed December 15, 2015. http://dwb.unl.edu/Teacher/NSF/C10/C10Links/ericir.syr.edu/Projects/Newton/11/tstesmll.html.

 

[6] Hutchins, Max. “Chemical Senses: Olfaction and Gustation (Section 2, Chapter 9) Neuroscience Online: An Electronic Textbook for the Neurosciences | Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy – The University of Texas Medical School at Houston.” Chemical Senses: Olfaction and Gustation (Section 2, Chapter 9) Neuroscience Online: An Electronic Textbook for the Neurosciences | Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy – The University of Texas Medical School at Houston. 1997. Accessed December 15, 2015. http://neuroscience.uth.tmc.edu/s2/chapter09.html

 

Hi, I’m Kyra, a high school student that’s soon to be college bound! This virtual journal is something I created with the hopes of connecting with the world and expressing who I am and what I love! I have a handful of passions that have helped me to determine the future that I want for myself. I have decided that my future includes happiness, which to me is synonymous with learning, exploring, and questioning.

Sounds pretty scientific, huh? That’s because I’ve realized that I love soaking up all the knowledge I can regarding the chemical, cultural, psychological, and biological components of… cuisine.

Yes, you heard right! Through my pursuit of a healthy life and desire to tap into the creative component of myself, I started baking and cooking to meet my nutritional needs as an athlete, and to quench my desire to create quirky new recipes. Somewhere along the way, I was led to a little something that I love: food science.  I quickly realized that there is more than meets the eye (or taste bud!) to food.

Follow me along on my journey, and you will, too. I’ll share my musings on current happenings in food science, nutritional news, and my favorite recipes.