Foods are us! Are we what we eat?

The last two days I attended this year’s ‘Science and Society Conference’ an annual conference series which –this time- was focused on “Foods are us! On becoming and eating”. I had a great time and really enjoyed many interesting presentations by food science experts from very diverse disciplines and backgrounds. This ranged from chemistry and molecular biology to psychology and sociology.

 EMBL/EMBO Science and Society Conference on Foods are us! In Heidelberg ‘Science and Society Conference’ on Foods are us! On becoming and eating taking place at EMBL in Heidelberg

Microbiome hype and online courses

Dear regular followers of my blog1,
I know that it must appear as if I am currently obsessed with my microbial cohabitants. Soon, I will return to more candy and chocolate stuff. Promised!
But for now: back to my microbes….

The microbiome topic is increasingly hyped in the media. The microbiome topic is increasingly hyped in the media. ‘Redefining human’ is the catchy title for a planed film project. The picture is based on a screenshot from their website (website of ‘redefine human’)

  1. In case there are some… []

My gut feeling: no artificial sweeteners

It is not the first time artificial sweeteners are linked to negative effects on human health, such as weight gain or diabetes. But a new study by Suez et al. now published in Nature might very well mark an important cornerstone in our perception of artificial sweeteners as a frequently used food additive.

Artificial sweeteners severely affect the gut microbiota with potentially negative effects on human health

My microbes and me

During the last year I frequently stumbled over research related to the ‘microbiota’ (sometimes referred to as ‘microbiome’), which simply stands for the myriad microbes we carry around. It immediately caught my interest when I first learned more about it. I can still remember that I was totally sure that I had found a typo when I first read that we have 10-times more of those little creatures in our body than human cells!

My microbes and me - fascination microbiota, microbiome

Tree-to-bar basics

Recently I finally visited the small factory of the Chocolatemakers in Amsterdam, where delicious chocolate bars are handmade from bean to bar. Funny enough I had seen the facilities in the US (Mast Brothers in Brooklyn, NYC and Taza near Boston), but never the one closest to where I live. Naturally, I wanted to post something about my impressions at the Chocolatemakers as well, but suddenly realized that I never spend a single minute on explaining what ‘bean-to-bar’ actually means… do you know how chocolate is made?

Where does the magic happen in the making of chocolate? Where does the magic happen in the making of chocolate?

Smells like…

Researchers find that we can distinguish more than one trillion odors. Now, is that much or not?

Testing mixtures of odorsOut of a set of 128 basic odors (I only depicted 100 boxes here), 10 (as shown here), 20 or 30 were mixed so that test persons could compare the smell of different mixtures. Two entirely different sets of flavor compounds were easy to distinguish (left), but if a substantial part of the compounds were identical (violet squares) it quickly becomes difficult to sense a difference (middle) or at about 90% overlap mixtures can not even be distinguished at all (right). Figure inspired by figures made in Bushdid et al. (Science, 2014).

Perfect non-sustainable chocolate mousse

Howdy. I first wanted to entitle this post “the perfect chocolate mousse”, but that seemed to claim a little too much, right? Modest as I am, I consider it possible that some people might make even better (or at least equally good) chocolate mousse. But “quite good chocolate mousse” is simply not such a catchy title…

Perfect non-sustainable chocoalte mousse experimental test series
Systematic test of slightly different chocolate mousse recipes. From left to right: 0.5% iota-carrageenan (filled in canister at 80-90°C) | 1% iota-carrageenan (filled at 80-90°C) | 1.5% iota-carrageenan (filled at 80-90°C) | 1% iota-carrageenan (filled at 65°C). Each beaker contains 70g of chocolate mousse.

Beyond Criollo, Trinitario, Forastero

When entering the world of high-quality chocolates you immediately get confronted with a number of categories in order to understand or classify a chocolate. There is the technical aspect of the chocolate manufacturer: roasting, conching, adding cocoa butter. But all of this can only enhance or suppress the flavors that come from the cacao bean itself. The bean flavors are strongly influenced by the process of fermentation and drying. Finally, beyond that come two major labels: geographical origin and cacao variety. At first this all seemed to make sense to me, but the more I think (and read) about it, the less I buy it.

Online Courses on Science and Food

Now, how was the HarvardX course?1

Science and cooking – HarvardX online course Screenshot
Screenshot from HarvardX online course on “Science and Cooking”

  1. I kind of advertised it some month ago. Well, it’s not officially finished, but all lectures are done and all homework and lab tasks are given. []

Once a scientist, always a scientist

No way to deny it. I am a science geek, and I will remain a science geek, no matter if in the lab or in the kitchen (the kitchen is a lab, too, I would say). When I spend time on learning new things about cooking, eating, sweets, or health, I still carry around that scientist in me.