THE SCIENCE OF BEER AND COFFEE ACCORDING TO A UAB CHEMIST
From the FMS Global News Desk of Jeanne Hambleton Released: 29-Aug-2014
Source Newsroom: University of Alabama at Birmingham
Newswise — BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – University of Alabama at Birmingham professor Tracy Hamilton, Ph.D., is applying his chemistry expertise to two popular beverages: beer and coffee.
An associate professor in the UAB Department of Chemistry, Hamilton lectures for the American Chemical Society around the country about how the chemical makeup of these drinks impacts the characteristics of the products in final form.
“It is a really popular topic,” Hamilton said. The scientists “love talking about beer and, of course, drinking it.”
The theoretical chemist, who typically researches quantum mechanics, discovered a passion for zymurgy, the science of fermentation. His interest in flavorful drinks expanded to coffee when a member of his brew club began roasting beans. As with beer, Hamilton studied the chemical makeup of the beverage and began giving lectures on how coffee is cultivated, roasted and brewed.
Even career chemists learn something in these lectures, Hamilton says — such as the fact that the flavor and aromatic compounds in beer and coffee are also present in other foods. Damascenone, for instance, which offers baked apple notes, is marketed as a flavoring agent; it is a product of the Maillard reaction, the same chemical reaction that browns steaks and bread crusts as they heat.
Flavors in beer come from a surprising number of sources. One is the variety of sugar-type compounds in the beverage, which give brews their sweetness. Other than the sugars, much of a particular brew’s complexity of tastes comes from the hops used in its production.
The essential oils in hops can “contribute a lot of flavors like citrus, grapefruit and orange,” Hamilton said. “They’re what you smell.”
Compounds such as geraniol and citral are extremely common in beer, giving it a geranium-like or citrusy smell, respectively.
Some flavor and aroma compounds can be less savory. If a beer does not ferment long enough or correctly, it may taste like Granny Smith apples, thanks to acetaldehyde. This compound, produced as an intermediate step in fermentation, is not pleasant, Hamilton says. Another undesirable compound is 2-transnonenal, which tastes like damp paper.
However, some styles of beer do not have much hop flavor at all and derive a lot of their flavors from the brewing yeast.
“In ales, there are a lot of ester compounds that come across as pretty fruity,” Hamilton said. “It is all about the balance. You do not want it to be overwhelming.”
In contrast, much of the flavor in coffee comes from pyrazines. These small aromatic compounds form much of the initial flavor of freshly brewed coffee.
“That is one reason coffee is so much better when it is fresh,” Hamilton said.
Other aspects of coffee’s flavor come from the sugars that are broken down by roasting.
At the end of the day, the most desirable trait he looks for in a beer is that “every sip is the same,” he said.
Known for its innovative and interdisciplinary approach to education at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, the University of Alabama at Birmingham is an internationally renowned research university and academic medical center and the state of Alabama’s largest employer, with some 23,000 employees and an economic impact exceeding $5 billion annually on the state. The five pillars of UAB’s mission include education, research, patient care, community service and economic development. UAB: Knowledge that will change your world
SPEAKING TWO LANGUAGES BENEFITS THE AGING BRAIN
From the FMS Global News Desk of Jeanne Hambleton Science Newsroom Wiley ResearchCitation: : “Does Bilingualism Influence Cognitive Aging?” Thomas H Bak, Jack J Nissan, Michael M Allerhand and Ian J Deary. Annals of Neurology
New research reveals that bilingualism has a positive effect on cognition later in life. Findings published in Annals of Neurology, a journal of the American Neurological Association and Child Neurology Society, show that individuals who speak two or more languages, even those who acquired the second language in adulthood, may slow down cognitive decline from aging.
Bilingualism is thought to improve cognition and delay dementia in older adults. While prior research has investigated the impact of learning more than one language, ruling out “reverse causality” has proven difficult. The crucial question is whether people improve their cognitive functions through learning new languages or whether those with better baseline cognitive functions are more likely to become bilingual.
“Our study is the first to examine whether learning a second language impacts cognitive performance later in life while controlling for childhood intelligence,” says lead author Dr. Thomas Bak from the Centre for Cognitive Aging and Cognitive Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh.
For the current study, researchers relied on data from the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936, comprised of 835 native speakers of English who were born and living in the area of Edinburgh, Scotland. The participants were given an intelligence test in 1947 at age 11 years and retested in their early 70s, between 2008 and 2010. Two hundred and sixty two participants reported to be able to communicate in at least one language other than English. Of those, 195 learned the second language before age 18, 65 thereafter.
Findings indicate that those who spoke two or more languages had significantly better cognitive abilities compared to what would be expected from their baseline. The strongest effects were seen in general intelligence and reading. The effects were present in those who acquired their second language early as well as late.
The Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 forms the Disconnected Mind project at the University of Edinburgh, funded by Age UK. The work was undertaken by The University of Edinburgh Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology, part of the cross council Lifelong Health and Wellbeing Initiative (MR/K026992/1) and has been made possible thanks to funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Medical Research Council (MRC).
“The Lothian Birth Cohort offers a unique opportunity to study the interaction between bilingualism and cognitive aging, taking into account the cognitive abilities predating the acquisition of a second language” concludes Dr. Bak.
“These findings are of considerable practical relevance. Millions of people around the world acquire their second language later in life. Our study shows that bilingualism, even when acquired in adulthood, may benefit the aging brain.”
After reviewing the study, Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone, an Associate Editor for Annals of Neurology and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Mass. said, “The epidemiological study by Dr. Bak and colleagues provides an important first step in understanding the impact of learning a second language and the aging brain. This research paves the way for future causal studies of bilingualism and cognitive decline prevention.”
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THE CHEMISTRY BEHIND BBQ
From the FMS Global News Desk of Jeanne Hambleton 25-Aug-2014 Source: Institute of Food Technologists (IFT)
Newswise — It is that time of the year again when people are starting to fire up the grill for tailgating season! IFT spokesperson Guy Crosby, PhD, CFS provides insight into the food science behind BBQ. Crosby addresses how a marinade works to keep your meat tender, how smoking can infuses new flavors into meat, searing and more.
How does using a marinade make meat more tender?
There are some misconceptions around this topic, typically only salt or salty ingredients such as soy sauce make the biggest difference. It really depends on the type of meat and the muscle structure. The protein that forms when the salt breaks the muscle down helps to retain moisture, and makes the tissue a little looser.
Acid-based marinades such as lime, lemon juice or vinegar do not have a huge effect. They will help break down some connective tissue and flavor the meat, but it is really only on the surface.
Does searing a meat before cooking help keep the juices inside?
Searing does not trap or keep moisture inside a piece of meat; it is an old kitchen myth.
Why does a piece of meat need to rest before cutting it?
When you cook meat the muscle fibers and the proteins begin to shrink and squeeze out moisture. If you immediately slice a piece of meat, the moisture that has been squeezed out of the muscle fibers will run out. But if you let it sit for 15 to 20 minutes depending on the size and thickness of the meat, the fibers start to soak back up some of that moisture.
What is the Maillard Reaction?
A French scientist in 1912 discovered certain proteins and amino acids react with certain kinds of sugars and cause browning. When meat is browned it forms hundreds of very potent flavor molecules that affect its aroma and taste.
Why cook low and slow?
The lower you cook the temperature, the less the fibers will shrink, the less tough the meat will be because it would not lose as much moisture. Typically tough cuts of meat are cooked this way to keep the meat moist. Cooking the meat slowly breaks down tough connective tissue to form gelatin, which binds moisture. The amount of fat also helps because it breaks up the protein, lubricates the meat and makes it tenderer.
When smoking a piece of meat, how does the wood flavor get infused into it?
The oxygen breaks down the lignin in wood and releases a smoky aroma that sticks to the moist surface of the meat, flavoring it.
What is an easy thickening agent to use at home to thicken a BBQ sauce?
The most common one would be cornstarch. The best way is to add cornstarch to room temperature water first, mix well, and then add the combination to the sauce and heat. Flour is another option.
This fact sheet also offers food safety tips for tailgating and other outdoor dining experiences!
Source: Guy Crosby, PhD, CFS, IFT Spokesperson,
Additional Sources: Rosemary Extract May Prevent Formation of Carcinogens on Beef, Journal of Food Science
IFT Food Facts: Outdoor Cooking Food Safety