How a computational chemist and an understanding of water helped a coffee shop owner to become the 2014 UK Barista Champion, set to take on the world. Guest post by Chris Hendon.

Christopher Hendon and Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood at Colonna and Smalls, Bath
© tomsmith photography

Brewing coffee might be the most practiced chemical extraction in the world. But within this process there are many variables, all of which dictate the flavour of the resulting coffee. (more…)

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I like cabbage. It’s not a glamorous vegetable, but it’s tasty and versatile – even if it is easy to overcook and get the dreadful school canteen cabbage water smell. It’s also good for you, containing a range of medically relevant chemicals, including the potentially antibacterial and anticancer 4-methylsulfinylbutyl glucosinolate (4MSO).

The fruits and vegetables we buy in the grocery store are actually still alive, and it matters to them what time of day it is. The discovery, reported on June 20 in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, suggests that the way we store our produce could have real consequences for its nutritional value and for our health.
Credit: Goodspeed et al.

But how can you get the best from your cabbage? According to new research published in Current Biology, it may be as easy as eating it at the right time of day.

A team of US scientists, led by Danielle Goodspeed at Rice University in Houston, has demonstrated that shop-bought cabbages, even days after harvest, responded to a day–night cycle that regulated concentrations of defensive chemicals such as glucosinolates and the hormone jasmonate. When growing in the wild, this strategy offers an advantage, serving to increase protective chemicals in anticipation of daily attack from insect herbivores. However, it hasn’t been clear if this process would continue after harvest, on supermarket shelves or even in your fridge.

To find out, Goodspeed took samples of shop-bought cabbage and exposed it to a regulated cycle of 12 hours of light followed by 12 hours of darkness. After several cycles, the team looked at the variable chemical profile as well as the plant’s vulnerability to being nibbled by cabbage looper moth caterpillars. (more…)

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mountain gorilla

Are you what you eat Mr Gorilla?

It reminds me a little of a certain TV ‘Dr’ obsessed with poo, but US scientists have been busy analysing the faeces of mountain gorillas. So have the gorilla’s been following a healthy diet, are they what they eat and why oh why would you be rummaging around in gorilla poo for your day job?

Well it turns out that tracking and understanding the diets of wild animals can be tricky. You can observe them eating, or rummage around in their poo for what remains, but that will only give you a snap shot: larger trends can be difficult to spot. Scott Blumenthal at the University of New York and his colleagues used isotope ratios to track how the diet of mountain gorilla’s shifts with the seasons. Using the change in 13C values the group showed that while gorilla’s usually eat foliage, when fruit is available gorilla’s prefer it and so change their diet. By increasing the amount of fruit they eat the gorillas also increase the amount of 13C they ingest because of the fruit’s position in the canopy of the forest. Plants down towards the ground tend to rely on carbon that has been taken up from the soil and has already been metabolised and so lost much of its 13C. (more…)

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Over at CENtral Science, they’re having a food chemistry blog carnival in the run up to Thanksgiving. As my contribution, I thought I’d share a recent food chemistry encounter with you all…

Whether you prefer butterscotch, toffee, honeycomb hokey pokey, spun sugar, nut brittle or the unctuous dulce di leche, caramelised sugar is a sticky treat that goes straight to the heart of most people’s idea of pleasure on a plate (or in a bowl of icecream…)

The chemistry of caramelisation is fascinating, but the other day, while I was settled in front of the TV to catch up on the Great British bake off masterclass on crème caramel, the description of the process had me shouting indignantly at the screen. (more…)

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Red strawberry

Ground breaking packaging news has reached CW Towers, British retailer Marks & Spencer is launching new packaging to extend the life of strawberries. The store, whose food adverts have become much copied in recent years, say their new packaging will extend the life of fruit stored in the fridge by up to two days. So these are not just any berries, these are M&S berries, but why? (more…)

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What comes to mind when you hear the term E numbers? Hyperactive children? Or a simple labelling system for food additives? In this week’s Chemistry in its element podcast, Brian Clegg admits that while the health worries over tartrazine –  perhaps the most famous E number of all – might be justified, it brightens up our lives in other ways.

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How posh is your ice-cream? Does it have the tell-tale specks of real vanilla seeds, or is it a synthetic vanilla flavour. Simon Cotton uncovers how to tell the difference in this week’s Chemistry in its element podcast.

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PPD to go private for $3.9bn – Row about pharmacies and supplements – And nutrient boost broccoli goes on sale in UK (more…)

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What’s that smell? Brian Clegg wrinkles his nose at a smelly but essential compound in this week’s Chemistry in its element podcast

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This famously deadly compound is also found in lethal doses in cassava, a staple food for millions. Akshat Rathi explains the conflict between food and poison in this week’s Chemistry in its element podcast

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