Tag Archives: Beverages

Combatting Chemophobia With Wine

Ava Winery composes fine vintage wines molecule by molecule in the lab
Ava Winery composes fine vintage wines molecule by molecule in the lab

The wines your great-grandchildren might one day drink on Mars will soon be coming to a bottle near you. Ava Winery is a San Francisco-based startup creating wines molecule by molecule, without the need for grapes or fermentation. With complete control over the chemical profile of the product, Ava’s wines can be created safely, sustainably, and affordably, joining the food technology revolution in creating the foods of the future.

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Ava Wines’ business model is somewhat akin to the Star Trek replicator!

For Ava, foods in the future will be scanned and printed as easily as photographs today. These digital recreations will be more than mere projections; they will be true chemical copies of the originals, capturing the same nutritional profiles, flavors, and textures of their “natural” counterparts. Our canvas will be macronutrients like starches and proteins; our pixels will be flavor molecules. Future generations won’t distinguish “natural” from “synthetic” because both will simply be considered food.

Consider ethyl hexanoate, although scary-sounding it is the very chemical that gives pineapples their characteristic smell and also fruity wines a tropical note. From pineapples, or indeed other organisms, ethyl hexanoate can be extracted much more efficiently. By sourcing more efficient producers of each of hundreds of different components, wines can be recreated as their originals.

Future generations won’t distinguish “natural” from “synthetic” because both will simply be considered food.

In fact, by eliminating the variability of natural systems as well as potential environmental contamination, this digitized future of food can increase the safety, consistency, and nutritional profile of foods. Such food products can reduce overall land and resource use and be less susceptible to climate fluctuations. Indeed this future will see significant reductions in the costs of food production as the cost of the raw ingredients shifts to more efficient sources of each molecule.

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100 to 300 compounds are responsible for the full flavour of a wine.

So why wine?

We knew there would be a controversial love/hate relationship with our mission to build wine molecule by molecule. To the elite who value the high-end wine experience, our molecularly identical creation of the $10,000+ bottle of 1973 Chateau Montelena will be a mockery; but to the public, the $10,000 turned $20 bottle will be a sensation. To the purists who still believe organic is the only way to eat or drink healthily, our wine will get “some knickers in knots”; but to the nonconformists, our wine will be a contemporary luxury made by contemporary technology.

In short, wine is just the beginning. Soon, Ava hopes to build more food products molecule by molecule further blurring these lines between natural vs. synthetic while simultaneously making luxury items available for all. With our groundwork, the Star Trek future of food might be closer than we thought.

Why is Coffee so Irresistable? The Chemistry of STARBUCKS®

Many people are openly addicted to coffee. In northern Europe, home of the world’s greatest coffee drinkers, annual coffee bean consumption hovers around 9 kg per capita, which equates to 400 mg of caffeine per person per day (this is a highly addictive, highly stimulating dose). In North America, coffee bean consumption is much lower at 4.2 kg per capita per year, which equates to 185 mg of caffeine per person per day. However, this is still a highly addictive dose.

Chemistry of STARBUCKS jameskennedymonash
jameskennedymonash.wordpress.com

Caffeine (around 225 mg in the beverage shown above) causes short, sharp increases in your blood pressure. It makes you feel alert, but jittery in large doses. Caffeine stimulates nerves by counteracting adenosine, which is a nerve activity suppressant. The brain develops a tolerance to caffeine intake after a few weeks, which can cause some people to take increasingly large doses—sometimes exceeding the ~300 mg per day limit recommended by many doctors. That said, smaller doses are believed to provide some protection against Parkinson’s Disease in the long term.

Milk, a butterfat emulsion, gives the coffee its light colour and pleasant mouthfeel. Vanilla syrup adds an interesting flavour and aroma, and consists of glucose syrup and vanillin, an artificial flavour compound modelled on the main aroma compound in real vanilla beans.

The most amazing aspect of the product shown is the polypropylene cup. Starbucks® sells these reusable cups for just $1 in its United States stores, which is part of an attempt to serve 5% of all its beverages in reusable containers by 2015. In addition to giving you a 10-cent discount for bringing your own cup, and selling these reusable cups ridiculously cheaply, Starbucks® makes these cups from a fully recyclable plastic that’s completely inert at boiling-hot temperatures (100°C). This ensures that absolutely nothing from the cup leeches into your piping hot drink before you drink it. ●

Book: Introducing Wine

Simple. Illustrated. Encourages (excessive) drinking.
Simple & illustrated.

Irresponsible. Encourages excessive drinking.
144 pages, ★★★

People drink wine for the same reason that I drink tea: they enjoy the feeling it gives them. Wine makes you giddy then sleepy; tea makes you relaxed but focussed. This book is a layman’s introduction to all aspects of wine (the history, production, geography, chemistry, and the culture that surrounds drinking wine). An upper-class book would pretend that the enjoyment of wine comes mostly from the taste, but Introducing Wine makes no pretensions—undertones of “isn’t it fun to get drunk?” are to be found throughout.

I knew nothing about wine and so learned a lot from this book. I learned that, like tea, there are hundreds of wines produced worldwide in both the “new” and “old” worlds. Types and tastes vary dramatically, and I was impressed by the author’s “taste wheel” diagrams on pages 13 and 18. They humble my Tea Types diagrams.

Is wine any healthier than grape juice? I still don’t know. The benefits of alcohol that the author talks about could actually be a direct result of feeling more relaxed, not of the alcohol itself. If that’s the case, then healthier forms of relaxation (e.g. exercise) could be better for your body than drinking wine. I think I’m right.

The author seems to encourage binge-drinking. I’m not blaming the author; I’m just criticising heavy-drinking culture. On page 10, he writes:

“you buy them, and you drink them, and then you buy some more. Just one taste is enough to get some people hooked for life”.

On page 59, he suggests pondering the restaurant wine menu over a glass of house wine, then ordering a second bottle after the one you ordered is finished. (Do the math: that’s binge-drinking). On page 64, he omits the word “maximum” from “recommended maximum intake” to imply that drinking 375 ml (that’s over half a bottle of wine) every day is a good idea, as if alcohol is as vital as your daily 90 mg of vitamin C. I strongly disagree.

I’m glad I don’t drink wine. I much prefer tea. Tea doesn’t need “a humidity-controlled cabinet or a purpose-built cellar installed under your house” for storage (page 67). It doesn’t give you a hangover (page 108) and it’s cheaper, healthier and more polite than wine, too. Unlike wine, tea helps you to work and relax. I much preferred The Story of Tea to this book.

Most amusingly, I learned the 3 things that constitute a “good-tasting wine”:

  1. the packaging (fancy packaging tricks your taste-buds; that’s the placebo effect in action);
  2. the price (the more expensive, the better it tastes; that’s the placebo effect again);
  3. the taste itself (but only to a certain extent; most people can’t tell the difference between “good” and “very good”, especially when they’re drunk).

Introducing Wine glosses over the dangers of alcohol consumption and miscommunicates the benefits. It’s flattering of a potentially hazardous product, and I think that’s irresponsible. But that’s not really the book’s fault, since the book’s target audience (wine drinkers) would disapprove of experts saying anything else. Considering I neither like nor drink wine, three stars is very generous. Wine-drinkers, however, might give this book five. ★★★

Green tea: Matcha

Matcha

Feels like green creatine.
Green tea » Japanese » Shade-Grown, ★★★★★
Also known as: 抹茶

Brewed simply in a glass with a spoon, Matcha reminded me of taking creatine powder that doesn’t quite dissolve in water. I usually care deeply about how tea is brewed, but Matcha needed too much specialist equipment, so I went without. The right-sized bowl and the hand-made Matcha whisk sell for over $80 per set here in Melbourne so I didn’t buy them. I used a spoon and my usual tea-glass, and had what felt like an energy drink that was unpleasant to swallow.

Brewed as part of a beautiful, calming Matcha ceremony, though, this tea is totally different. The gentle, meticulous process of preparing Matcha feels like meditation. Using the appropriate equipment (the right-sized bowl and the hand-made bamboo whisk) give the Matcha a pleasantly smooth mouthfeel with a froth that amplifies the flavour of the drink (rather like that of espresso coffee). Whisking the Matcha properly also removes all the unpleasant, tiny clumps of tea-powder that a teaspoon would fail to remove. The ceremony makes this tea worth two more of my stars.

Watch the a demonstration of the ceremony here:

Watch the ceremony itself here:

The fact that it’s shade-grown and then powdered means that it’s richer in everything (antioxidants, caffeine, catechins, vitamins and protein—yes, protein) than all other teas. It’s a natural energy drink that stimulates you much more than brewed teas because you’re effectively swallowing all of the leaf.

Matcha can be brewed two ways: thick (濃茶, koicha) and thin (薄茶, usucha). Methods of each preparation method are detailed here.

The Matcha ceremony is worthwhile. Even if you don’t kneel on the floor and brew it in traditional dress, at least fork out a good Matcha set to do this drink justice. Matcha sets are $80 in stores, or just $25 on eBay. ★★★★★