Tag Archives: nutrition

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! New infographic: Chemistry of MOON CAKES

Chemistry of MOON CAKES infographic jameskennedymonash
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Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节) is a traditional Chinese festival celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month each year (a full moon night in September). It started as an agricultural tradition (like harvest festival in western cultures) around 1000 BC in the Zhou Dynasty, and was formally acknowledged as a festival during the Northern Song Dynasty (between 960 and 1279 AD).

Today, Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated with moon cakes, family reunions and three days off work. Moon cakes are circular to represent the full moon that always occurs on the Mid-Autumn Festival. Watch the video below to learn about the story behind the festival:

Moon cakes consist of crust, filling and an egg wash. The crust is made from flour, the polysaccharides in which bind together at oven temperatures to form a strong, intricate network (also including proteins) that allows the moon cake to keep its all-important circular shape.

The crust also contains invert sugar syrup, which is chemically similar to both honey and golden syrup. Invert sugar syrup is made by hydrolysing sucrose into its constituent monomers, glucose and fructose. The result is a sweeter-tasting, gooey liquid that doesn’t crystallise during cooking. This gives the moon cake a smooth mouthfeel.

Peanut oil (a blend of mostly monounsaturated triglycerides) is added to the crust for two reasons. First, it is a non-volatile liquid at room temperature, which prevents the moon cake from drying out. Second, the peanut oil molecules disrupt the protein matrix in the crust and give it an even smoother texture (not a doughy texture).

Maillard reactions are caramelisation reactions involving the removal of two hydrogen atoms from a sugar aldehyde or ketone. The resulting compounds are yellow/brown in colour because they contain carbon-carbon double bonds (C=C), which absorb violet and UV light (λmax ≈ 190 nm). The moon cake is usually also given an egg wash, which provides extra protein necessary for Maillard reactions to occur. More egg wash will provide a deeper brown colour to the dough.

Alkaline water (枧水) is a common ingredient in Guangdong-style cuisine. Chemically, it’s a ~0.020 molar solution of potassium carbonate and can be considered as the ‘opposite of vinegar’. It raises the pH in the moon cake, which accelerates the Maillard reaction, which is favoured by alkaline conditions. Alkaline water thus makes the crust more brown!

Finally, the fillings can be very diverse. Lotus seed with salted duck egg yolks is a common filling, but “five kernels”, red bean and green tea (with beans) are also quite popular. Lotus seed filling, for example, is made by soaking dried lotus seeds in alkaline water, pulverising and adding sugar. The resulting paste is then cooked with more oil and sugar before being used to fill a moon cake. ●

Full “Ingredients” Poster Set Just $99 with Free World Shipping!

From today, all 12 Ingredients of an All-Natural Banana (and other Fruits) posters are available for just $99 with free world shipping by clicking the image below.

Ingredients of an All-Natural Banana and other fruits set $99

They’ve been featured on dozens of news websites and magazines and received over 2 million views in total this year. They started as an educational ‘hook’ for the classroom (specifically to introduce organic chemistry), but went viral online and sparked articles from all sides of the “is natural always best?” debate.

From today, get the entire original 12-poster set on sturdy 300 gsm card stock for just $99 with free world shipping by clicking the button above. (Usual selling price is $10 each plus postage).

Ingredients of All-Natural Cherries

Cherries are extremely sweet, and are unusual in that they contain more glucose (52%) than fructose (42%). Their bright red colour comes from the carotenes and capsanthin (the E160 colourings) that are present in high quantities throughout the fruit.

Cherry flavour comes from a huge collection of aroma compounds produced naturally by the cherry. To make all of these compounds in the lab, then mix them together in the correct proportions would be ridiculously time-consuming and expensive.

When making artificial cherry flavourings, only the first two compounds are usually added: (Z)-3-hexenol and 2-heptanone. Artificial cherry flavouring thus tastes absolutely nothing like real cherries: it lacks most of the ingredients that give real cherries their delicious flavour.

It’s quite a different story with oranges and lemons, though. Most of the flavour of oranges and lemons comes from (+)-limonene and (-)-limonene, which, by themselves, smell like orange and lemon, respectively.

Ingredients of All-Natural Cherries
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Artificial vs Natural Watermelon & Sweetcorn

Inspired by the recent Peach infographic, I set out to find the least natural fruit in existence, and decided it was probably the modern watermelon. Take a look below: which one would you rather eat?

Artificial vs Natural Watermelon
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The watermelon, delicious as it is, has increased from 50 mm to 660 mm in diameter, which represents a 1680-fold increase in volume. While ancient “wild watermelons” weighed no more than 80 grams, modern watermelons can range from 2 kg to 8 kg in the supermarket, while the Guiness World Record for the heaviest watermelon recorded exceeded 121 kilograms in the year 2000. Thousands of years of human-induced evolution have worked miracles on these fruits. Let’s not forget that they’re completely artificial.

The most famous example of artificial selection is of course the selective breeding of the feeble teosinte plant into juicy, delicious, North American sweetcorn.

artificial natural corn james kennedy monash science chemistry
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In 9000 years, sweetcorn has become 1000 times larger, 3.5 times sweeter, much easier to peel and much easier to grow than its wild ancestor. It no longer resembles the original teosinte plant at all. Around half of this artificial selection happened since the fifteenth century, when European settlers placed new selection pressures on the crop to suit their exotic taste buds.

That’s all for now… More exciting infographics coming soon. Enjoy! 😉

Ingredients of An All-Natural Peach

I enjoyed reading the discussion that last week’s Artificial vs Natural Peach spawned on Tumblr and Facebook. People discussed the meaning of “natural” versus “domesticated”, and debated whether humans have really “improved” fruits in the last few millennia or just evolved them into giant candy.

I hope that people now see the irony in the title, “Ingredients of an All-Natural Peach”. The fruits we grow aren’t natural at all—but I still love to eat them!

Ingredients of an All-Natural Peach POSTER

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Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting more Ingredients posters onto this blog. I have a whole stash of them lined up, ready for you to eat…

I’m also looking for your ideas. What would you like to see the “ingredients” of next? Vanilla? Tea? List them in the comments below.

Stay up-to-date by following @VCEasy on Twitter, where I tweet about Chemistry for visual learners. These posters usually appear there first.

Enjoy 🙂

Artificial vs Natural Peach

Artificial vs Natural Peach jameskennedymonash

This artificial vs natural foods phenomenon has grown somewhat since the All-Natural Banana.

This infographic explores the differences between the natural, “wild peach” and its modern, artificial relative. It explores how the ancient Chinese developed a small, wild fruit (that tasted like a lentil) into the juicy, delicious peaches that we eat today.

This image also pays homage to the thousands of years of toil that farmers put into developing the Peach regardless of whether they were aware of it consciously or not.

After the wild peach was domesticated in 4000 B.C., farmers selected seeds from the tastiest fruits for re-planting. They tended to the trees for thousands of years, and the fruits became bigger and juicier with each generation. After 6000 years of artificial selection, the resulting Peach was 16 times larger, 27% juicier and 4% sweeter than its wild cousin, and had massive increases in nutrients essential for human survival as well.

Which one would you rather eat?

The Ingredients in Food Phenomenon Continues…

Ingredients of an All-Natural Banana went viral back in January 2014 and attracted over 2 million views on various websites worldwide. The posters and t-shirts are now available in 7 different languages.

Image

Since January 2014, I’ve sold almost $8,000 worth of merchandise online, including t-shirts, posters and coffee mugs, and next month, Banana T-shirts will be available in two physical stores in the US and the Netherlands. Other successful bloggers are picking up on the trend as well: here’s a great contribution to the ‘Ingredients’ phenomenon from Compound Chem:

My favourite contribution overall has to be this one (below). it’s simple and artistic and states a very strong message. It’s part of an educational series by Sense About Science, and you can download their groundbreaking report from their website here.

The reality boils down to six points:

  1. You can’t lead a chemical-free life.
  2. Natural isn’t always good for you and man-made chemicals are not inherently dangerous.
  3. Synthetic chemicals are not causing many cancers and other diseases.
  4. ‘Detox’ is a marketing myth.
  5. We need man-made chemicals.
  6. We are not just subjects in an unregulated, uncontrolled environment, there are checks in place.

In the meantime, I’ve been producing educational Chemistry and Physics booklets for VCEasy, which are being released for free to high-school students via the internet. (VCE is the name of our high-school syllabus in Victoria, Australia.)

The VCEasy Visual VCE booklets are designed to give students a concise, visual summary of all the essential knowledge for their VCE course—with nothing superfluous added, and nothing taken away. Just 100% VCE notes.

The design is highly visual, and each page corresponds to one Key Knowledge Point taken directly from the VCAA Study Design. More information (including free downloads) are available here.

“Ingredients” Lesson Plan

People have been asking me for the lesson plan that gave rise to the Banana Posters.

Here it is. Click the image to download it as a PDF. 🙂

It’s a great introduction to Organic Chemistry in the last year of high school or in the first year of university.

Ingredients Lesson Plan jameskennedymonash

If Beetroots had Ingredients Labels…

It’s Australia Day and beetroot burgers are in ‘season’.

Chemically, beetroots are remarkably simple.

ingredients of an AUSTRALIAN BEETROOTThe colour in beetroots comes from just two E-numbers (which are each groups of about 10 compounds); and the flavour comes almost entirely from geosimin. So simple.

Happy Australia Day!

Ingredients of an All-Natural Kiwi

Welcome Kiwi to the all-natural gang.

Merchandise is in the T-Shirt Store.

Also, some exciting changes are coming to the T-Shirt Store very soon.

Ingredients of an All-Natural Kiwi POSTER
Click for large JPEG

Poster Prints Now Available

jameskennedymonash poster selection

I’m obsessed with print. I love typefaces, I care about using the right quality paper and inks, and I’m fussy about alignment, kerning and line spacing. And that’s why I decided to sell “Ingredients” poster prints.

I’ve got one of each of these prints, and—Wow!—they look so much more gorgeous in real life than on-screen.

Ordering prints is a less formal affair than the T-Shirt Store—just cover my costs via PayPal and I’ll get the prints on the way to your address within 24 hours. Click the Order Prints tab in the website’s ribbon to get your hands on some of these “Ingredients” prints.

Oh—and they’re cheap. Just $10 each and worldwide shipping is available 🙂

Order one to help spread the word. I’ll even sign them if you like 😉 James

Meet the Terpenes: A Visual Introduction from Isoprene to Latex

Inspiration for Meet the Terpenes came from the rhetological fallacies graphic over at Information is Beautiful, while motivation came from a 45°C heat wave this week that prevented any sensible Australians from going outside. So I stayed at home and did this.

Meet the Terpenes - A Visual Introduction from Isoprene to Latex
Click to download 200dpi JPEG (5.4Mb)

It took about three days to sketch, research and create.

Three days ago, I knew nothing about terpenes. My undergraduate phytochemistry class was really difficult. The teacher was a genius, and put huge amounts of effort into his tutorials, giving us thick booklets at each seminar filled with his hand-written notes and dozens of chemical structures. But for some reason, I just didn’t get it.

So this week, I decided to make the graphic I wish I’d had when I took the phytochemistry class many years ago. Having this poster on my wall would have answered all my questions and made the class much more enjoyable. I hope you find it useful, too.

As always, I welcome all feedback, corrections, suggestions and comments, etc.

Enjoy 🙂 James

Banana/Blueberry/Egg Ingredients Poster PDFs

Here are high-resolution PDFs of all three posters. Free to use. Feedback welcome.

Click each image to download the PDF poster.

Ingredients of an All-Natural Egg Ingredients of an All-Natural Banana Ingredients of All-Natural Blueberries

About these posters: As a Chemistry teacher, I want to erode the fear that many people have of “chemicals”, and demonstrate that nature evolves compounds, mechanisms and structures far more complicated and unpredictable than anything we can produce in the lab.