As summer hits its stride, we at DFC are enjoying keeping cool by any means necessary. Usually, a fresh breeze off the water greets us in the morning, but on particularly sultry days, I’ve found beating the heat needs to start as early as possible. This means I’ve retired my auto-drip for the summer and ventured out into the world of cold-brew coffee in search of my morning fix.
I learned a simple recipe: 1 cup coarse grounds floated in a pitcher of water and left to steep overnight in the fridge before filtration and enjoyment the next morning. But, as it turns out with all things food, there is a remarkably complicated lore behind the beverage. Nathan Silva at the food science blog Food Crumbles explains the science behind cold brew — including its legendary smoother taste.
“The main benefit most people will tell you there is with a cold-brewed coffee is the reduction in acidity. For a lot of everyday coffee drinkers, the acidic profile of most hot brewed coffees is an undesirable trait. This has caused cold brew coffee to boom in popularity. But is this ‘benefit’ actually real?
If you ask Megan Fuller, Ph.D., and Niny Rao, Ph.D., of Philadelphia University, the answer is: kind of. Through their research, they found that the same coffees brewed by both hot and cold methods, had a fairly significant difference in pH — an analytical measurement used to measure the acidity of a product. However, it was found that the roast of the coffee bean itself had a larger pH differential than the brewing method. So, choosing a good roast is has more impact than changing over brewing method. But if you’re stuck with one bean, the brewing method can help you get the desired acidity!”
Silva’s article is full of tips about brewing, bean choice, and even water temperature, which can be used to guide basically anyone to a balanced, perfectly cold glass of java. I’m going to refine my technique myself. I’m already sold on the time-saving aspects; now I juuuust want to get my coffee to barista-level flavour, so I never have to leave my sunny morning deck/workplace again!
In this space, we’ve looked at the many ways the future of pollination is in flux. While various types of bees and alternative pollinators like moths and bats are working hard, researchers are still looking to supplement their efforts artificially. (After all, the stability of the planet’s food supply is at stake) But humans with tiny brushes are clumsy and require payment, and bee-sized drones can bump into and destroy the very flowers they are trying to cross-fertilize.
The team that created those very drones set out to develop a gentler way to pollinate. What they have come up with almost belongs on a playground rather than a farmer’s field — soap bubbles! A study of the method was recently headed by Ejiro Miyako, associate professor in the School of Materials Science at the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, and published in iScience.
“After confirming through optical microscopy that soap bubbles could, in fact, carry pollen grains, Miyako and Xi Yang, his coauthor on the study, tested the effects of five commercially available surfactants on pollen activity and bubble formation. The neutralized surfactant lauramidopropyl betain (A-20AB) won out over its competitors, facilitating better pollen germination and growth of the tube that develops from each pollen grain after it is deposited on a flower. Based on a laboratory analysis of the most effective soap concentrations, the researchers tested the performance of pear pollen grains in a 0.4% A-20AB soap bubble solution with an optimized pH and added calcium and other ions to support germination. After three hours of pollination, the pollen activity mediated through the soap bubbles remained steady, while other methods such as pollination through powder or solution became less effective.”
The team loaded up bubble guns with the solution, then blew bubbles directly at pear flowers in an orchard, eventually successfully producing fruit. A further test involving artificial flowers and bubble-enabled drones showed a 90% “hit” rate with the drones hovering at 2 meters. All meaning this can work in the wild.
Though further tests and refinements are needed, blowing bubbles on a beautiful spring day may soon have a purpose beyond pure fun — it will support bees and other pollinators in their efforts to keep us alive!
For those of you who don’t eat pork or meat, this recipe is for you! The technique is easy and fun, and our original BBQ sauce is the perfect support for the flavour of king oysters in particular. Maureen, my daughter in law and a vegetarian was inspired to create something that was interesting, tasty and a crowd-pleaser for the summer BBQ season.
When most of us hear “barbecue,” giant slabs of meat immediately float in front of the mind’s eye. However, there are increasingly tasty options available for vegetarians also popping up every season. This recipe is one of them: A Southern BBQ classic — pulled pork — is reimagined for the veg crowd with chewy and savoury king oyster mushrooms. The grilled, pulled mushrooms are finished with DFC Original Spicy Barbecue Sauce* and served on a bun with a bright, snappy red onion pickle. No more cobbling together side dishes for veggie friends at your barbecue!
* DFC Original Spicy Barbecue Sauce is entirely vegetarian. The Worcestershire sauce we use is anchovy-free, though (sorry, vegans!) the formula does include honey.
When this pandemic started, it seems like everyone on the internet immediately began baking. We snapped up all the flour and yeast, and manufacturers and sellers are only just starting to catch up with our taste to stay home, nurture sourdough, and eat many delicious carbs.
I felt the impulse too but was briefly stymied by the shortages. So, I thought of an alternative sweet treat I could make that would be just as soothing, but wouldn’t use the elusive ingredients: Chocolates! And I found inspiration in internet security expert and culinary enthusiast Samy Kamkar. He has developed a home version of a process that makes a gorgeous iridescent coating on tempered chocolate — using nothing but the chocolate’s own reflective properties.
Kamkar made his futuristic chocolates by enlisting his home 3D printer to make a precise acrylic mould, and his engineering know-how to develop an even-pressure vacuum.
“To make the chocolate, Kamkar created a mushroom-shaped mold with multiple ridges micrometers apart. He tempered the chocolate, poured it into the mold and then put it in a vacuum chamber to prevent air bubbles on the surface. […]
As Renusha Indralingam explained in Yale Scientific in 2013, iridescence occurs ‘when an object’s physical structure causes light waves to combine with one another, a phenomenon known as interference.’ In the natural world, hummingbirds, beetles, butterflies, peacocks and many other living organisms exhibit iridescent traits, which they can use to choose and attract mates or evade predators.”
The pretty phenomenon results from forcing the chocolate into the diffraction grating (which is used in other, less delicious, applications like telescopes and X-rays). This allows the light rays that hit the moulded chocolate’s surface to scatter, making an iridescent rainbow sheen. The chocolate must be very cold in order to produce the interference — so the confection’s beauty is enhanced by the fact it quickly fades.
A Swiss manufacturer, ETF Zurich, has spearheaded industrial method to making this iridescent chocolate and is planning on scaling it up to general manufacture soon. I await their efforts: Even though I am so looking forward to witnessing this optical phenomenon in person, it still takes too many resources for me to do in my home kitchen!
We at DFC love our bees. From adding to the biodiversity of our home in the Frontenac Arch to ensuring food supplies for the world at large, bees are superstar pollinators who have (rightly!) been earning all the press. As the hemisphere moves towards summer, the buzz of happy bees among the flowers outside has started filling the days at DFC headquarters.
But researchers at University College London have uncovered another powerhouse pollinator, that doesn’t fill the same spot in our imaginations, probably because it operates at night: The moth!
The UCL team’s research, recently published in Biology Letters, points to moths as being a more substantial contributor to pollination — and therefore crop yield — than previously thought. The study involved moths from nine pond-centred ecosystems in agricultural Norfolk, UK. They found that, not only did the moths pick up more pollen that butterflies and hoverflies (similarly to bees), but they visited a different array of plant species than any of their diurnal cousins.
“Nocturnal moth communities and daytime pollinators were surveyed once a month to see which plants they visited and how frequently.
Of the 838 moths swabbed, 381 moths (45.5%) were found to transport pollen. In total pollen from 47 different plant species was detected, including at least 7 rarely visited by bees, hoverflies and butterflies. 57% of the pollen transported was found on the ventral thorax of the moths.
In comparison, daytime pollinators, a network of 632 bees, wasps, hoverflies and butterflies, visited 45 plant species, while 1,548 social bees visited 46 plant species.”
The team’s conclusion: While daytime pollinating insects tend to visit “greatest hits” plants — maximizing their personal take of nectar by going to known prolific sources — moths are into the “deep cuts,” and going further for more obscure nectars. In terms of its effect on our food crops, the butterfly/moth approach is wonderfully complementary. The variety of the insects’ tastes supports the reproduction of a variety of plants, which helps ensure biodiversity!
The research team confirms further study is needed into the precise impact of moth pollination on food crops, but this is an excellent start. I’m sure the pollination situation in North America is similar. So, the next time a moth flits around my head as we both enjoy a warm summer night on the porch, I will wish them a hearty bon appetit!
In this space, we’ve written about Lego many times, but never before has the ubiquitous Danish brick toy dovetailed so well with our current obsession, food! Via one of my favourite lucky-dip blog Boing Boing, I’ve discovered a charming video by Lego YouTubers The Brick Wall. In it, these spatial geniuses demonstrate a “tapas factory” built from the plastic bricks. This contraption takes a hungry user from a whole baguette to delicate hors d’oeuvres, primed for noshing, in four minutes flat!
Check out the factory in action here. The baguette forklift even doubles as a tray and beverage holder for the completed snack at the end.
This is definitely some serious Lego-ing, using motors and cutting blades that your average 7-year-old shouldn’t be trusted with. But for peckish, nostalgic adults, the Brick Wall folks have demonstrated a pretty cool proof of concept. With summer on its way and quarantines only gingerly lifting (LET’S NOT RUSH THINGS, PEOPLE), this Lego setup seems like the perfect patio combo: light bites and a distracting technical project rolled into one! Now, if I can somehow get one to do the barbecuing for us…
Just a couple weeks ago, we looked into a new microbe, with whose help scientists are hoping to recycle PET plastics back into PET plastics with no degradation in quality. (No mean feat considering said microbes essentially eat the plastic — what comes out the “other end” is the new material!). While this development is great in that it transforms previously single-use plastics into multi-use, humanity should be moving toward (ideally) a model where we use as little as possible of any plastics at all.
But, since plastics are so interwoven into our lives, we have to take baby steps. To that end, Dutch biochemical corporation Avantium has gone ahead and redefined the concept of “plastic”: inventing a way to replace PET-like plastics in things like drinking bottles with all-plant sources — not fossil fuels! Coca-Cola, Danone, and Carlsberg have all pledged backing for the pathfinder project, with plans to manufacture cardboard “bottles” for their products, lined with the new plant plastic, in the near future.
“Avantium’s plant plastic is designed to be resilient enough to contain carbonated drinks. Trials have shown that the plant plastic would decompose in one year using a composter, and a few years longer if left in normal outdoor conditions. But ideally, it should be recycled, said [Avantium CEO Tom] Van Aken.
The bio-refinery plans to break down sustainable plant sugars into simple chemical structures that can then be rearranged to form a new plant-based plastic – which could appear on supermarket shelves by 2023.
The path-finder project will initially make a modest 5,000 tonnes of plastic every year using sugars from corn, wheat or beets. However, Avantium expects its production to grow as demand for renewable plastics climbs.”
This is the kind of renewable, refreshing innovation I like to see, and one that might ultimately sustainable for us. As we’ve seen with other environmental initiatives, often the greatest obstacle the habits of people (and our corporations, which in some jurisdictions, are people too). People are irrational and love our routines, so relying on all of us to abandon plastics and haul heavy mason jars full of water to the park is a non-starter. But, stealthily replace plastic in its most common uses with something far better, and we don’t have to disturb our precious routines. Which is GREAT. So, sign me up for the first cold beer in a cardboard bottle when they arrive on our shores! “Cheers!” will sound different — but it’ll taste far sweeter.
When DFC was located in the Toronto suburbs, we often found ourselves grabbing a quick bite at some of the amazing Chinese restaurants in that community. Besides being fast and delicious, they were often open at the unusual times we were peckish!
Now that our offices are in the (relatively) deep woods, more often than not we have to look to homemade options for lunch. But, if and when we venture into the big city to scratch our culinary itch, we’ll be on the lookout for the fascinating physics of fried rice, recently uncovered by a team of mechanical engineers!
Frying rice in a commercial-grade wok is a major physical challenge for a chef. The rice grains and other tasty components must circulate in the pan constantly, so the dish doesn’t burn over the incredibly high heat. The Georgia Tech team analyzed a sample of five professional chefs, filming their fried rice technique and slo-mo-ing it for a full breakdown.
“These chefs made a specific set of motions that repeated about three times a second, the researchers report February 12 in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. Each repetition includes sliding the wok back and forth while simultaneously rocking it to and fro, using the rim of the stovetop as a fulcrum. […]
By simulating the trajectories of rice in a wok, the researchers hit on some key culinary tips. The rocking and sliding motions shouldn’t be totally in sync, otherwise, the rice won’t mix well and could burn. And the wok’s movements should repeat rapidly. Moving the wok even faster could launch the rice higher, and might allow cooking at higher temperatures, and perhaps a quicker meal.”
This complex move often results in a lot of shoulder pain in wok-specializing chefs. In the most kind-hearted invocation of Skynet I’ve ever encountered, the researchers suggest that a robot be developed to take on rice-frying duties, to spare the humans in the kitchen. While I’m sure it can provide the brawn, it remains to be seen if a robot can handle the moment-by-moment subtle modifications humans are great at. How would it turn out? Oh dear: All this wondering has me craving fried rice. Be back soon…!
Usually, I start thinking about what to write as an introduction at the start of the weekend…however I did not have to do that this week. On Friday the day that every pet owner dreads came upon us – we had to say goodbye to Jill.
Jill’s mobility wasn’t going in the right direction and I was getting worried about her. I was also being wary with the weekend coming up that something extreme would happen to Jill and I’d have to find an emergency vet during these COVID times or deal with it myself. To make a long sorrowful story short, Jill’s heart (the organ, not her spirit) was failing and her muscles were not getting the nourishment they needed to move her around. So because of these Covid times, we sat on the large porch outside of the veterinary clinic and spent time with Jill giving her lots of liver treats…the girl went out in style!
Now that it’s Sunday evening the house is still too quiet and too big, but that raw sting of sadness is ebbing away and I’m starting to remember the stories and antics of which there are plenty of! Here is a picture of puppy Jill with her sisters (she’s in the middle), big sister Jill when Samson was new to the family, Jill barking at cows, and the grande-dame of Perth Road.
Despite the weather taunting us, spring is technically on its way here in southern Ontario. With it, comes the promise of delicious local fruits and veggies to wake up our hibernating tastebuds. I’ve always loved waiting for my faves to come into season — asparagus makes me think of Victoria Day, and McIntosh apples of Thanksgiving pies!
But my culinary calendar may get reorganized if James Rogers has his way. The Materials PhD has invented an organic spray coating for food items, that purports to increase their shelf life three times over. Rogers was inspired by his original work on an industrial spray that when dry, acted as a solar panel. Already attuned to sustainability through that project, he was further galvanized by the food waste he witnessed as fall out of seasonality: “The problem is you’re either in season and have more than you know what to do with, or you have nothing.”
So Rogers created Apeel Industries (of which he is now CEO), which is revolutionizing food preservation technologies, starting with his plant lipid spray. Ryan Bradley at the Guardian has the fascinating science:
“The spray can be made of the lipids from any plant – much of the source crop for their ingredients changes throughout the year, and is simply the excess or discarded produce from farms and vineyards – but it has to be molecularly reconstituted to act more or less exactly like the specific fruit on which it is sprayed.
We arrive at yet another lab, this one home to the material sciences team – the beating heart of the Apeel operation. Here, they use liquid gases to separate specific molecules from the lipid slurry, then reconfigure those molecules into a variety of combinations, essentially highly educated hunches as to what a specific fruit or vegetable’s skin might be like. If this seems like a lot of tedious guesswork, it is. The research and development for Apeel’s first product, a coating for avocados, took eight years.”
While Apeel has rivals in this particular niche, some with more complementary products, and others with direct competitors, Apeel has the most funding, mostly through major venture capitalist firms that share its Silicon Valley neighbourhood. It’ll be interesting to see how this competition shakes out — and how these sea changes to the industry reverberate up and down the supply chain. If it means having a fresh clementine in July… cognitive dissonance aside, I might be willing to try it!