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Sports Science Maps Limits of Human Hotdog Dominance

Sports Science Maps Limits of Human Hotdog Dominance

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At the venerable Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, this past July 4th, competitive eater Joey “Jaws” Chestnut set a new record in his chosen sport — 75 hotdogs consumed in ten minutes.
 
A team of sports medicine specialists have taken a closer look at Chestnut’s results with a key question in mind. That a very regular-looking human (his jaw doesn’t even unhinge!) can put away over six dozen tubes of processed meat at a rate of one dog every eight seconds is subjectively stunning; but how close is this feat to the objective upper limit of the sport? In short, is Joey Chestnut, in the words of study author James Smoglia, the “Usain Bolt” of hotdog-eating?
 
Turns out, he is. Smoglia’s team analyzed data from 39 years of the historic sausage gauntlet, using predictive mathematical modelling they usually applied to improvements in more traditional sports.
 
“Improvement curves in elite sports ranging from sprinting to pole vaulting tend to follow a so-called sigmoidal curve, featuring an initial slow and steady rise, followed by an era of rapid improvement and finally a levelling off. ‘Hotdog eating has definitely reached that second plateau,’ said Smoliga.”
 
After an early period where contestants relied on natural talent and how their stomachs were feeling the day of competition,

“[elite] eaters started to follow elaborate training regimes, with some ingesting vast volumes of liquid or gels to expand the stomach without having to process the calories. Chestnut, this year’s winner, claims to train for three months leading up to the competition, including weekly practice runs, a carefully controlled diet and yoga and breathing exercises to help with mental focus.”
 
This victory seems proof that really any action can be turned into a sport if training goes into it. But, like any other sport, there is a physiological limit to hotdog eating: by fitting the hotdog data to the rest of the sigmoidal curve, Smoglia and team predict that 84 hotdogs in ten minutes are the most any typical competitor can hope to eat, even with high-level training. Which makes “Jaws” Chestnut elite indeed!
 
While the condiment connoisseur in me winces at one of the best-loved barbecue options being relegated to so much world-record-fodder, I salute Mr Chestnut and his feat. I hope he gets the opportunity to sit down this summer next to a sizzling barbecue and enjoy a hotdog the way the grill gods intended — slowly savoured with a favourite topping or two. As I hope we all can!

Hummingbirds May Count To Find Their Food

hummingbirds count

At DFC, we are well aware of how motivating food can be. After all, the prospect of bringing more delicious barbecue into the world was the main reason behind our own pivot to the condiment and sauce business!
 
There are many other species (including monkeys, octopuses, and dogs) that are just as keen as humans are to do extraordinary things for FREE SNAX.  But researchers have recently added an unusual animal — the hummingbird — to that list. And it turns out the teeny avian acrobat might actually source its meals with a truly amazing skill: counting.
 
Biologists at the University of St. Andrews set up a series of experiments with male rufous hummingbirds, who are known for their territoriality, and thus, long memories. They also have exhibited precise, repeated routes among nectar-heavy flowers in the wild, which indicated to researchers they had some way of knowing where the jackpot was.
 
“To find out, the researchers set up feeders with a nectarlike syrup in a valley in North America’s Rocky Mountains, just in time for the hummingbirds to start arriving in May. […]

To see whether the animals had a sense of numerical order, the researchers lined up 10 identical artificial flowers. They put syrup in the first flower and watched to see where the hummingbirds went to feed. Unsurprisingly, the birds went almost uniformly to the first flower, sometimes giving the others a quick check to see whether they also held a tasty treat.
 
Then, the team began rearranging the flowers after each visit, mixing them up — and even moving the entire line — so that the position of the flowers couldn’t give the birds information about which flower had the syrup. Even then, the birds chose the first flower in the line, suggesting they had a concept of “first.” And when the team repeated the entire experiment but baited, say, the third flower, the birds usually zoomed straight toward the third flower. This suggests they knew the third flower in line — regardless of where the line actually was — had the treat.”

This kind of spatial smarts results in an efficiency that must save so much time and effort in the wild. (Adjusting for body size, if a human were to eat as much as a hummingbird needs to in a day, we’d clock in at up to 155,000 calories! That is a lot of flitting around and sipping nectar!)

More research needs to be done, to determine if the hummingbirds are using any other hidden strategies besides counting. But the current results are promising — and testify to the power of food to spark the development of some amazing skills!
 

Hot Morning? Cold Cuppa: The Science of Cold Brew Coffee

cold brew coffee

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!

A (Bubble) Solution for Crop Pollination

bubbles pollination

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!

Vegetarian “Pulled “Pork”

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.

If after reading this you are tempted to try out this recipe pay a visit to this page on our website where there is a complete list of ingredients and directions, including visible instructions. 

Releasing the Soul of Chocolate — Through Science!

beautiful chocolate

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!

Midnight Snacks: The Secret Pollination Powers of Moths

the luna, one of many moths species

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!

Lego “Tapas Factory” Can Roll Appetizers Right Into My Mouth, Thank You

Lego blocks & sustainability

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…

Plant “Plastic” To Bring Sustainability To Our Patios

plant plastic made from plants

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.

Fried Rice Physics: When Science Meets the Restaurant Scene

fried rice being made in wok

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…!