What Makes the Deadly Pufferfish So Delectable

Some people consider pufferfish, also known as fugu, a delicacy because of its unique and exquisite flavor, which is perhaps seasoned by knowledge that consumption of the fish could be deadly. Now, researchers have identified the major compounds responsible for the taste of pufferfish, minus the thrill of living dangerously. They report their results in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Pufferfish get their name from their ability to inflate to a much larger size when threatened by predators. But if that defense mechanism fails, the predator may not survive long after its meal: The liver, ovaries, eyes and skin of most species of pufferfish contain tetrodotoxin, a potent neurotoxin. Although specially trained chefs can prepare fugu that’s safe to eat, Yuan Liu and colleagues wondered if they could reproduce the flavor of pufferfish without the life-threatening toxin.

The researchers analyzed the key taste-active compounds in Takifugu obscurus, a species of pufferfish found mainly in the East and South China Seas. First, the team ground up pufferfish muscle tissue and cooked, filtered and centrifuged it to produce a liquid pufferfish extract. They then analyzed the extract and found amounts of 28 potential taste compounds, such as free amino acids, nucleotides and inorganic ions. Taste tests with trained panelists revealed that 12 of these compounds, when added to water, best simulated the flavor of pufferfish, which involved strong umami (savory) and kokumi (mouthfulness) components. When the researchers added two flavor peptides they isolated in a prior study, the imitation pufferfish extract tasted even more like the real thing.

Source : American Chemical Society


Scientists Hacked Photosynthesis In Search Of More Productive Crops

Dan Charles wrote . . . . . . . . .

There’s a big molecule, a protein, inside the leaves of most plants. It’s called Rubisco, which is short for an actual chemical name that’s very long and hard to remember.

Amanda Cavanagh, a biologist and post-doctoral researcher at the University of Illinois, calls herself a big fan of Rubisco. “It’s probably the most abundant protein in the world,” she says. It’s also super-important.

Rubisco has one job. It picks up carbon dioxide from the air, and it uses the carbon to make sugar molecules. It gets the energy to do this from the sun. This is photosynthesis, the process by which plants use sunlight to make food, a foundation of life on Earth. Yay for Rubisco!

“But it has what we like to call one fatal flaw,” Cavanagh continues. Unfortunately, Rubisco isn’t picky enough about what it grabs from the air. It also picks up oxygen. “When it does that, it makes a toxic compound, so the plant has to detoxify it.”

Plants have a whole complicated chemical assembly line to carry out this detoxification, and the process uses up a lot of energy. This means the plant has less energy for making leaves, or food for us. (There is a family of plants, including corn and sugar cane, that developed another type of workaround for Rubisco, and those plants are much more productive.)

Cavanagh and her colleagues in a research program called Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE), which is based at the University of Illinois, have spent the last five years trying to fix Rubisco’s problem. “We’re sort of hacking photosynthesis,” she says.

They experimented with tobacco plants, just because tobacco is easy to work with. They inserted some new genes into these plants, which shut down the existing detoxification assembly line and set up a new one that’s way more efficient. And they created super tobacco plants. “They grew faster, and they grew up to 40 percent bigger” than normal tobacco plants, Cavanagh says. These measurements were done both in greenhouses and open-air field plots.

The scientists now are trying to do the same thing with plants that people actually rely on for food, like tomatoes and soybeans. They also working with cowpeas, or black-eyed peas, “because it’s a staple food crop for a lot of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, which is where our funders are interested in making the biggest impact,” Cavanagh says.

The funders of this project include the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (Disclosure: The Gates Foundation also funds NPR.) The USDA has applied for a patent on plants that are engineered in this way.

Cavanagh and her colleagues published their work this week in the journal Science. Maureen Hanson, who is carrying out similar research on photosynthesis at Cornell University, was impressed.

“This is a very important finding,” she says. “It’s really the first major breakthrough showing that one can indeed engineer photosynthesis and achieve a major increase in crop productivity.”

It will be many years, though, before any farmers plant crops with this new version of photosynthesis. Researchers will have to find out whether it means that a food crop like soybeans actually produces more beans — or just more stalks and leaves.

Then they’ll need to convince government regulators and consumers that the crops are safe to grow and eat.

Source: npr

Researchers Developed Method to Authenticate Between Organic and Conventional milk

In the current climate, food fraud is becoming a substantial issue.

Sometimes, food fraud can be dangerous, such as the recent reports of chilli powder being adulterated with red brick powder, or reports of milk being mixed with detergent, paint and oil and being sold as milk in India. However, a lot of the time it does not pose a health risk to consumers. If an expensive cut of meat is changed for a cheaper version at a restaurant, or if food labelled ‘organic’, isn’t really organic, it won’t affect the health of people. This type of food fraud lies with companies being honest in their advertising.

A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, details how researchers have used isotope analysis to discriminate between organic and conventional milk.

Isotopes are variants of particular chemical element. For example, carbon is present in a number of forms. Carbon-12 is the most common form, and has 6 neutrons. Carbon-13 and carbon-14 also exist, but are less common, with 7 and 8 neutrons respectively.

Despite being chemically identical, chemists are able to tell the difference between isotopes in the laboratory. The main challenge that the scientists faced was determining a unique chemical that would differentiate between organic and conventional milk.

As isotope ratios do not generally fluctuate, the research team focused on these over levels of individual nutrients, which do change.

The researchers realised that cows raised using conventional means, or ones fed organic diets would have different isotope ratios in their milk. Despite having a limited sample in their analysis, the researchers found that linoleic acid and myristic acid, two types of fatty acids, had discernibly different isotopic signatures.

Due to the limited sample size, the researchers mentioned that this study should be thought of as a proof-of-concept. To investigate this further, samples from all over the world should be analysed for these differences in isotopic ratios.

The research team published the study in the journal Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Source: New Food magazine

How Science Helps An Indoor Farm Kick Up Flower Flavour for Restaurant Food

Whitney Pipkin wrote . . . . . . . . .

From inside the overly-lit interior of a 1960s strip mall, software programs and science are helping an urban farm fire up the flavor of fennel fronds and control the size of nasturtium leaves. By carefully monitoring each variable and its impact on the way a plant tastes, looks and grows, Fresh Impact Farms is inching closer to its goal: delivering edible flowers and herbs catered to the taste preferences of top-tier chefs.

To that end, nutrient mix, water temperature, light spectrum and countless other variables are regularly tweaked to produce more of the thumb-sized, lily-pad-shaped leaves chefs prize from nasturtium, each packed with a peppery punch. Lights at the “far red” end of the spectrum shine down on the same plant to coax its orange and vermilion blooms to appear earlier and more often. Every change is an experiment, and every aspect of the plant a potential moneymaker.

But, even though everything grown at the 1,000-square-foot farm in Arlington, Va., will likely be the last element placed onto the plate and the first pop of color a restaurant diner sees, “this isn’t a [typical] garnish farm,” says owner Ryan Pierce.

“We didn’t set out to just grow things that are pretty,” adds Pierce, who, at 32, looks like an off-duty surgeon in blue scrubs, disposable gloves and a hat worn for food safety. “We set out to grow things that become an element of the flavor of the dish. We want to give chefs a palette to elevate their food.”

Pierce comes to the field of hydroponic growing from a career in cloud computing, where he learned to make sense of a dizzying number of data points. He saw in indoor farming an opportunity to apply that background while producing edibles in a way that uses less water and land, reducing pollution and waste in the process.

Those same factors have fueled the hydroponic industry’s meteoric growth in recent years. For urban farmers looking to make the most out of limited spaces, microgreens are often the crop of choice. But shoots and sprouts comprise only a small fraction of Pierce’s business.

Instead, he has found a way to infuse surprising flavor into the plate-topping flowers, herbs and greens restaurants are already accustomed to buying.

Take one of the many varieties of hyssop that Fresh Impact grows, says D.C. Chef Robert Wiedmaier, whose high-end D.C. flagship Marcel’s was the farm’s first customer. “You close your eyes, taste that and it’s like, ‘Wow. What is that? Boom.’ ”

The hyssop, which smacks of mint and licorice-y anise, tops pan-seared scallops at Wiedmaier’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Siren, and makes cameos in cocktails. Wiedmaier is such a booster of Pierce’s business that he hosted a five-course dinner featuring the farm at Siren this fall. There, candy apple sorrel-flavored meringue topped a black sea bass dish and bright orange marigolds starred in a Japanese dessert with pineapple sage shortbread.

But Wiedmaier says: “You can’t throw flowers on just anything.” These garnishes must be used with care or they could overpower a dish. The musty marigold can be a challenge to deploy correctly, even if it’s pretty.

Some of Fresh Impact’s products pack such a flavor punch, they should come with a warning label. But chefs can’t seem to get enough of the hard-to-grow and equally potent wasabi arugula. And, at the Japanese tasting room Nasime in Alexandria, Va., chef-owner Yuh Shimomura isn’t timid about plating tiny yellow flowers from the toothache plant, so named because of their intense saliva-increasing, tongue-numbing effect.

Since launching in 2016, the farm has experimented with 250 plant varieties and currently grows between 50 and 60 at a time. Many of the successful varieties were originally suggested by chefs — some of them new to the concept that a farm could tweak the flavor of an herb or flower they thought they knew so well.

When Johnny Spero, executive chef and owner of Reverie in Washington, D.C., first requested that Pierce grow huacatay, a feathery plant used in Peruvian stews and sauces, he expected it to taste as pungent as varieties he’d tried elsewhere.

But Pierce’s was milder, and Spero initially asked if he could make it more intense.

Adding “intensity” entails stressing the plant, something that is hard to do in a controlled environment where the plants are protected from the elements. Pierce can mimic that stress with an imbalance of nutrients, by applying different spectrums of light or by harvesting leaves from older plants—but every crop is different.

“Our goal is, as we collect data, to understand how small shifts change the overall flavor and success of the crop,” he says. “Ultimately, we want to get to a point where we can tweak those crops on demand to produce specific flavor outcomes.”

The farm’s latest experiment? The succulent iceplant. Its leaves look like water droplets have frozen, still dewy, on the surface, and biting into one of them delivers a blast of hydration. One of Siren’s chefs has said he wants the largest leaves possible for a dish he’s dreaming up. Meanwhile, chefs at D.C.’s two-Michelin-starred minibar by José Andrés say they want the tiny clusters of leaves the plant produces before it blooms.

“If we can get it to production, we already know we have two customers interested in different parts of the plant,” says Pierce.

The farm worked with a company to develop its own software that tracks the feedback received from chefs for each crop. If a chef thought a batch of bronze fennel was too bitter or too sweet, that information is stored and considered for the next crop.

Eventually, Pierce wants to bring all of that data into real-time — with chefs providing feedback through an app. Already, monitors on each of the water basins report data on its Ph, temperature and overall nutrient level to a computer every four seconds. The goal is to eventually measure each of the 17 nutrients essential for plant growth — all the time.

“The challenge is for us to drill down to that level,” says Pierce, who’d like to get the flavor-changing equation down to a science. It’s not going to be easy, he admits. “If you feel like you have this down already, then you’re not doing something right.”

Source: npr

Video: How Does Low-Dose Aspirin Work?

You ever see those commercials suggesting people take a tiny dose of aspirin every day?

It’s an amount so small it doesn’t really work for pain relief, yet taking low-dose aspirin is fairly common, among those at risk for heart attacks or stroke.

Here’s why aspirin works in a baby-sized dose.

Watch video at You Tube (4:46 minutes) . . . . . .