Fukushima’s Nuclear Signature Found in California Wine

Throughout the 1950s, the US, the Soviet Union, and others tested thermonuclear weapons in the Earth’s atmosphere. Those tests released vast quantities of radioactive material into the air and triggered fears that the nuclear reactions could ignite deuterium in the oceans, thereby destroying the planet in a catastrophic accidental fireball.

Atmospheric tests ended in 1980, when China finished its program, but the process has left a long-lasting nuclear signature on the planet. One of the most obvious signatures is cesium-137, a radioactive by-product of the fission of uranium-235.

After release into the atmosphere, cesium-137 was swept around the world and found its way into the food supply in trace quantities. Such an addition is rarely welcomed. But in 2001, the French pharmacologist Philippe Hubert discovered that he could use this signature to date wines without opening the bottles.

The technique immediately became a useful weapon in the fight against wine fraud—labeling young wines as older vintages to inflate their price. Such fraud can be spotted by various types of chemical and isotope analysis—but only after the wine has been opened, which destroys its value.

Cesium-137, on the other hand, allows noninvasive testing because it is radioactive. It produces distinctive gamma rays in proportion to the amount of isotope present. Dating the wine is a simple process of matching the amount of cesium-137 to atmospheric records from the time the wine was made. That quickly reveals any fraud. Indeed, if there is no cesium-137, the wine must date from after 1980.

There is one blip in this record, though. The Chernobyl disaster in 1986 bathed much of Europe, and other parts of the world, in a radioactive cloud that increased atmospheric levels of cesium-137 again. Hubert and colleagues can see this blip in their data from wines.

And that raises an interesting question about the Fukushima disaster of 2011, an accident of Chernobyl proportions caused by a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan following a huge earthquake and tsunami. It released a radioactive cloud that bathed North America in fissile by-products.

Is it possible to see the effects of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in California wines produced at the time?

Today we get an answer, thanks to a study carried out by Hubert and a couple of colleagues. “In January 2017, we came across a series of Californian wines (Cabernet Sauvignon) from vintage 2009 to 2012,” say Hubert and company.

This set of wines provides the perfect test. The Fukushima disaster occurred on March 11, 2011. Any wine made before that date should be free of the effects, while any dating from afterward could show them.

The team began their study with the conventional measurement of cesium-137 levels in the unopened bottles. That showed levels to be indistinguishable from background noise.

But the team was able to carry out more-sensitive tests by opening the wine and reducing it to ash by evaporation. This involves heating the wine to 100 degrees Celsius for one hour and then increasing the temperature to 500 degrees Celsius for eight hours. In this way, a standard 750-milliliter bottle of wine produces around four grams of ashes. The ashes were then placed in a gamma ray detector to look for signs of cesium-137.

Using this method, Hubert and his colleagues found measurable amounts of cesium-137 above background levels in the wine produced after 2011. “It seems there is an increase in activity in 2011 by a factor of two,” conclude the team.

That probably won’t be very useful for fraud detection in California wine—the levels of cesium-137 are barely detectable, and even then, only if the wine is destroyed.

But the result does show how nuclear disasters can have unexpected consequences long after the fact.

Source: MIT Technology Review

Wine Polyphenols May Reduce Cavities and Gum Disease

Sipping wine is good for your colon and heart, possibly because of the beverage’s abundant and structurally diverse polyphenols. Now researchers report in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that wine polyphenols might also be good for your oral health.

Traditionally, some health benefits of polyphenols have been attributed to the fact that these compounds are antioxidants, meaning they likely protect the body from harm caused by free radicals. However, recent work indicates polyphenols might also promote health by actively interacting with bacteria in the gut. That makes sense because plants and fruits produce polyphenols to ward off infection by harmful bacteria and other pathogens. M. Victoria Moreno-Arribas and colleagues wanted to know whether wine and grape polyphenols would also protect teeth and gums, and how this could work on a molecular level.

The researchers checked out the effect of two red wine polyphenols, as well as commercially available grape seed and red wine extracts, on bacteria that stick to teeth and gums and cause dental plaque, cavities and periodontal disease. Working with cells that model gum tissue, they found that the two wine polyphenols in isolation — caffeic and p-coumaric acids — were generally better than the total wine extracts at cutting back on the bacteria’s ability to stick to the cells. When combined with the Streptococcus dentisani, which is believed to be an oral probiotic, the polyphenols were even better at fending off the pathogenic bacteria. The researchers also showed that metabolites formed when digestion of the polyphenols begins in the mouth might be responsible for some of these effects.

Source: American Chemical Society

Today’s Comic

Singapore Researchers Make Healthy Wine out of Tofu

Zoey Chong wrote . . . . .

Jesus turned water into wine, according to the Christian Bible. Now, two researchers in Singapore have discovered a way to make wine from soybeans.

To be precise, the researchers from the National University of Singapore created the alcoholic beverage out of tofu whey, the university said in a statement Monday. The project took three months to complete.

It’s not the first time researchers are messing with our taste buds. At NUS, researchers have created a virtual cocktail comprising of a device that interacts with your senses while you drink. In April, CNET’s Aloysius tried another NUS project that lets you send the flavour and colour of lemonade to a specially made tumbler filled only with plain water, so the drinker tastes lemonade from it. And while in Japan, he found a bottle of water — transparent — that actually tastes like milk tea.

Called Sachi, the wine takes three weeks to make and contains seven to eight percent of alcohol. The name, derived from a Japanese term meaning “blossoming wisdom,” is a tribute to the beverage’s sake-like profile and a reflection of its sweet taste accompanied by fruity floral notes without a hint of soy bean.

It may be alcoholic, but Sachi’s creators say the wine comes with health benefits. For example, tofu whey contains high levels of calcium and unique soya nutrients such as prebiotics and naturally occurring antioxidants called isoflavones, which can improve bone health, heart health and even prevent cancer.

Tofu whey is liquid waste created during the process of making beancurd and often thrown away. When discarded before it’s treated, though, it pollutes the environment because the protein and soluble sugars in the whey could also diminish oxygen levels in waterways. Recycling the whey this way, on the other hand, generates economic returns for businesses.

“The health benefits associated with soy products, coupled with changing preferences towards vegetarian diets, have fuelled the growth of tofu production, [increasing] the amount of tofu whey … proportionally,” said Associate Professor Liu Shao Quan, who embarked on the project a year ago with his PhD student.

“Alcoholic fermentation can serve as an alternative method to convert tofu whey into food products that can be consumed directly,” he added.

Source: cnet

Why Expensive Wine Appears to Taste Better

When a bottle costs more, the reward center in the brain plays a trick on us

Price labels influence our liking of wine: The same wine tastes better to participants when it is labeled with a higher price tag. Scientists from the INSEAD Business School and the University of Bonn have discovered that the decision-making and motivation center in the brain plays a pivotal role in such price biases to occur. The medial pre-frontal cortex and the ventral striatum are particularly involved in this. The results have now been published in the journal “Scientific Reports”.

Previous work from INSEAD Associate Professor of Marketing Hilke Plassmann’s research group did show that a higher price, for instance for chocolate or wine, increased the expectation that the product will also taste better and in turn affects taste processing regions in the brain. “However, it has so far been unclear how the price information ultimately causes more expensive wine to also be perceived as having a better taste in the brain,” says Prof. Bernd Weber, Acting Director of the Center for Economics and Neuroscience (CENs) at the University of Bonn. The phenomenon that identical products are perceived differently due to differences in price is called the “marketing placebo effect”. As with placebo medications, it has an effect solely due to ascribed properties: “Quality has its price!”

The researchers assessed how different prices are translated into corresponding taste experiences in the brain, even if the wine tasted does not differ. 30 participants took part in the study, of which 15 were women and 15 were men, with an average age of around 30 years.

Wine tasting while lying down

The wine tasting took place lying down in an MRI scanner, allowing brain activity to be recorded “online” while participants were tasting the wines. Each time, the price of the wine was shown first. Only then around a milliliter of the respective wine was administrated to the test person via a tube in their mouths. The participants were then asked to rate via a button on a nine-point scale how good the wine tasted to them. Their mouths were then rinsed with a neutral liquid and the next identical wine sample was given for tasting. All of the experiments were performed in the brain scanner at the Life & Brain Center at the University of Bonn.

“The marketing placebo effect has its limits: If, for example, a very low-quality wine is offered for 100 euros, the effect would predictably be absent,” says Prof. Weber. This is why the researchers conducted the tests using an average to good quality red wine with a retail bottle prize of 12 €. In the MRI scanner, the price of this wine was shown randomly as 3, 6 and 18 €. In order to make the study as realistic as possible, the participants were given 45 euros of initial credit. For some of the tastings, the displayed sum was deducted from this account in some of the trials.

“As expected, the subjects stated that the wine with the higher price tasted better than an apparently cheaper one,” reports Professor Hilke Plassmann from the INSEAD Business School, with campuses in Fontainebleau (France), Singapore and Abu Dhabi. “However, it was not important whether the participants also had to pay for the wine or whether they were given it for free.” Identical wine leads to a better taste experience when a greater quality expectation is associated with the wine due to its price.

The measurements of brain activity in the MRI scanner confirmed this. The research team discovered that above all parts of the medial pre-frontal cortex and also the ventral striatum were activated more when prices were higher. While the medial pre-frontal cortex particularly appears to be involved in integrating the price comparison and thus the expectation into the evaluation of the wine, the ventral striatum forms part of the brain’s reward and motivation system. “The reward and motivation system is activated more significantly with higher prices and apparently increases the taste experience in this way,” says Prof. Weber.

How can placebo effects be inhibited?

“Ultimately, the reward and motivation system plays a trick on us,” explains INSEAD post-doctoral fellow Liane Schmidt. When prices are higher, it leads us to believe that a taste is present that is not only driven by the wine itself, because the products were objectively identical in all of the tastings. “The exciting question is now whether it is possible to train the reward system to make it less receptive to such placebo marketing effects,” says Prof. Weber. This may be possible by training one’s own physical perception – such as taste – to a greater extent.

Source : University of Bonn

Traditional Chinese Wines

Jacqueline M. Newman wrote . . . . .

To the Chinese, all alcoholic beverages are called jiu. Usually referred to as wines or rice wines no matter their ingredient(s) or their alcoholic content, this has caused considerable confusion, and will continue to do so. This article continues this nomenclature, as does the literature, and wine in Chinese will continue to mean any alcoholic beverage. However, clarifications will be given when possible. Clearly one can not do that when referring to historical material.

Many scholars wrote about wine. It is the most mentioned food item in short stories, novels, poems, and records kept by many an emperor’s staff. They wrote about drinking it, cooking with it, and more. Wines are, therefore, not new to the Chinese, nor are wines made from grapes. Both have a long history. Wines made with grapes, however, do show gaps in usage. In Han Dynasty times (206 BCE – 220 CE), if not before, grape wine was popular. Poets wrote about being drunk after consuming it. Whether that meant tipsy or really drunk is questionable, and their inebriated state was not reserved just for wines made from grapes. Mongol emperors did have heavy drinking parties and they did get what we might call: dead drunk.

Wines and alcoholic beverages were made from a plethora of things. The most common was glutinous rice. Other things fermented and/or distilled were various other grains, roots, tubers, fruits, vegetables, flowers, and from an assortment of herbs. To make them, first they made a mash and malted it. Next, they fermented the mash. After fermentation, the liquid could be distilled to increase the alcoholic content. There are records of freezing the liquid and removing the ice to increase alcoholic content and heating them in what became a distillation process.

Historic records tell us that fermentation was done for the same liquid up to eight times and distillation often done as many as seven times. Some alcoholic beverages were distilled as many as twelve times to raise their alcoholic content higher than one hundred proof which is fifty percent alcohol.

The records also say that wines made from grains included those using many varieties of rice, sorghum, millet, and wheat. Roots and tubers were used; these included items such as sweet potatoes, burdock, ginseng, ginger, and licorice. The most well-known vegetable for making wine was the bean, particularly the soy bean. Greens included tea, bamboo, and other leaves, and fruit wines were made from plum, pear, litchee, longan, citrus fruits, even citrus items such as Buddha’s hand.

A plethora of berries and seeds, including mulberry and hawthorn, and many seeds like those from the wisteria were also used to make wines. Flower wines included those made from osmanthus, chrysanthemum, peony, pomegranate flower, flowers of the coconut palm, and the rose. Herbal wines were made from or incorporated fennel, dandelion, saffron, and cinnamon and more unusual items. Minerals were also used for making wine; limestone water comes to mind.

In early times, medicinal wines could be any of these or those made from additional items added to the mash or incorporated or steeped in some other alcoholic beverage such as fermented mare’s milk. Common ingredients were rare or unusual plants, animals, and minerals, snake, gekko, black chicken, scorpion, and silkworm pupa (Cordyceps sinensis). Most of these wines were intended to enhance a person’s qi. Wines, touted and memorialized in poetry, show that, and other health beliefs. Po Chu I, in the early 800’s CE said that: “Man’s hearts have gold and jade, their mouths covet wine and flesh…and (when he) drinks from his gourd (he) asks nothing more.

One of the best places to learn about China’s wines is at Zunyi’s Liquor Museum. They have a fascinating collection of unique artifacts including a Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE) pottery wine or liquor tureen and some Ming Dynasty liquor cups. You can find this museum south-east of the town called Maotai in the Guizhou Province. This appropriate location was home to the kingdom of Yelang, where China’s first alcoholic beverage, ju, was produced and used; though not just for drinking. It was a preservative pickled with meat, moldy millet, and salt. About a thousand years later, it was added to soybeans, salt, and fagara to keep pickled vegetables for years. Wine was used in rituals including weddings, birthdays, funerals and other feasts, in religious rites offered to gods and spirits, and at the table; it still is!

Wines from all regions were important at feasts. The word yen is defined as feast and as entertaining a guest with wine and food. Some regional examples of wines used at feasts and in homes that are from different regions are: Mao tai from the Guizhou province, fen jui from Shanxi, and shao xing (most often written as Shaoxing)from Zhejiang. Of these, shao xing has the lowest alcohol content, by far. There is also in the Zunyi suburbs, a brewery with a history of production of a beverage related to an ale that they have made for about two thousand years.

People wonder why many Chinese do not get drunk on these festival occasions. They could, due to the inability to rapidly process alcohol. They learned and took to heart the words of an emperor more than three thousand years ago who said after tasting some and feeling its effects: Wine should be prohibited from use, and it was. Confucius modified that thinking many years later, he said: There is no limit in wine, but one must not get drunk. Chinese also do not want to lose face by their probable behavior when drunk, so they keep overindulgence to a minimum.

For these reasons, other prohibitions, and health dicta, not drinking has a long history in China. During the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644 CE), Li Shen-chen wrote that Wines are hot, poisonous, cause excess damage to the stomach, and they injure the spleen. Yuan Mei said Wine in excess ruins the taste for appreciation of food. Perhaps comments such as this have made indulgence at feasts follow a particular protocol of one dish served and one round of drinking, another served another round, and so on.

Chinese wines are of many kinds and many colors. Most are yellow, huang jiu, and made of rice and millet. White wines, bai jiu, are made from distilled grains. Tsou Yang, a writer of the second century BCE, said There were two different alcoholic beverages. He refers to them as li and jiu. For him, the former were white and sweet, and made with less starter and more rice. They could be made quickly, even overnight. Wines called jiu were darker or clear and stronger than li wines. Tang poetry speaks of pale green and yellow wines, also reds, whites, and blue-greens; the latter called pi.

Wine jars found in ancient tombs were labeled shu, lao, and upper grade shu. These were probably served after feasts when the meal had been completed. The dried meat was seasoned with fagara, ginger, and salted beans. Later, during the Tang Dynasty, after meals, wines were served with raw clams.

There are elaborate bronze wine vessels, some with origins in the Shou Dynasty (1766 – 1122 BCE) and the Zhou Dynasty (1122 – 256 BCE). These items of various sizes, from quite small to cauldron-size, show the importance wine had in early Chinese societies. Another item of importance was that in those early times, there was a government agency in charge of wine. Not all beverages were paid that much attention; wine was one of six beverages and they were tended solely by dietary doctors. There are early written records about these issues from the time of the Warring States (476 – 221 BCE).

Grapes for wine, Vitus vinifera, were introduced to China by an envoy of Wu Ti, a Han Emperor, however, they lost popularity. Later, grape wines made their way back to China via Turkic people prior to the Tang Dynasty. They became popular and remained so through that dynasty (618 – 907 CE). They went out of favor again, time not clear. Marco Polo (circa 1254 – 1324 CE) speaks frequently of grapes and grape wines, when dictating to Rustichello, details of his twenty-five years of traveling about in China. This was when both of them were in prison, but he does not address the popularity of grape wines. We do know that when grape wines were not popular, grain-based wines once again were; and we know that grape wines were reintroduced to China in the middle of the twentieth century.

Most wines in China are consumed when young; but there are exceptions. In early times and still done today it is customary to set aside wine for a girl child’s wedding. At birth, earthenware jars, called hua daio is a rice wine stored–usually buried–until that child gets married. Some twenty-odd years ago, we were the recipients of a Chinese restauranteur friend’s largess of one such jug. My daughter was getting married and he hosted a pre-wedding reception for the soon-to-be married couple. He opened one of those earthenware jars in storage for his daughter when she would get married. That jug held about two gallons, small compared to the usual ten gallons jug set aside for such an affair.

Though we didn’t play them on that occasion, at Chinese feasts, drinking games are played. Most are betting games that use only the fingers on one or both hands. One such game is somewhat similar to the American game, rock, scissor, paper. One player says: “One, two, three, go” and calls out a number. Any number of participants put out any number of fingers. Called hua chuan, another person calls a number from one to ten and the players put out any number of fingers at the same time. The loser(s) whose fingers do not match the called number must take a swig or gam bei; that means bottoms up. There are many other finger games, too. Though Chinese usually do not get drunk, there are feasts where players have passed out. One ancient story tells of a groom who never made it to his wedding chamber on the night he took a bride, wine the reason.

Some Chinese wines you might want to try are Miu Kua Lu with the essence of roses; it is rather expensive. Fa Due is a wine sought out for chicken and shrimp dishes. Bai Kan Jiu is a strong alcoholic beverage made of kaoliang, a grain known as sorghum. Wu Jiu Pi is flavored with medicinal herbs, and Fu Shou Jiu flavored with pomegranate.

Should you read some literature about wine, it is important to know that shao jiu and huo jiu are terms found frequently. The first means burned wine, the second fire wine. Both are strong distillations, not wine at all. The Chinese may have been the first to distill wines; there are records of this in the 6th and 7th centuries.

These and other wines were traditionally served warm and in tiny cups at all feasts. After all, a proverb tells us that without wine there is no feast. You see these in use at rituals and for sacrifices. For these, they rarely heat the wine, but for medicinal purposes one always should.

To the Chinese, jiu is acrid, bitter-sweet in flavor, warm in nature. It enters the heart, liver, lungs, and stomach, opens blood vessels, wards off colds, and energizes the spleen. As such, it makes other medicinals do their jobs even better. One herbal writer disagrees and says: Alcoholic beverages have a volatile nature that damage the spirit and injure the blood; they lead to waste and decline.” Thus, some doctors and herbalists do prescribed it freely, others do not. For more about prescription aspects of Chinese wines (and liquors), consult Bob Flaws book, Chinese Medicinal Wines and Elixirs (1994), and other sources such as The Yellow Emperor’s Classic written during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE), and Preparations and Uses of Chinese Medicated Spirits and Wine by Lu Lei, Yu Yangbo, Lu Shuyun, and Liu Hongjun (date unknown).

To make Chinese rice wines, first the grain needs polishing. Then the rice is soaked to soften it, steamed, cooled, mixed with a yeast mash, and fermented for about two weeks. It is then pressed and decanted, stored or consumed. If making something such as fu jiu, young chickens are immersed in the wine after fermentation. Because chickens are thought to be sexually active with a strong life force, this wine is said to confer longevity. There are many reasons for many wine choices, some known, others less well known, but which wine for a particular ailment is almost always well known. For example, there is no question that for those with rheumatism, a Chinese doctor would suggest that men drink hu ku jiu made with tiger bones soaked in sorghum liquor. For women and their ailments, they would tout consuming both the black chicken that was soaked in wine, and the wine itself.

Source: Flavor & Fortune