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Halloween Treats, Support Your Favorite Element!

by Stephen K. Ritter
October 26, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 43

Credit: Steve Ritter
Pumpkins worry more about squirrels than fungus.
Credit: Steve Ritter
Pumpkins worry more about squirrels than fungus.

Just in time for Halloween this weekend, two research papers are out expounding the antimicrobial and antioxidant benefits of pumpkins and chocolate.

Knowing that pumpkins are used in folk medicine, Yoonkyung Park and Kyung-Soo Hahm of Chosun University, in South Korea, and coworkers went searching for natural antimicrobials in the orange gourds and duly discovered one in the form of an antifungal protein extracted from pumpkin rinds (J. Agric. Food Chem. 2009, 57, 9299). The team found that the protein works well against pathogenic Botrytis, Fusarium, and Trichoderma species that are anathema to farmers and food processors.

Antifungal proteins and peptides are a part of some plants' natural defense mechanisms. In the case of pumpkins, the discovery might explain why the big fruits can grow on the ground and avoid fungus problems and why last Halloween the pumpkins on my doorstep, which were ravaged by squirrels, never hosted fuzzy mold despite the cool, damp conditions. A few potential applications come to mind for the new antifungal: pumpkin powder for dusting plants in the home garden, pumpkin puree for athlete's foot, or a new tub and tile cleaner.

As for chocolate, W. Jeffrey Hurst and colleagues at the Hershey Center for Health & Nutrition, in Hershey, Pa., found that the antioxidants in cocoa used to make hot chocolate and the popular snack-size candy bars people dole out on Halloween stay viable for a long time (J. Agric. Food Chem., DOI: 10.1021/jf901457s). The Hershey team was inspired to study the antioxidants, which promote cardiovascular health, after other research showed that the antioxidant activity of olive oil and tea leaves fades after about a year of sitting on a shelf.

Credit: Steve Ritter
Antioxidants last longer than your chocolates.
Credit: Steve Ritter
Antioxidants last longer than your chocolates.

The researchers sampled milk chocolate stored for one year, dark chocolate stored for more than two years, cocoa powders of which one was a historical sample more than 80 years old, and some 116-year-old cocoa beans left over from the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The antioxidant flavanols in the cocoa had remained stable in all the samples, and the antioxidant properties were still strong.

Yours truly will probably scarf down all of his Halloween candy and go into a stupor on Oct. 31. But it's nice to know that if I did have any self-control and saved some chocolate, the antioxidants would still be good to go the next morning.

"Do you know that every element has its own page on Facebook?" That's the rhetorical question Rachel K. Groat and Erica K. Jacobsen of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, pose in the latest edition of the Journal of Chemical Education (2009, 86, 1168).

ACS's Division of Chemical Education started the Elements on Facebook project last year as part of the Chemical Education Digital Library's wiki ( Each element has its own Facebook page that can be accessed from an interactive periodic table. Once on an element's page, you can view basic information and a photo for the elements that are photogenic.

The goal of the project is to build public passion for the elements by allowing anyone to write comments and post relevant content such as videos and links to research papers. Visitors to the site can also elect to become a "fan" of an element they like. So far, carbon, titanium, aluminum, nitrogen, and potassium are the top-five fan-favorite elements.

Stephen K. Ritter wrote this week's column. Please send comments and suggestions to


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