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Food Science, Fly Repellant, Perfume App

by Marc S. Reisch
November 29, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 48


Tasteful measures:
Credit: Thinkgeek
The molecular gastronomy kit.
Credit: Thinkgeek
The molecular gastronomy kit.

Those Newscripts readers who slaved in a hot kitchen last week preparing for Thanksgiving know that cooking a turkey, making stuffing, and readying the side dishes is tiring, time-consuming, and difficult work. And those who watched others arduously prepare that great fall feast likely marvel at the artful spectacle and wonder how everything gets done on time, looks good, and tastes delicious.

However, the folks at the online retailer are offering a brand-new way to make dinner with their MOLECULAR GASTRONOMY Starter Kit. “Good food isn’t art,” the website declares. “It’s science!”

For some, food is indeed a science. But for those rank amateur cooks who have a hankering to experiment with their food, the starter kit promises users that they will experience better eating through chemistry.

For $69.99, food enthusiasts will receive a box packed with nutrients such as ascorbic acid, xanthan gum, and agar-agar. In addition to a recipe book, the kit includes some implements that are more familiar to the lab than to the kitchen, such as a syringe and pipettes.

With this new-age chemistry set, users can mingle sodium alginate with an acidic fluid, drop the mix into a calcium chloride solution, and create spheres that pop in the mouth like caviar. Gastronomists can also chill an agar-infused liquid in a silicone tube to make spaghetti.

So, dear Newscripts readers, go ahead and play with your food, if you must.

Stable flies (Stomoxys calcitrans) feast on cattle rather than agar-based treats. In fact, the pesky insects torture the bovine population: Milk production suffers, and the cattle never grow to their proper weight. Now Department of Agriculture researchers say a wax-based formulation using an essential oil of CATNIP (Nepeta cataria) might be just the right alternative to unsustainable insecticide applications.

The catnip formulation effectively repels the flies for three hours in treated feedlots compared with nontreated areas, the scientists report in the Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry (DOI: 10.1021/jf102811k). However, they do not mention how many cats showed up on areas treated with the oil.

Perhaps if scientists come up with a long-lasting catnip fly repellant, sometime in the future, ranchers could be herding cats along with cattle.

If catnip is to cats as perfume is to humans, then why do people have such a hard time choosing the right fragrance? Between the high prices and weird fragrance names, people might as well wear catnip essential oil. At least their cats will appreciate them.

But for those who’d rather not attract cats, the aroma geeks at fragrance ingredient maker Givaudan have come up with an iPhone app that won’t lower the cost of that delicate bouquet in a bottle. It does, however, promise to give users a little more certainty that they will like the perfume they’re sniffing.

Choice sniffer:
Credit: Givaudan
Finding your scent.
Credit: Givaudan
Finding your scent.

For those who aren’t sure whether fragrances such as Laguna Femme or Eternity for Men are right for them, the free iPERFUMER app is a personal bloodhound. It draws on a database of more than 4,000 fragrances created by Givaudan and its competitors to make sense of all the scents.

To use the app, a scent seeker need only answer a few personal questions and specify the aromas he or she finds alluring. And unlike a roulette wheel, the app does not provide random results, its creators say. Suggestions are based on “an algorithmic calculation derived from the individual user and the fragrance preferences of the iPerfumer user community.” Now, finding a good scent isn’t just an art; it’s also a science.


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