Do you know which popular holiday spice can help soothe a toothache? Or why chocolate is toxic to dogs and cats?
By digging deep into the molecular chemistry of everyday foods and spices, Cambridge-based chemistry teacher Andy Brunning has the answers.
And you don’t have to be a chemistry-expert to understand them.
Brunning heads the popular science website Compound Interest and recently published the book “Why Does Asparagus Make Your Wee Smell?: And 57 other curious food and drink questions.”
Here are 15 of Brunning’s amazing graphics about the chemistry of asparagus, cloves, coffee, nutmeg, and much more:
When your doctor says don't eat grapefruit, she means it! Grapefruit contains compounds that can prevent your body from breaking down certain medications, including some statin drugs to lower cholesterol, like Lipitor, and some antihistamines, like Allegra.
Clove oil is rich in a compound called eugenol, which has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties that can ease dental pain.
Leaves from the coriander plant are a popular ingredient in Indian cuisine. But the leaves can sometimes taste soapy. That's because they contain similar aldehyde compounds found in many soaps and lotions.
Ethyl formate is a ubiquitous compound that smells like rum and gives raspberries their delicious flavour. It's also present in bee stingers, ant bodies, and the center of our galaxy.
Nutmeg is famous -- at least anecdotally -- for having allegedly hallucinogenic properties when taken in high doses but beware: Its other side effects are far less appealing and include vomiting, nausea, and elevated heart rate.
Scientists aren't positive why asparagus makes our urine smell funny, but they suspect it has something to do with a unique compound found only in asparagus called asparagusic acid.
If you're a lover of beets then you've probably had a few cases of 'beeturia,' the passing of reddish urine. This discoloration happens when the acid in our stomachs isn't strong enough to break down betanin -- the compound that makes beats red.
Tea has a common compound called catechins. The substances richest in these compounds, which some research suggests could be good for heart health, are cocoa and prune juice.
Most of that distinctive flavour and bitterness we adore in coffee only gets released once the beans are roasted. The roasting process breaks down chlorogenic acids to produce a new set of compounds that give it that iconic coffee flavour.
Honey will never go bad and here's why: Honey is relatively acidic and contains traces of hydrogen peroxide that would kill any bacteria that might spoil it.
Cocoa plants contain the bitter-tasting, toxic chemical theobromine. Luckily, a human would have to eat tens of pounds of chocolate over a short time period to be in any danger. But for dogs and cats, a small amount can be harmful. Always keep chocolate away from pets.
Lemons and limes might be partners in flavour, but if you want a vitamin C boost, look no farther than the lemon. It contains twice the vitamin C as the average lime and about the same amount as an orange.
The smooth texture of candies like caramel and toffee come from a special cooking process that completely eliminates sugar crystals -- orderly stacks of sucrose molecules. In order to do this, confectioners typically add corn syrup or butter, which is why non-crystalline candy can pack more sugar than the crystalline kind.
Brussels sprouts and bitterness go hand-in-hand: When we cook them, we damage the plant's chemical structure, which causes the bitter-tasting compound sulforaphane to form. The same thing happens when we cook broccoli or cabbage, too.
By refrigerating tomatoes, you can prolong their freshness, but you also run the risk of damaging some of the compounds responsible for their sweetness. Keep them out of the fridge for a sweeter taste.
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