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Milk… is it really the cure to the spicy burn?

Putting out the flames

If you’re like me you are not in to spicy foods. Once that flavour hits your tongue that’s it; beads of sweat start to appear on your head and if you were a cartoon character smoke would be billowing out of your ears (good thing I am not a cartoon character). Ok so maybe that is just me but I’m sure most people will have a point in their life were they have what I dub “the fire tongue” (your mouth is screaming as it burns). For people who like that taste, good luck to you. For people more akin to my reaction, how do you rid yourself of that horrible feeling? The old wives tales would suggest milk, yoghurt or even alcohol but do any of them really work?

First, what is considered a spicy food, well that depends on your taste buds but officially speaking it is any food that contains the chemical capsaicin. Capsaicin is an oil found in fruit from the Capsicum genus, which includes chilli peppers and paprika (crushed capsicum seeds). However, while bell peppers (commonly called capsicum) are part of this family most do not contain capsaicin. Capsaicin binds with receptors in the mouth and triggers the “burning” sensation that tells us the food is hot. So if you want to stop the “burn” you need to get rid of the capsaicin.

So we eat capsaicin containing food and our mouth burns, to remove the burn we have to remove the fuel (capsaicin). Remember capsaicin is an oil, so there is no point reaching for an ice cold glass of water. We all know (or at least should) that oil and water doesn’t mix so dousing your mouth with water will do no good. How do we get rid of the oil then? Well you could rinse your mouth out with vegetable oil, which will bind to the capsaicin and remove it from your mouth. I’m not sure about you but this is not something that really appeals to me. Next, you could drink alcohol, another oil loving compound that will bind to the capsaicin and remove it from your mouth. However, beer does not have enough alcohol to actually help remove capsaicin. So unless you are keeping 70 proof alcohol around just in case its not really an option.

The best solution… dairy. Yes, the old wives tale is true, a glass of cow juice will bind with the capsaicin and remove the burn. Milk (and other dairy products) contain casein, a protein that binds strongly with capsaicin oil, removing the problem from your mouth. Yoghurt and ice cream are considered better than milk. Youghurt and ice cream work better because of there thickness, they are much thicker than milk and will stay in the mouth longer. This means they can bind to more of the capsaicin and remove it faster.

Rice, bread and other starchy food are also good at relieving the burn. While these don’t bind to the capsaicin it does remove the capsaicin from the mouth. The starchy food soaks up the capsaicin oil from the top of the tongue and causes the capsaicin to be swallowed along with the starchy food.

So next time you need to douse the flames of a spicy meal reach for the starch or dairy and you’ll be good to go.

 
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Posted by on 17/09/2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Fermenting: how do we use bacteria and fungi in food?

alcohols,beverages,wines,bottles,cheese,grapes,drinks,food

Cheese and wine... what a treat (courtesy of Microsoft Clip Art)

Warning:The reading of this blog may make you to break out a nice bottle of wine and a cheese board and enjoy it in the company of some good friends (or just have it by yourself). You have been warned feel free to continue.

Is there anything better than wine and cheese (well except for maybe chocolate)? It seems that most of our favourite foods and beverages are produced through fermentation. But what is it about fermentation that makes it taste so good?

Lets get technical for just a sec (and then we can go back to discussing food). Fermentation (the process of fermenting something) is basically taking a sugar (carbohydrate) and turning it into an acid or alcohol. This is done using fungus (yeast) or bacteria (but good ones not the ones that make you sick).

Fermentation using yeast makes some of our favourite products including bread and alcohol. Yes that’s right, yeast is placed into sugar sources (like grapes, barley, apples ect) to make different types of alcohol. Yeast is also used to make bread, another fabulous food. The most ancient use of fermentation was, you guessed it, to make alcohol, dating back to Neolithic times (which is really old). How is it that fruit, vegetables and grains mixed with a small microbe produce an amazing treat? Well there are many different ways, each providing a unique flavour but I’ll explain the basics. After the sugar source is collected it is made into a mash. The mash is then mixed with hot water. This is transferred to a fermentation vessel and yeast is added. Yeast, like human cells, works best between 30-37°C, hence the hot water. Fermentation begins, the yeast metabolise (“eat”) the sugar, the by products are alcohol and carbon dioxide gas. After the yeast does its thing, the alcohol is filtered out and prepared for human consumption.

Bread fermentation follows the same principal, activated yeast (warmed up) is added to the dough. The dough is left to rise (which is when fermentation takes place). The carbon dioxide gives bread is fluffy, light texture and the alcohol provides the taste (no you can’t get drunk on bread, the alcohol evaporates during the baking process).

Enough about yeast fermentation, now it’s time to devel into the dairy arena. That’s right some of our favourite dairy products are made by fermentation. Yoghurt, sour cream and cheese are both made by fermenting milk using special bacteria that produce lactic acid. Basically, milk is collected from either cows or goats, and processed (so that the liquid bit goes for drinking and the solid parts are used for other products) and then heated to remove natural microbes that are in the milk (some might be dangerous). After the milk is processed bacterial cultures are added to the warm milk and left to ferment (once again fermentation happens better in heat). The bacteria metabolise the sugar (lactose) found in milk into glucose (another sugar) and then into lactic acid and acetaldehyde (a chemical that gives the distinctive tangy taste). Yes the dairy product we enjoy so much are basically flavoured, curdled, fermented milk. After this a whole bunch of other manufacturing stuff happens to add flavours, age cheese and make these products delicious. Blue cheese (which personally I don’t particularly like) is of special interest to this blog. Blue cheese goes through this process and then a fungus (the mould Penicillium) is added to the cheese. This mould is what provides the distinctive blue-green or blue-grey lines in the cheese.

Other fabulous foods made by fermentation includes chocolate, coffee, tea, soy sauce and vinegar. It seems all the best foods are fermented. So while some bacteria and funguscan be very bad for us, they are also our friends. Although I wouldn’t suggest eating the fermenting fruit or mould food products in your fridges or cupboards. Next time your enjoying a glass of wine with a cheese board, a beer and pie or a yoghurt with cereal remember that it was fungus and bacteria that gave those products the wonderful flavour you are enjoying.

 
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Posted by on 30/08/2011 in Uncategorized

 

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