Chemists inform students about health, food myths

Amanda Voeller

About 400 aromatic compounds make up one tomato, MSG isn’t that bad for you and “umami” is a taste.

A Thursday webinar broadcast around the country featured two chemists from the American Chemical Society discussing food chemistry.

The University’s undergraduate chapter of the American Chemical Society sponsored this event. This organization’s goal is to encourage undergraduates to start research early in their career, said chemistry junior Jessica Chan.

Guy Crosby, one of the chemists, said contrary to popular belief, there is no proof MSG causes long-term chronic health issues. Also, chefs who say they have caramelized their meat are incorrect because caramelization can only occur with sugar. Sally Mitchell, the other chemist on the panel, said using honey as a substitute for sugar moisturizes cookies and other baked goods.

High fructose corn syrup isn’t as bad as people say, and dark chocolate stays fresh longer than white chocolate because it contains antioxidants, Mitchell said.

Because people are more sensitive to bitter tastes than sweet tastes, salt is added to baked goods in order to reduce bitterness and allow the sweet taste to come through, Crosby said.

Mitchell said the flavors of fruits are difficult to replicate because they contain so many compounds that contribute to their flavor.

Crosby also explained the taste of “umami” as a meaty, savory flavor as he spoke about how chemical reactions enhance flavors.

The Younger Chemists Committee takes some members to its national conference in the spring. The group is going to New Orleans in 2013 and Dallas in 2014, Chan said.

The group also will participate in an April event celebrating Earth Day with children and with chemists from high school age to retired, chemistry postdoctoral fellow  Stephanie Taylor said.

The group has taken trips to breweries, a water treatment plant and the Austin Children’s Museum to demonstrate experiments for kids and has had a wine tasting, chemistry senior Daniel Phan said. They have also gone to the glass blowing shop next to Welch Hall, Chan said.

Published on March 1, 2013 as "Online lecture details gastronomic chemistry".