Wrapping Up Centre Term

As I write my final blog post for my first ever Centre Term class, I’d like to focus on all of the wonderful experiences I’ve had the privilege to encounter as well as the knew knowledge I learned. I also can’t forget the new friends I’ve made as well.

Even though the class lasted three weeks, it was a three hour long class that was held every week day. It gave us a lot of time to cover multiple topics as well as experience what we learned whether is was through labs or field trips. Throughout this class we got to do around five labs, each pertaining to what we learned that day or the day before. We got to make ice cream, deviled eggs, cheese, whipped cream, and my personal favorite: CHEESE! Each of these labs gave us more of a visual as to how the food goes through chemical processes to get to the final product. The chemistry part of the class is what I struggled with the most. Mainly because I haven’t taken a chemistry class since my junior year of high school. Therefore, my advice to any students who will take this class in the future is to take a chemistry class before. Although it’s not mandatory to take one, and you will survive the class either way, it will definitely make the class much easier and enjoyable.

The field trips we went on were by far my favorite part of the class. It may seem cliché for a student to love the field trip part of a class more than anything else, but it is my favorite for more reasons that just getting out of class. First of all, it didn’t really get us out of class because once we got back we usually still had a short lecture. My main reason for loving these field trips is because I am a visual learner and seeing what these people actually go through to make our bourbon or meat, help me understand it better. I also felt like we grew closer as a class when we went on these field trips because we spent so much time together. Overall, this class was a great experience.

Kentucky: King of Bourbon

Within these past three weeks of Centre Term, I have had the privilege to visit two different distilleries here in Kentucky. We visited Wilderness Trace distillery which is located right here in Danville, Kentucky, as well as Makers Mark which is located in Loretta, Kentucky. Both of these distilleries help the state of Kentucky remain the King of bourbon, but they each go about it in a somewhat different way.

Wilderness Trace is a much smaller, yet newer distillery here in Kentucky. They use local wheat, corn, and other grains to make their bourbon. They haven’t been able to actually produce any drinkable bourbon yet because they are so new and the bourbon has to age for a few years. Their tour focused more on the chemistry of making bourbon. The men who run the distillery are very interested in the chemistry that goes in to making bourbon and have incorporated that into their business very well. This was the first distillery we visited so it helped us gain a better idea of how bourbon is made before we visited the very successful and well known distillery, Makers Mark.

Makers Mark is much larger than Wilderness Trace, and a whole lot older. Their tour focused more on the history of the distillery and how the business started. The tour took us through all of the different processes the bourbon goes through before it is put in the bottle and sealed with their signature wax. They showed us their larger than life mashing bowls which also allowed us to see the fermenting process. We also learned that they use their very own specialized yeast to make the bourbon. We also learned that they rotate their barrels in order to keep all of their bourbon tasting the same. This tour focused less on the chemistry of bourbon making, but gave us more of a visual of the whole process, including bottling.

Both distilleries were a very fun experience and helped me understand the process of bourbon making a lot more. Although we were all underage and could not actually taste the bourbon, it was still very cool to see how it is made and all of the chemistry that is involved with it.

Cinnamic Aldehyde

Cinnamic Aldehyde may sound like a very complex thing, but really it’s not. It’s just the artificial flavor for the spice we all know and love: cinnamon.

Cinnamic Aldehyde can be found in the dried up bark of Laurel trees. More specifically, the cinnamon we are more familiar with comes from the tree cinnamomum verum which can be found in many different parts of Asia. Cinnamon is used in many different products and foods all over the world. It not only has a taste, but a certain aroma as well. You can find it in apple pies, doughnuts, candles, hot cocoa, tea, coffee, cosmetics, and so on. Cinnamon is a spice so it is typically used in food to sweeten the taste. It is also used in Chinese herbal medicines, as well as in pesticides. It can be used to reduce cold symptoms because of a chemical it contains called capsaicin which causes inflammation in nerves and opens nasal passageways for drainage. It is also said that the cinnamon spice was used by the Egyptians when embalming mummies!

There are a few risks when using this artificial flavor, as well as benefits. As most things, you have to consume cinnamon in moderation. If you consume too much of it, you could irritate your mouth and lips by causing sores. It can also cause redness and irritation if you apply it to your skin, as well as allergic reactions to an unlucky few. On a positive note, though, cinnamon is said to help type 2 diabetes because it helps to control blood glucose levels. It is also said to reduce inflammation, have antioxidant effects, and fight bacteria.

The flavor and aroma of cinnamic aldehyde is due to essential oil found in the bark of the cinnamomum verum tree. It is an oily yellow liquid at room temperature and can be made synthetically. Although it can be made synthetically, it is more commonly obtained from the steam distillation of the oil of cinnamon bark. It is naturally a much more efficient process when making it that way.

Let’s Get Corny

The Chemistry of Foods has been a very interesting class in which I have learned many things. I’ve learned that most of our food isn’t as it seems, GMO’s are taking over our produce, our meat is healthier if they were fed grass instead of grains, and last but not least: EVERYTHING COMES FROM CORN.

Some of you may or may not have heard the song “Rain is a Good Thing” by Luke Bryan. If you have, you will probably recognize the lyrics “rain makes corn, corn makes whiskey, whiskey makes my baby feel a little frisky..” These lyrics are probably true in all aspects, but we will focus on the corn making whiskey part.

During this class I have been through many different learning experiences, one being how corn can be transferred into all kinds of different products, including whiskey and bourbon. Just yesterday we visited a local distillery who went through their process of turning corn into alcohol. Of course other ingredients had to be added in order to get it to the final product, but it’s still amazing to me how one simple crop can be made into a substance such as alcohol. But that’s not the only thing corn is used for. Of course the obvious is corn on the cob or just a cup of corn to go with your turkey on Thanksgiving, but it can also be found in our meat! You probably never thought much about what that cow that is now your hamburger ate before it was sent to the butcher shop. Well,  more than likely, it ate corn. Therefore that big, juicy hamburger you are about to eat is partially corn as well. Most of the foods we actually eat have processed corn in it, usually in the form of high fructose corn syrup. Not only are our foods made of corn, but things we use in everyday life are too. Corn oils can be used to make toothpaste, trash bags, cosmetics, batteries, cleansers, and so on.

I have definitely learned from this class that if you live in America, you need to learn to love corn because there is no getting away from it.

Wilderness Trace Distillery

Today before class, we visited the Wilderness Trace Distillery here in Danville. They are a fairly new distillery that just opened up around seven weeks ago. At this distillery they use local wheat, corn, and grains to make their alcohol. Their main product is bourbon but they also make vodka and rum as well.

The process that has to be made at the distillery to make bourbon is actually a very long one (mainly because of the aging it has to go through). To start off the process, they find limestone water to make the bourbon with because it is iron-free and calcium rich. This water can be found in many place in Kentucky which is one reason why our state is well known for its bourbon. After they find the limestone water, they mash all of the corn, wheat, or grains that they have decided to use and mill it all together. After that process is done, they ferment the alcohol by adding the yeast and putting it in a fermenter. When that is all done and over with, they distill the alcohol and then put it in barrels. Once they put the alcohol in the barrels, it is time for the long process of aging. Aging for bourbon can last for years. The longer the bourbon sits in the barrels the more flavor that is produced. That is one thing I learned from the distillery, the flavor of the bourbon is produced by chemical reactions happening in the barrel, along with the help of the corn, wheat, or other grains.

I also learned from the distillery that none of the corn, wheat, or grains have been chemically modified. Humans do have a hand in how they are made by natural selection but other than that the organism they use are 100% natural. I thought that was interesting considering the fact that most crops are GMO’s and it’s hard to find some that aren’t.

Not Everything Is What It Seems

When I walked into Olin Hall the first day of class, I never would have imagined all of the things I would be learning as the days went on. I knew I would learn more about food and some of the chemistry that goes into making it, but I never realized how chemistry actually happens just when making something simple like cheese.

Before this class I never thought much about foods and what causes certain reactions when you mix two different ingredients together. Over these past few days though I have realized that there is so much more to cooking than just mixing different ingredients together. Even the smallest of ingredients can change the flavor or texture of a food. For example, I recently made a flourless chocolate cake for my video project and just the absence of flour causes the cake to have more of a fudge-like texture instead of a sponge-like one.

It was also really interesting to find out that basically every food you could name contains corn in it. Most of it is processed which is why a lot of our food is unhealthy, but it’s still amazing that one little crop grown from the ground can help produce all these different types of food for us to eat. It’s even found in sodas AND non-edible things like toothpaste or paint.

Another thing I found interesting about the food that we eat is a lot of our fruits and vegetables have genetically modified organisms in them, also known as GMO’s. This is where the DNA of one plant or microbe is transferred to another plant to usually benefit it in ways that allows it to survive longer. It’s interesting to me that some people find this process harmful when it’s not be proven to do anything but benefit the plant it’s been injected in.

So far, the chemistry of foods class has shown me that there are many things that go into our foods that most people are unaware of. Whether it’s good or bad, chances are there is more in your food that what you actually see. It can be scary to think about it in that way, but it makes me want to be more cautious of what I eat and take more notice in what actually goes into the food I buy.

Settling the Unsettled America

It is no surprise that when you compare the United States economy from fifty years ago to how it is now, you will find a major difference. We are spending more money on machinery and technology to help improve the motions of our every day lives. We are so caught up in making all of our productions speed up to a faster pace that we don’t realize how many people are losing their jobs because businesses no longer need the extra workers. Wendell Berry discusses issues like these in his book The Unsettling of America. He splits the issue up into three different arguments: one regarding the crisis of character, the other of agriculture, and the last was of culture. As I read these arguments, I kept thinking to myself that it all leads back to the character of our people today. All we seem to care about is money and what is going to help us make more of it in a shorter amount of time. Berry says in his book that “One of the most troubling characteristics of the specialist mentality is its use of money as a kind of proxy, its willingness to transmute the powers and functions of life into money.” I could not agree with him more. All of our money craving people are so focused on making more money that they don’t notice the reason for so many people losing their jobs is their fault. And those who do realize don’t care because that is what our world has come to.

Berry also discusses how people in America no longer know how to do things ourselves. We have specialists to do everything for us and rely only on them instead of trying to figure things out on our own. We all seem to have lost our sense of responsibility and rely on the machinery and technology to do everything for us which goes back to why our people are losing jobs and farmers are becoming nonexistent. Berry also states that “If a consumer begins to think and act in consideration of his responsibilities, then he vastly increases his capacities as a person.” So in other words, if Americans will start to think of someone other than just their own wants and needs, maybe the economy can be cleaned up a little and the United States can be more of a settling place to live.

Wendell, Berry (1977.) The Unsettling of America

GMO’s…Yes or No?

When my family and I sit down for dinner our conversations range from play by plays of the most recent UK game to how long Kim Kardashian’s newest marriage will last. Therefore, it is a possibility that the topic of GMO’s could come up at a future dinner. GMO stands for a genetically modified organism. It is where scientists take a good gene from something such as bacterium and place it into produce like tomatoes or corn. This good gene is suppose to help the produce survive longer whether it is to help it live during harsh, cold winters or turn away any pests trying to invade the produce. Basically, it is a good product for farmers to use to guarantee that their crops won’t die or become ruined.

If my family and I were to discuss this topic, I would have to side with the argument that GMO’s are more beneficial than they are destructive. I believe this because many tests and research have gone into GMO’s and none have come back with negative or dangerous results. One might argue that the chemicals sprayed on the produce may cause the insects and pests to become resistant to the chemical but researchers have figured out how to slow down natural selection to prevent that from happening. Also, when genetic engineers inject a second gene it provides and antioxidant and poses as an “unacceptable risk” according to United Kingdom’s Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes.

Some people may argue that the DNA may jump from food to a microbe in the gut of an animal which could cause problems. Scientists say that there is absolutely no risk of that happening and that people should be more worried about the overuse of antibiotics in ourselves which can cause more resistance problems than any GMO can.

Personally, I see nothing wrong with GMO’s. It doesn’t make the food any more or less healthy than it originally was. It usually makes the food tastes better as well as last longer. Therefore, I feel like it’s a win-win deal and we should continue using this extravagant scientific invention.


Chemist Or A Cook?

By no means was I any sort of cook when walking in to the Chemistry of Foods class last week. Now though, I feel as if I know a lot more about how and why foods do the certain things they do, whether I can cook sufficiently or not.

Science has always been an interesting subject to me. Although a lot of it is confusing, it’s when you finally understand what you’re learning that makes science so cool and amazing. Who would of ever thought that by cooking dinner every night for your family also meant you were a chemist who was making science happen in a kitchen. Because that’s basically what cooking is. You are mixing different ingredients together to make a delicious reaction. This class has made me realize that science is in a lot more of our daily life activities than people take notice of. Like when you are making homemade mozzarella cheese. To some people it may just be words on a sheet of paper explaining the recipe. But when I see the process being done, I will now think of the acid that was put in the milk to make it curdle. And the salt and water that was added to it to harden it and make it more cheese like.

This class has made me also realize that even though science may be really hard to understand at times, it’s not always hard to do. Most of us do it everyday. Whether it’s cutting an apple, grilling a steak, or making some homemade ice cream. You are a contributor to making chemistry happen.

Curious, But Not Curious Enough.

Americans are typically curious and nosey people. We are curious as to what celebrity has recently been put in rehab, if any of our favorite football players will be picked first on the NFL draft, or why is President Obama taking selfies at funerals? But something we don’t seem to be curious enough about is where our food came from and how was it produced.

In the book The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, Pollan discusses how it’s not necessarily the type of animal we eat that determines if it’s healthy for us or not, but more of what the diet of that animal was. An animal who has been fed like an animal should, with a diet of grass and foods that can be found in their natural habitat, is said to be healthier for you than an animal who has been forced to just eat grain. Pollan helps us better understand this concept by using an example with salmon and beef. Naturally, if you were to ask someone which is the healthier choice of the two, they would say salmon. Pollan argues that if the salmon had been fed grain while the beef had been fed grass, then in reality the beef would be the healthier choice.

Salatin asks Pollan the question “Don’t you find it odd that people will put more work into choosing their mechanic or house contractors than they will into choosing the person who grows their food?” And my answer to that question would be yes, it is odd…but not surprising. Most Americans eat what they want to eat even if they DO know it is bad for them. This brings us back to the issue of obesity in America. Our country is one of the most obese countries in the nation because we don’t care enough about what is in our food. Of course we need to worry about the quality of our houses and cars, as well. But I feel like our physical health is a little more important than that and the economy needs to focus more on where our food is coming from and how it’s made so we can improve the health of the American citizens.

Pollan, Michael. (2006). The Omnivore’s Dilemma.