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Field and Swamp: Animals and Their Habitats

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How Chemistry and Physics in the Kitchen Might Affect Your Biology

Disclaimer:  This essay represent the views of a science amateur and former student.  They have not been vetted by any scientific professionals.    This essay contains speculation about physiological events that has not been proven by experimentation.   Nothing in these essays should be interpreted as a recommendation for a scientific experiment.  For more details about the background of the author, Dorothy E. Pugh, see About Us

NOTE:  This article represents only the most superficial coverage of the subject matter.  Investigation of underlying forces is ongoing and will result in a much better article at some time in the future.

And no, this is not about cooking!   But while we’re on the subject, cooking is not just like chemistry lab because 1) you have your kitchen and all its equipment and materials to yourself, 2) your ingredients aren’t dangerous (the story about the guy who tried to wipe up radioactive iodine after spilling it all over the place and then went to the student health clinic for help will have to wait another time and is probably apocryphal anyway), 3) you don’t have to wear goggles and adhere to a strict dress code, 4) you don’t have to watch something on an apparatus you’ve had to construct yourself very slowly turn into something mildly interesting over an open flame, and then have to discard the results in a specially labeled approved container (or worse yet, have to reverse what you did to it and go back and do it again a slightly different way), 5) you never have to go through an elaborate procedure to find out, at the end, what your product actually has in it, 6) you will never have to count drops (and we’re sometimes talking about dozens of them!) and 7) you can eat and drink to your heart’s content throughout the process, especially at the end!

Anyway, your first-hand encounter with hard (and soft) matter in the kitchen can give you pause for thought: the unhealthier a substance is known to be, the harder it is to clean up.  What you begin to wonder is whether basic principles of physics, at least where it overlaps with chemistry, plays a big role in what’s likely to stick to your arteries even if there’s lots of water around.  Saturated fat, for instance, is hard to clean up.  If it hasn’t been overcooked, it’s grease, which really resists water by itself.  You can use a sponge or a scooping device, but resign yourself to not getting it all if the surface you work with isn’t ideally smooth because grease can take on any shape and density as those fatty acids slide smoothly over one another.  You have to use soap to have half a chance here.  Alas, the blood has no natural soap that I know of, and you wouldn't want it in there, either!

Your chances get worse with heavily fried saturated fat, which may consist of larger molecules than natural saturated fat: introduction of high enough heat into system causes chemical bonds to form.  When it cools off on, say, the floor (the worst case scenario), it takes on the consistency of hard plastic and really sticks.  Soaking it in puddles of water for several minutes can get most of it off, which seems counterintuitive because water and fat don't mix.  But after some soaking, you can see the grease breaking up into smaller pieces that float on the water.   Perhaps the water (which is denser) pushes its way downwards in a stream because its molecules are drawn together by hydrogen bonds, the strongest intermolecular bonds.   Yet sometimes it takes a fork handle to finish the job.  Don’t count on your arteries having one of them around, although surgeons can sometimes do the equivalent – until the next fried fat glob lands!

Finely ground starch is another major offender.  Bread flour is generally ground much more finely than is really necessary or desirable.  It’s well known that starch, when wetted down and left to air dry, makes an excellent glue.  Unfortunately, this effect can also be seen in tofu.  It’s not all starch and is in fact relatively fatty.  But it can still form such a hard mass when left to air dry that it would probably make a very user-friendly sculpture medium.  This is due to a process called hydration, which is involved in the commercial production of cement.

Is there any good news?  Unsaturated fat passes the health test with flying colors.  Personal observation suggests to me that raw olive oil probably traverses arteries the way water-soaked bran traverses the intestines.  Like all liquids, it maintains a constant density but can take any shape.  Just think of all the things it could push out of the way!

NOTE:  The reasons given above for the potential dangers of these substances do not necessarily hold for any one individual.  If one's stomach is working properly, providing the right pH and the right levels of digestive enzymes, and the individual has drunk a reasonable amount of water, the problems suggested above may not be significant.  However, as people age and their digestive systems work less aggressively, the above factors may come into play.


Copyright © 2012 by Dorothy Pugh

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