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  Weekly Feature (March 25, 2007)

Science in the Kitchen


My refrigerator is my scientific laboratory. I am a pioneer in food science much like the great scientist Marie Curie. If something has remained in the fridge too long, it is usually I who musters up the courage to eat it.

I do take precautions. I cautiously sniff the product in question. If required, I will skim any green or fuzzy material which may have colonized the surface (often I even go 2 to 3 millimeters below the questionable region just to be 70% certain I will not get sick).

There is one final line of defence I use to protect myself from any gastrointestinal infection—the taste test. If something does not taste the way I remember it should I ask myself three questions:

1. Does it taste familiar? There are some foodstuffs that are purposely exposed to bacteria to enhance their flavour and desirability. Cheeses and yoghurt come to mind as do wines and some types of alcohols. If some aged fruit or dairy product has that piquant taste of wine or cheese I may decide to enjoy it immediately or wait another week to age it to perfection.

2. Does it taste unfamiliar but good? On rare occasions a spoiled product may taste even better than we could ever imagine. I think this was probably how many of the foods we take for granted today were introduced into our diet.

3. Does it taste bad? Even I have my standards. Nature has a built in system for preventing its creatures from eating things that may not be good for them-it is called decomposition. I live to eat, and I do not eat to live. Life is too short to eat things that taste bad. Why eat healthy food if it tastes awful? I certainly will not eat bad tasting food that may be rotten.

As a former student of microbiological science I learned five things that guide my life. Resources, including food, are limited and should not be wasted, micro organisms are often beneficial to our survival, so we should not eliminate them from our lives.

Thirdly, foods with lots of added sugar or salt and processed cheese slices have a longer shelf life than fresh foods. Also, tea spoils faster than coffee ( I learned this one on my own).

Finally, our immune system must be exposed to microbes in order to defend against them. I do not want to suggest that people change their eating habits to recycle some moldy pasta.

I only wish to give you a glimpse into my own thought process. Scientific (and culinary) discoveries come from taking some calculated risks. For the rest of society it is probably best to follow the philosophy that we throw it out when in doubt.




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