Posts Tagged ‘CO2’

Copenhagen MG seminar: Food and science fun (part 6)

Thursday, April 28th, 2011


How much does air weigh? With a balloon and a microwave oven you can easily find out says Peter Barham.

Peter Barham’s presentation at the MG seminar in Copenhagen focused on how food can be used to make students interested in physics and chemistry (not a bad thing, especially since 2011 is the International Year of Chemistry) -Most people think science is boring and difficult, he said. But demos can help bring science to life, and believe it or not – experiments are much better when they go wrong. Using balloons, champagne, potatoes and liquid nitrogen Peter Barham proved his point. (more…)

Sourdough work in progress (part I)

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

apricot-starter
Attempt to make a sourdough starter using dried apricots, using my immersion circulator for temperature control. I got some bubbling yeast activity, but the final bread dough never rose properly.

Inspired by the Swedish bread blog Pain de Martin which I recently discovered I decided it was time to have a go at sourdough breads! Although one of my favorite types of bread it’s a long time since I gave it a try and even longer since I actually succeeded. Leaving apple peel covered with water for two weeks in a cool place (15 °C) I got a light apple cider which I used to make a starter some years ago. I followed a recipe from the Norwegian artisan bakery Åpent bakeri and it gave a marvelous bread. But since then I’ve tried to repeat this twice without success. No wonder that even Rose Levy Beranbaum in her book “The Bread Bible” writes that she didn’t intend to include a chapter on sourdough at all. There’s no doubt that sourdoughs are tricky, but I was a litte surprised and disappointed that someone who sets of to write a 600+ page book on bread even considered to skip sourdough… Luckily she changed her mind and the introduction has a fascinating nice-to-know fact: 1 g flour contains about 320 lactic acid bacteria and 13000 yeast cells!

I believe one the reasons why sourdoughs seem to live their own lifes sometimes is that they need to be kept in a warm place. My kitchen isn’t that warm so I figured it was time to use my immersion circulator and give sourdough another chance (who says you can only use immersion circulators for sous vide anyway? – I think my next project will be to make yoghurt!). With a thermostated water bath keeping a sourdough starter at constant temperature is as easy as 1-2-3. But surprisingly I haven’t seen any blogposts yet from people using their sous vide water baths for sourdough starters (although some have built their own water baths for this purpose using aquarium equipment).
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Wonders of extraction: Espresso (part I)

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

I have recently come to know Miss Silvia. She’s from Italy, weighs a good 14 kg and even my wife welcomed her in our kitchen! As home brew espresso afficionados will know by know, I’ve become the proud owner of an espresso machine from Rancilio! She’s been around for a number of years, and is one of the most popular among prosumer espresso machines available before you take the step up to double boiler machines that allow simultaneous brewing and steaming. Every place that is (proud of) serving espresso uses these machines, but their price is well beyond most coffee lovers budget. The good news however is that even single boiler machines can produce excellent espresso!

The first time I offered the science of espresso any thought was when reading Jeffry Steingarten’s accounts of his espresso adventure (in “It must’ve been something I ate”) which brought him all the way to Italy and Illy and then back again to Manhatten where he set up 14 home espresso machines in his kitchen. This is also where I first was made aware of the fact that 7 g of coffee should be used for a single espresso (which is considerably more than the 5-6 grams found in the Nespresso capsules).

Since I decided to buy an espresso machine I have been devouring sites written by and for coffee enthusiasts: CoffeeGeek, Home Barista and Espresso! My Espresso! to mention a few. You’ll be surprised how much one can possibly write about espresso!
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Soda fountain science explained

Thursday, June 19th, 2008


Picture by Michael Murphy (CC-BY-SA)

The soda fountain (Diet Coke + Mentos) has been around the net for quite a while with some spectacular videos available, and it has even made it into a news paper cartoon. People go crazy about this and the largest number of simultaneous fountains is steadily increasing.

Despite the interest, only now did a scientific paper appear on the subject. Many have speculated about what causes the reaction between Mentos and Diet Coke, and some have focused on possible acid-base reactions taking place. Mythbusters investigated this in 2006 (watch episode) and came up with the following factors that contribute to the bubble formation:

Diet coke

  • carbon dioxide is what makes the bubbles form in the first place
  • in synthetic mixtures aspartam, caffeine and potassium benzoate where shown give better fountains

Mentos

  • the most important property is the rough surface which provides plenty of nucleation sites for bubble formation
  • the density makes them sink which is ideal as the bubbles formed at the bottom of the bottle help expel much more soda
  • mentos contains gelatin and gum arabic which could also reduce surface tension

In the paper “Diet Coke and Mentos: What is really behind this physical reaction?” by Tonya Shea Coffey the findings of the Mythbuster teams are largely confirmed.

By measuring contact angles it was shown that aspartame and potassium benzoate reduce the surface tension of water. Aspartame is a winner, and as an extra benefit clean up is much easier with Diet Coke than sugared Coke. The amount of caffeine however is too low to have any effect. The roughness of the Mentos surface was studied with special microscopes (see picture below). Fruit Mentos have smooth patches, but the coating is not uniform and contrary to the Mythbuster experiment normal Mentos and Fruit Mentos performed equally well with regards to foam formation. The roughness of the Mentos surface was inbetween that of rock salt and the Life savers which suggests that roughness is not a single factor determining the reaction. The Mentos surface is covered with gum arabic which reduces surface tension, and experiments showed that even without Mentos, gum arabic could cause a reaction to occur. It is the combined effects of reduced surface tension (due to ingredients in Diet Coke and Mentos) and the rough surface of Mentos which is the key to understand the reaction.

As expected, the article also confirms that the reaction is more vigours at higher temperatures (i.e. solubility of carbon dioxide deacreases with increasing temperature). It was also shown that Mentos sink faster to the bottom of a 2 L bottle compared with rock salt, Wint-O-Green Life savers and sand (this is a function of size and density, not only density). When bubbles are formed at the bottom of the bottle the bubble has more time to grow as it rises. This causes a more explosive reaction and more soda is expelled from the bottle.


The picture shows scanning electron microscopy images of Mint Mentos (a) and (c) and Fruit Mentos with a candy coating (b) and (d). The scale bars in each image represent the lengths (a) 200 μm, (b) 100 μm, (c) 20 μm, and (d) 20 μm. Fruit Mentos has smooth patches, but the coating is not uniform. (Reprinted with permission from Coffey, T. S, American Journal of Physics, Vol. 76, Issue 6, pp. 551-557, 2008. Copyright 2008, American Association of Physics Teachers)

The question which lingers on my mind is whether Diet Coke and Mentos represent the optimal combination of ingredients to create a soda fountain. With regard to convenience, I guess the answer is yes. But perhaps it’s possible to create an even more powerful reaction? Since lowering the surface tension of water is important, I’m wondering if it would be possible to find a surfactant that could be added without setting the reaction off? Mentos would of course still be needed for the rough surface to provide nucleation sites. In the above mentioned study addition of diluted dish washing liquid was enough to give a pretty good reaction, so this is not an option. But perhaps a couple of drops right on the Mentos surface would work? I definitely need to try this some time.

Kitchen gadgets

Thursday, October 11th, 2007

Popular science magazine has an amusing article on “The future of food” which portrays Dave Arnold, apparently the “man behind the curtain of today’s hottest movement in cooking”. I don’t buy all of this, but he’s no doubt had a central role in bringing lab equipment into the kitchens of North American chefs and teaching them a little science. You might also want to check out their gallery of kitchen gadgets. Some of my favorites include (click the pictures to lanuch the picture gallery at PopSci magazine):

kitchengadget_whipper.jpg
For the Pros: The Whipper. Adds a touch of air to every bite.

Within reach of the dedicated amateur chef, indispensible for the professional chef: a whipper which you can charge with either carbon dioxide (for instance to make carbonated fruit) or dinitrogen oxide (too make foams/espumas or simply whipped cream).

kitchengadget_circulator.jpg
For the Pros: The Sealer and Circulator. Cooks in a bag to lock in juiciness.

Sous vide cooking is perhaps one of the most fascinating examples of science inspired cooking. The picture shows a vacuum sealer and a thermostated water bath circulator. If this is too expensive, check out my post on a simple and easy DIY sous vide.

kitchengadget_chemicals.jpg
For the Pros: The New Spice Rack. Chemicals the experimental home chef shouldn’t be without.

Last but not least: the different chemicals which become more and more available. I’ve put together a collection of hydrocolloid recipes which will help you get started using these fascinating chemicals. If you have troubles getting hold of these, my list of suppliers might help you.

Of course I’d like to put my hands on a Pacojet, an Antigriddle or a Gastrovac as well, but for a home kitchen, this gets too exotic and far too expensive. But – the most surprising gadget was the vacuum meat tumbler from Reveo. Just like the extremely expensive Gastrovac, this little machine can be used for vacuum impregnation of meat and other foods (or at least this is something I assume from the description). IMHO vacuum impregnation is the most important feature of the Gastrovac – far more important than the heating capabilities. Perhaps someone owning a Reveo could report back?

kitchengadget_vacuummeattumbler.jpg
For the Home: Meat, Your Maker. This vacuum tumbler cuts marinating time by hours, first extracting air to expand the meat’s fibers and then spinning it so that every area is exposed to your sauce of choice. Probably doesn’t beat a good long soak, but perfect for when barbecue inspiration suddenly strikes.—Abby Seiff

But I was very dissapointed that my all-time favorite kitchen gadget didn’t make it into the gallery: a simple thermometer. As I have stated in one of my tips for practical molecular gastronomy, this is probably the single tool that can improve your cooking the most.

Practical molecular gastronomy, part 5

Tuesday, May 1st, 2007

5. Learn how to control taste and flavor.

apple-pear.jpg

When invited over to friends for dinner, even before eating, you judge the food by it’s aroma, handing out compliments such as “It really smells nice”! Thankfully, nature is on the cook’s side, because when we prepare food and heat it, volatile aroma compounds are released which trigger very sensitive receptors in our noses. It is generally said that 80% of “taste” is perceived by our nose (what we refer to as aroma), whereas only 20% is perceived by our tongue. How important smell is becomes clear if you catch a cold – suddenly all food tastes the same. Too illustrate the importance of smell, prepare equally sized pieces of apple and pear. Close your eyes, hold your nose and let a friend give you the pieces without telling which is which. Notice how difficult it is to tell them apart. In fact, with a good nose clip you wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference between an apple and an onion! Then, with a piece of either in your mouth, let go of your nose. Within a second you can tell whether it’s apple or pear!

Taste
Our tongue has approximately 10.000 taste buds and they are replaced every 1 to 3 weeks. Their sensitivity increases roughly in the following order: sweet < salt < sour < bitter. In addition to the four basic tastes there is umami, the savory, fifth taste. This taste is produced by monosodium glutamate (MSG), disodium 5’-inosine monophosphate (IMP) and disodium 5’-guanosine monophosphate (GMP). Pure MSG doesn’t taste of much, but can enhance the taste of other foods. There are also some claims of a sixth taste.

A number of taste synergies/enhancements exist. I’ve also included three examples of how flavours can influence taste:

  • MSG, IMP and GMP enhance each other
  • IMP and GMP enhance sweetness
  • MSG, IMP and GMP generally enhance saltiness and vice versa
  • Salt enhances MSG, so foods with a natural high level of MSG (tomatoes) taste more if a pinch of salt is added
  • Salt and acid at low/medium concentrations enhance each other
  • Salt at low concentrations enhances sweet taste
  • Black pepper reduces sweet taste
  • Vanilla enhances sweet taste
  • Cinnamon enhances sweet taste
  • The only general, over-all trend which can be found is that binary tastes enhance each other at low concentrations and suppress each other at higher concentrations (but there are several exceptions!). Do check out “An overview of binary taste–taste interactions” (DOI:10.1016/S0950-3293(02)00110-6) if you’re interested in more details on binary taste interactions. I’ve tried to visualize taste enhancements (green) and suppresions (red) in the following figure using arrows to indicate the direction. For example, salt suppresses sweetnes at high concentrations.

    binary-taste-interactions.jpg

    In addition to taste, our tongue also percieves texture, temperature and astringency. An interesting thing about the temperature receptors is that they can be triggered not only by temperature, but also by certain foods. The cold receptor is triggered by mint, spearmint, menthol and camphor. There is even a patented compound, monomenthyl succinate, that triggers the cold receptor, but without the taste of menthol. It’s marketed under the name Physcool by the flavour company Mane.

    Substances such as ethanol and capsaicin trigger the trigeminal nerve, causing a burning sensation. Capsaicin also triggers the high temperature receptors of the tongue, hence the term “hot food” which can refer both to spicy food and food which is very warm. For a general article about taste, check out “Taste Perception: Cracking the Code” (DOI:10.1371/journal.pbio.0020064, free download).

    Flavour
    Our nose has about 5-10 million receptors capable of detecting volatile compounds. There are about 1000 different smell receptors and they allow us to distinguish more than 10.000 different smells – perhaps as many as 100.000! In order for us to smell something, the molecule needs to enter our nose at a concentration sufficient for us to detect. Aroma compounds are typically small, non-polar molecules. The fact that they are small means they will have low boiling points – they are volatile and spread rapidly throughout a room. They are often referred to as essential oils and are very soluble in fat, oil and alcohol. These aroma compounds generally not soluble in water, but there are also water soluble aroma compounds; just think of a well prepared stock – no fat but lots of taste and aroma!

    A challenge with aroma molecules is that they should remain intact during storage and not be released until cooking (or even better, until consumption). A example would be to install a Liebieg condenser over your pot. Dylan Stiles has explored this in his column Bench Monkey by placing a bag of ice on top of the lid. He claims that his roommates prefereed the curry which has been cooked under “reflux conditions”. The study was performed in a double blind manner (which I will come back to in part 8 of this series).

    Because aroma compounds are volatile, spices should be obtained whole and stored in tight containers away from light. If possible, fresh herbs should be used. The flavour of herbs and spices can be extracted by chopping or grinding to increase the surface area. To speed up grinding in a mortar you can add a pinch of salt or sugar.

    grinding-saffron.jpg

    Heat can help extract flavour (just think of how we brew tea or coffee), but will also evaporate volatile compounds, so a general advice would be to add spices at the start and herbs towards the end of the cooking time. Some herbs can even be sprinkeled over the food just before serving. In Southeast Asia (and especially India) it is quite common heat spices in a dry pan or in oil. This matures flavours and allows reactions to occur (possibly Maillard reactions). Coarse spices should be added earlier than finely ground spices.

    In addition to adding flavour using spices, herbs and other foods, we can also use heat to create new flavours. When sugar is heated, caramel is formed. And if a reducing sugar is heated in the presence of an amino acid, they react and form a host of new flavour compounds in what is known as the Maillard reaction. Caramelisation and the Maillard reaction are known as non-enzymatic browning. Enzymatic browning on the other hand is detrimental to many fruits (such as apples and bananas), but there are a few exceptions. Enzymatic browning is essential in the production of tea (black, green, oolong), coffe, cocoa and vanilla, although this is rarely attempted in kitchen.

    Another source of flavour is fermentation. It refers to a process were sugar is converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide by the action of a yeast. In the process a number of flavour compounds are formed as well which is why this is of great interest also from a molecular gastronomy viewpoint. Some examples of fermented products include wine, beer, cider and bread. Fermentation also refers to the process where some bacteria produce lactic acid. Some examples of foods resulting from lactic acid fermentation are yoghurt, kimchi and pickled cucumbers.

    Flavour pairing
    Cookbooks and recipes throughout the world are the result of billions of experiments. As a result, some very good combinations of herbs and spices have been discovered. Some of these mixtures have even been given names of their own and it is fascinating how easily one can forget that curry for instance is a mixture of spices. Wikipedia has a wonderful overview of herb and spice mixtures from all over the world. I must admit I only new a fraction of these:

    Adjika | Advieh | Berbere | Bouquet garni | Buknu | Cajun King | Chaat masala | Chaunk | Chermoula | Chili powder | Curry powder | Djahe | Fines herbes | Five-spice powder | Garam masala | Garlic salt | Harissa | Herbes de Provence | Khmeli suneli | Lawry’s and Adolph’s | Masala | Masuman | Mixed spice | Niter kibbeh | Old Bay Seasoning | Panch phoron | Quatre épices | Ras el hanout | Recado rojo | Shake ‘N’ Bake | Sharena sol | Shichimi | Spice mix | Tajín | Tandoori masala | Tony Chachere’s | Za’atar

    A book which I’ve found to be very useful when combining flavours is “Culinary artistry” by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. It is the most comprehensive book about flavour pairing that I’m aware of, and I would say it is indispensible for someone who likes to cook without a cookbook. It has lists of basic flavors contributed by various foods. For example a sweet taste is contributed by foods such as bananas, beets, carrots, coriander, corn, dates, figs, fruits, grapes, onions, poppy seeds, sesame and vanilla (plus sugars and syrups of course). It has lists of “flavor pals”, a term attributed to Jean-Georges Vongerichten. For example, the flavour pals of ginger are allspice, chiles, chives, cinnamon, cloves ,coriander, cumin, curry, fennel, garlic, mace, nutmeg, black pepper and saffron. By far the most extensive part of the book are listings of food matchings. An illustrative example is pork which combines well with (classic/widely used combinations in bold):

    apples, apricots, bay leaves, black beans, beer, brandy, cabbage, Calvados, dried sour cherries, clams, Cognac, coriander, cream, cumin, fennel, fruit, garlic, ginger, hoisin sauce, honey, juniper berries, lemon, lime, marsala, molasses, mustard, onions, orange, parsley, black pepper, pineapple, Chinese plum sauce, plums, prunes, quinces, rosemary, sage, sauerkraut, soy sauce, star anise, tarragon, thyme, vinegar, walnuts, whiskey, white wine

    Despite the abundance of combinations, I dare say that little is understood about the science behind these flavour pairings. Why do these combinations of herbs and spices go particularily well together? Is it all about getting used to the combinations, so that we learn to like them? What influence does the complexity of the flavour play? These are easy questions that probably have rather complex answers.

    Very recently a different approach to flavour pairing has emerged. If two foods share one or more key odorants, chances are that they will go well together. The first step towards finding new pairings would be to identify key odorants. More info on key odorants can be found in the article “Evaluation of the Key Odorants of Foods by Dilution Experiments, Aroma Models and Omission” (DOI: 10.1093/chemse/26.5.533, free download). I’ve initiated the food blogging event “They go really well together” (TGRWT) to explore new flavour pairings and develop new recipes. There are also several blogposts with interesting comments on about flavour pairing.

    *

    Check out my previous blogpost for an overview of the tips for practical molecular gastronomy. The collection of books (favorite, molecular gastronomy, aroma/taste, reference/technique, food chemistry) and links (webresources, people/chefs/blogs, institutions, articles, audio/video) at khymos.org might also be of interest.

    Recipes with carbonated fruit by Homaru Cantu

    Wednesday, April 11th, 2007

    fizzy.jpg

    In a comment to my post on making carbonated fruit the iSi way, JoJo at eat2love made me aware of a company, FizzyFruit, that actually sells carbonated fruit in pressurized containers. The fruits currently available are grapes, honeydew and cantaloupe. Turns out that their homepage features some recipes by – surprise, surprise – Homaru Cantu! Here are some of the recipes:

    Proscuitto and melon
    150 g carbonated melon
    12 slices proscuitto ham
    1 dL balsamic vinegar, frozen, shaved to snow
    salt
    olive oil

    Wrap melon pieces with proscuitto, season with salt and drizzle with olive oil. Scatter balsamic “snow” over the top just before serving.

    Champagne and Crab
    150 g carbonated grapes
    350 g picked crabmeat
    1/4 bunch of chives, chopped
    1 diced shallot
    1 orange, juiced and zested
    1/2 dL mayonnaise
    1/2 dL fennel, shaved thinly
    salt

    Toss crab with shallot, fennel, mayonnaise and orange juice/zest. Season with salt and leave in refridgerator for 1 hour. Add carbonated grapes, toss with crab mixture and chives. Serve immediately.

    Orange Sangria
    2 L fresh squeezed orange juice
    150 g carbonated fruit (grapes, melon)
    8 sprigs of crushed mint
    5 dL of crushed ice

    Combine ice, orange juice and mint. Add carbonated fruit and serve immediately.

    Fresh Fruit Trifle
    150 g carbonated fruit (grapes, melon)
    2.5 dL fresh whipped cream
    1/2 vanilla bean scraped

    Add vanilla bean scrapings to cream and whip until stiff peaks are formed. Layer carbonated fruit with whipped cream and serve immediately.

    Ants on a Log
    150 g carbonated grapes
    2.5 dL of chunky peanut butter
    4 long ribs of celery

    Rinse and dry celery. Fill celery with peanut butter. Stud the celery with the carbonated grapes. Serve immediately.

    (The recipes were made generic and converted to metric units)

    Coffee cream foam

    Tuesday, April 10th, 2007

    coffee-cream-foam.jpg

    Based on some googling of espuma and foam recipes (including Ferran Adria’s coffee espuma), I figured that the following should work:

    2 dL coffee
    2 sheets of gelatine
    3 dL heavy cream
    sugar/vanilla sugar

    Soak gelatine in cold water. Strain. Dissolve gelatin sheets in the hot coffee and stir in sugar while heating. Cool. Add heavy cream. Filter through a fine meshed sift (just in case there should be any undissolved sugar, gelatin or particles) into a 0.5 L iSi gourmet whipper. Screw on top and charge with a cream charger. Shake 2-3 times and leave in fridge for a couple of hours. Hold whipper upside down, shake once to displace mixture towards the nozzle in case it is stuck and dispense. Texture is soft and silky. Tastes delicious!

    Some more chemistry: The cream chargers contain dinitrogen oxide (N2O) which is less polar than carbon dioxide (CO2), and hence more soluble in fat (such as heavy cream for instance). Another reason why carbon dioxide is not used in this recipe is probably that when it dissolves, some carbonic acid is formed which could curdle milk based products if pH drops to much and also influence taste (but carbonated milk has actually been marketed!). The idea of using dinitrogen oxide for soda/beer has also been explored.

    Carbonated fruit the iSi way

    Monday, April 9th, 2007

    I blogged about carbonated strawberries some while ago. Those were made using dry ice which unfortunately is not always easy to get hold of. Last week however I bought a iSi Gourmet Whipper – one of those Ferran Adria uses to make foams/espumas. I plan to experiment with that as well, but the first thing I decided to prepare was carbonated fruit. In fact this is a safe way (the only?) to make carbonated fruit at home using a pressurized container.

    isi-whipper.jpg

    The instruction booklet which comes with the iSi Gourmet Whipper only mentions cream chargers (filled with N2O, dinitrogen oxide), whereas soda chargers (filled with CO2, carbon dioxide) are not mentioned (I guess the opposite is true for the iSi Siphons?). This is quite amazing actually! Luckily however the cream and soda chargers are exactly the same size and both hold 8 g of gas. So it should be possible to make carbonated fruit with any of the iSi whippers (cream, easy, gourmet, dessert, thermo) or siphons available.

    Here’s how you proceed:

    1. Fill you iSi whipper (or siphon) with fruit, preferably fruit which has a cut, wet surface to allow the carbon dioxide to dissolve in the water/juice.
    2. Screw on top securly
    3. Charge with one soda charger (two if you have the 1 L whipper)
    4. Leave in fridge over night
    5. Release pressure with valve (Important!)
    6. Unscrew top and serve immediately!
    7. Enjoy!

    carbonated-grapes.jpg
    This is what carbonated grapes look like. As you see, I decided to cut the grapes in to halves.

    carbonated-grapes-closeup.jpg
    Notice how they sizzle!

    A quick recap of the chemistry: cold water dissolves more CO2 than tempered water, that’s why we leave it in the fridge. Also, remember that it takes some time for the carbon dioxide to dissolve in water, therefore it’s better not to be in a hurry. A quick calculation of the pressures gives the following: Both gases have molecular weights of 44 g/mol, so 8 g of gas corresponds to 0.1818 moles or 4.1 L at 25 °C and 1 atm pressure. The volume of the chargers is 0.01 L which gives an initial pressure in the chargers of impressive 445 atm! With an approximate volume of 0.7 L this gives a pressure (in an empty whipper) of nearly 6 atm – the same as in a bottle of champagne. However once you add water, the equilibriums will change and the pressure in the head space will drop. Anyone who remembers how to calculate the head space pressure at equilibrium if the container is filled with 0.5 L of water and cooled to 4 °C?

    I’ve done some googling and there is also some mention of making carbonated fruit with an iSi whipper over at Ideas in food.

    (The word play in the title works better for those with a mother tongue where iSi would be pronounced just like “easy”!)

    Happy New Year with the Science of Champagne!

    Sunday, December 31st, 2006

    Have you ever though about how far you can shoot a champagne cork? The swedish physicist Hans-Uno Bengtsson has actually done the necessary calculations in the wonderful Swedish book “Kring flaskor och fysik” (which translates to something like “Among bottles and physics”, it was written together with sommelier Mischa Billing). Assuming a bottle pressure of 6 atmospheres, a cork length of 25 mm (the part in contact with the bottle), a radius of 9 mm and a mass of 7.5 g, this gives an initial cork velocity of approximately 20 meters per second or 70 km/h! This translates into a maximum shot length of around 40 m (if we neglect air resistance). In case you prefer not to shoot the cork, you could of coarse turn to a saber or a heavy kitchen knife instead to open the bottle.

    When opening a bottle of champagne, you might have noticed the cloud forming right above the bottle neck (see picture below). This is due to a significant temperature drop, caused by gas expansion when we open the bottle. Assuming an adiabatic expansion (meaning no heat exchange with the surroundings), Hans-Uno Bengtsson has calculated a temperature drop of 112 °C! No wonder the vapor around the bottle neck immediately freezes forming a small cloud.

    cloud at neck of champagne bottle
    (picture by polarunner at flickr.com)

    If this doesn’t satisfy your craving for champagne science, there’s a whole book on the subject: “Uncorked – The Science of Champagne” by Gérard Liger-Belair. He’s an associate professor of physical sciences at the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne and probably knows more about champagne bubbles than anyone else! In addition to many fascinating pictures of bubbles, the book has many interesting facts. Did you know that:

  • 0.1 liters of champagne (the contets of an average flute) contains approximately 0.7 liters of carbon dioxide which must escape to restore equillibrium – assuming an average bubble size of 500 micrometers in diameter this corresponds to 11 million bubbles!
  • Contrary to popular belief, nucleation sites for bubbles are not found on scratches or irregularities on the glass itself, but on impurites stuck on the glass wall. These impurities are typically fibres from paper or fabrics.
  • From the point when a bubble leaves the nucleation site till it reaches the surface, the volume increases by a factor of 1 million. This is due to diffusion of carbon dioxide from the solution and into the bubble.
  • Surfactant molecules in champagne form a protective shield around the rising bubbles. This stiffens the bubbles and significantly increases the drag on the bubble as it rises (which gives us more time to admire the trail of bubbles!).
  • The surfactant coating of the bubbles helps keeping them in line as they rise. In pure water, the bubbles would jostle around.
  • The bursting bubbles play an imporant role in flavor release as they collect and concentrate surface active molecules which are thrown against your nose once the bubble bursts, creating a cloud of droplets.
  • (these facts should be perfect conversation starters!)

    trail of champagne bubbles
    (photo by Gérard Liger-Belair)

    An interesting article by Gérard Liger-Belair, “Effervescence in a glass of champagne: A bubble story” is available from Europhysics news.

    Happy New Year!