Food Detectives: Analytical chemists devise methods to confirm foods are what they claim to be
Article by Sophie L. Rovner, Senior Editor from Chemical and Engineering News
Synopsis and resource annotations by Max Grinnell
What's in a loaf of bread? Wheat? Natural flavors? High fructose corn syrup? Or
are there other less obvious ingredients? These are the types of questions that
analytical chemists pose everyday, and there is a growing concern among the
general public about what ingredients various foodstuffs actually claim to
contain and what they actually contain.
In the April 5, 2010 edition of Chemical & Engineering News, Sophie L. Rovner
reported on this very subject by taking a closer look at the work of chemists
who are trying to develop more rigorous analytical methods to authenticate food
and wine. In the piece, Rovner talks to chemists working in viticulture, a
representative from the Australian Wine Research Institute, and a chemist at the
United States Department of Agriculture.
One recent incident that piqued interest in this subject was a lawsuit filed in
late February against E & J Gallo, the world's second largest winery. The
lawsuit claimed that Gallo and its suppliers sold 18 million bottles of wine
labeled as Pinot Noir which "actually contained wine made from cheaper Merlot
and Syrah grapes." Gallo has blamed their suppliers, some of whom have been
convicted of such fraud in France.
As a result of this and other incidents, a number of researchers have begun the
quest to find chemical markers in various foodstuffs that can determine their
purity and origination. There are a number of potential roadblocks along the
way; it is difficult to establish valid standards to judge the authenticity of a
given food sample. It will be necessary over time to compile databases that can
include profiles from a range of varieties, production processes, and geographic
places of origin.
The piece concludes by offering insights into new techniques using DNA and
spectrometry to analyze grape leaves, coffee beans, tea, and saffron. Professor
Susan E. Ebeler of the University of California, Davis notes that these various
new techniques will help "consumers be much more sure that they're actually
getting what they're paying for."
Found below is a list of useful resources that will illuminate and
enhance understanding of the topics found within this article.
The first link
take users to the Kitchen Chemistry course homepage as offered by MIT's
OpenCourseWare Initiative. The site contains instructional videos, a syllabus,
and some assignments which explore the world of food chemistry.
the second link
to a complete book created by the National Health Museum which deals with food
biotechnology. The book also contains instructional units that can be used by
students and teachers.
The third link
take interested parties to the Fun Food Stuff site, created at the University of
Wisconsin Biotechnology Center. Here visitors can take on some interesting food
demonstrations, including "Better Bubbles-Skim or Whole?" and "DNA Dance".
The fourth link
to an interesting article and experiment on counting calories, which provides an
introduction to food energy and how it is measured.
The fifth link
the Government Food Safety clearinghouse website. Here visitors can learn about
hot dogs and food safety, food safety work in all of the 50 states, and read up
on recent food recalls.
The final link
visitors to the Bringing Food Chemistry to Life blog created by Professor Andrew
Ross of Oregon State University. Visitors can scroll through his posts to learn
about the chemistry of coffee and the world of bread.
Overall, these resources should provide greater scope and help contextualize the
ideas and concepts found within in the featured work. The list provides links to
resource records in the Applied Math and Science Education Repository